By Karin Gelschus
Despite the fact that the number of snowmobile rental outlets is increasing, it has been difficult for some renters to stay afloat.
There are more than 200 rental outlets on the Go Snowmobiling Web site, says Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association. “That number has been increasing at least 10 percent every year,” he said.
A possible reason for the increase in outlets is because some existing renters are creating more sub outlets, says Brett Campbell, owner of Snowblitz, rental provider in Michigan.
“What’s happening here, myself included, is we’re appointing sub outlets,” he said. “We used to have one outlet with 20 machines, and now we have five outlets with the same number of machines. I think we’re having to do more to capture the same market.
“I’m creating a dealer network, smaller rental outlets,” he continued. “I’ve been partnering with hotels to be rental outlets. They get a commission and run everything, and I just purchase the equipment. The hotels have to be trail accessible. They’re not doing it for the money on the rental of the sled. It boosts their room nights.”
While some existing outlets are expanding their locations, others are dropping off the map.
Bob Klaus, owner of Killington Snowmobile Tours in Plymouth, Vt., says there used to be five operators in his area, and now they’re the sole rental operator.
“I’ve only seen decreases around here,” he said. “I’m seeing my numbers go down every year.” Killington Snowmobile Tours has been in business almost 20 years.
Unfortunately, Campbell of Snowblitz has been seeing the same thing as far as decreasing numbers.
“The independent rental companies have declined,” he said. “We used to have five in our area, and now we only have two. We had a rental outlet in the UP that had 500 snowmobiles about four years ago, and they had about 50 outlets. They closed, went bankrupt, but they’re back in business attempting to get outlets again.
“As far as our actual revenue, we’re going to be down this year just because the season was so short, probably about 10-11 percent this year.”
Not everyone’s numbers, however, are heading south. DJ’s Snowmobile Adventures in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., has been in business for three generations. Jewel Little, president, says they rent about 3,000 sleds a year and make a reasonable profit.
Capturing new customers
Rentals are a great way to introduce people to the recreation, operators say.
Being located in Vermont, Klaus of Killington Snowmobile Tours says a lot of renters come up to go skiing.
“I was a diehard skier. I’ve introduced a lot of people to snowmobiling and have turned them into dual sport users,” he said. “They come here to ski, and they snowmobile. We find some of the diehard skiers becoming part-time snowmobilers.”
About 40-60 percent of DJ’s Snowmobile Adventures’ clientele is repeat customers, says Little.
“Most have never ridden or ridden only a few times,” she said. “The rides we offer introduce people to the sport in an incredibly beautiful environment. It’s a fun business. We are very good at it. It should be the goal of everybody to do something you love.”