PLYMOUTH, Minn. — There’s snow on the ground, evident from the 10th story window of Brad Darling’s Minneapolis area office, in early December.
The noncurrent inventory of Arctic Cat’s snowmobiles is down significantly from past years, the dealer network is much more stable than what it was a year ago and there are e-mails streaming into Darling’s office providing bits and pieces of positive retail news.
So even with an uncertain economy swirling around the nation, Darling will step into Arctic Cat’s lead snowmobile role with plenty of positive tailwind.
“If there ever was a right timing for me to step into this GM/VP role, it’s now,” he said. “It’s great.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges going forward for Darling, who fills some immense shoes, those left by departing CEO Christopher Twomey, whose contributions to the industry resulted in him being named to the Hall of Fame.
Darling, the head of the Cat sled division starting Jan. 1, is a lifelong industry member, having been raised in dealerships in Canada as his parents owned three shops there. He has spent the past 10 years with Arctic Cat, including the past two and a half as its North American sales director for both its ATV and sled divisions.
Starting the first of the year, Darling’s focus will narrow to the sled market, an area where the company has focused on reducing dealer inventory while building market share.
“We gained a lot of momentum in the West,” Darling said of the company’s retail sales. “Part of that is not just product. We will continually produce innovative product but we’ve concentrated the past two years on our dealer network.”
Part of that network focus has been providing more data so dealers can have a better understanding of their local market.
“We’ve really started talking to them about segments,” he said, “making sure they have the right product to meet the retail demands.”
Sometimes that means educating a dealer on a part of the market that traditionally has not been as strong, but still offers plenty of opportunity. So a dealer who has traditionally sold mostly performance-oriented sleds, an Arctic Cat mainstay, may need to look harder at the area touring market.
“When you show an independent businessperson opportunity, that’s why they’re in business,” Darling said. “Because they really do want opportunity.”
Besides better defining individual local markets, Darling and staff will focus on shifting dealer concentration from simply moving units, to moving them at a more profitable margin.
“The challenge is to overcome emotion,” he said. “A dealer’s emotion is, ‘You know what, I want more F8s.’ And we’re saying, ‘You can’t have any more F8s because if you have any more, they’re going to sit over and be noncurrents next year. And we know the profit is in currents.’”
“The bottom line is we need to get our dealers profitable again,” he said. “That’s going to be a large focus on my part.”