Jonikas driven by ‘terrain domination’ at Polaris

New snowmobile GM takes on new challenges

Editor’s note: The editors of Snow Goer magazine, a sister publication of Powersports Business, conducted an interview with Mike Jonikas, the new GM of the snowmobile division at Polaris. Following are excerpts from that interview conducted by Tom Kaiser, John Prusak and Andy Swanson.

SG: Tell us how you got to the snowmobile division.

MJ: I’ve been involved with a number of different categories with products and marketing innovation, channel management, working with our dealer partners, financial management and cross-functional teaming. It was just a matter of time. I’ve been here 11 years and I get the opportunity to work with our legacy business, so it’s really exciting.

SG: Having worked with Polaris for that long, have you had a chance to interact much with the current members of the snowmobile division?

MJ: I actually have, because we operate very cross-functionally at our company, so whether it’s things with dealer sales meetings or other marketing initiatives or working with Chris [Wolf] when he headed up the sales planning for our all-terrain vehicle business. I’ve also from my days on all-terrain vehicles — early last decade, where I headed up marketing and sales management — I worked with a number of folks in Roseau, so in many senses it’s coming back to my roots at Polaris, to be back working with the folks in Roseau and that great, passionate team, so it feels at least from my standpoint like a pretty easy transition.

SG: Do you have some initial goals or targets that you have set at this point for the snowmobile division? How are we going to see the Mike Jonikas stamp in this division?

MJ: That’s a great question. This is a really exciting time to come into the Polaris snowmobile division — the Pro-Ride has been a home run, it’s performing awesomely on the snow. Last season’s retail was strong, our Snow Check orders were fantastic, we’ve got a great working relationship with our dealers and we have passionate, loyal owners, so I feel blessed to come in at this point in time. The reality is, the first point of business is we’re going to stay with what’s working because Polaris is rocking. That’s quality, innovation and working with our dealer partners. That’s great for the consumers and it’s been great for the business and we’re going to keep doing that. And then, because we’re Polaris, we’re going to educate ourselves to figure out what is the next gear — what is the next generation of this product. That’s kind of what’s made this company and that’s what makes it fun to be here. You’re going to see more of the same because it’s working very well and then over time you’ll see us bring out more innovation and be challenging the status quo in this category.

Mike Jonikas, the new GM of the snowmobile division at Polaris Industries, says “the first point of business is that we’re going to stay with what’s working because Polaris is rocking. That’s quality, innovation and working with our dealer partners.”

SG: Related to what you just spoke about with the Rush launch, 2010 was a big year with the launch of the Rush, 2011 was with the Pro-RMK coming out, 2012 with a big expansion of the Pro-Ride with the Switchback and other models. Those are all pretty big model introductions. If, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s an 8 in terms of product innovation, what should we expect from 2013 in comparison?

MJ: There’s the inevitable ‘What’s your new product plan?’ question [laughs]. I’ve been in powersports for 11 years and I just love the passion and the focus on new products. Prior to this I came from consumer packaged products and General Mills, and that’s a great company, but not quite as exciting. So I love the passion and I love that question. Naturally we can’t get into product planning here, but I feel very fortunate to come to a team that has a very robust product plan for future years, so we’re excited to show you that when we get to model year 2013 it’s going to be pretty fun.

SG: So, on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s “Robust?” [laughs]

MJ: [Laughs] So, you caught me in the redirect of your question? You know we can’t get into that, but I’m really excited about what we have in store for you and we’re excited to show it to you when that day comes.


SG: Looking at your competition, is there a specific competitor that you’d say you’re most impressed with at this point, or is there somebody you’ll be focusing on more in the future?

MJ: That’s a great question. I’d say my approach reflects a lot of Polaris’ approach, which is we respect all of our competitors. They’ve each carved out market share and they bring good innovation to the table, so we have to be smart about all of them. And we have to do what Polaris does, which is to not stand still and to keep innovating and keep changing the game in the market. That’s really what we’re going to focus on — how we handle things and how we bring a terrain-dominating experience to snowmobiling.

SG: Not to over-press the question, but would you single out a competitor or two competitors that might be easiest to capture market share from in the next few years?

MJ: I think given the scale of all three of them, for Polaris to succeed we’re going to need to take share from all three. I think that’s just the nature of the category as it sits today. All three of them have strengths, but I really like our position and I’m optimistic that we will continue to grow market share and more than likely it will have to come at the expense of all of the other players.

SG: Speaking of strengths, what do you think your strengths are in the snowmobile market?

MJ: I think we can completely play off of the positioning of terrain domination. Whether you’re in the mountains, on the trails, in an environment where you’re going from trails into deep snow with our Switchback product, our ride and handling and how we can make this great riding experience for the consumer, that’s in our history — that’s in our DNA, that’s what the Pro-Ride chassis is all about and I think in many respects that’s why Polaris is back aggressively in the game in snowmobiling.

SG: For a number of years — really through the 1990s and into the early 2000s — Polaris was No. 1 in market share and took great pride in being the No. 1 snowmobile manufacturer. It’s been taken away from Ski-Doo in the last 8-9 years. Is being No. 1 a target? Is it something where you all sit and say, “We’ve got to get back to No. 1,” or are there other targets you discuss when you sit down and take about future plans?

MJ: This is a company that is very aggressive and we always challenge ourselves to be the best, so right now we’re going to focus on making sure we have industry-leading quality and industry-leading innovation and the best working relationship with our dealer partners. We’re very optimistic that that will help us grow our market share and if that leads us back to a leadership position and we earn that right, that would be fantastic. But we’re going to focus on the things that matter in the business right now, which are quality, innovation and our partnerships with our dealers.

SG: Having a lot of former Polaris riders out there, does that make it easier to regain a top position, because they already once had an affinity to your brand, than it would be to completely convert somebody?

MJ: I think you know this category very well and I think that is the case in snowmobiling, and I think that is the case in a lot of our categories. Frankly, it’s also the situation I faced when I worked at General Mills. Your previous owners or buyers or current owners are always your best bet for future purchases. Coming off of a really strong snow year this past year, you can feel that consumer excitement. At Haydays, they were excited about the category in terms of product news, but they saw that snow [last year] and felt it, they were excited about this upcoming season. We’ll certainly focus on that core Polaris customer to help us grow and we’ll give them a high-quality sled on which they’ll love the performance, and I think we’re going to get them to buy. I think you’re right.

SG: We’ve got a question about powertrain. We know you won’t be divulging future product plans today, but is there anything that you can comment on about your company’s focus in the next couple of years? Do you feel that the EPA is maybe slightly off of the manufacturers’ back for a little bit and you can carry on, or do you feel that the company maybe needs to make a bigger push toward things like four-strokes or direct-injection two-strokes, for example?

MJ: I’m excited because I feel that Polaris is very competitive or industry-leading with our power today. We focus on real-world riding experience to pay off on terrain dominating experience. Our performance on the snow last winter proved our position in this marketplace. I think you can expect to see us out front again this winter, whether we’re in the mountains or on the trails, and we have things in the product plan for the future that we feel will provide consumers with the best riding experience and the best value. That’s what we’re looking at overall with powertrain — what’s the best overall value proposition and continue to be competitive or leading in power. That’s the direction we’ll take there.
We’re very excited about where we are with Cleanfire. Our perspective from the snowmobile market is, what’s the experience for the rider? We feel very good about our combination of powertrain and chassis to deliver a superior experience. Our quality has been improving and our satisfaction rating from our consumers is very strong. So you’ll probably hear a little less from us on that perspective because we look at the whole riding experience, and not necessarily that one dimension of it. What you can expect from us is a focus on terrain domination with a total package. Cleanfire will be a part of that and I’m sure they’ll be news beyond that at some time.

SG: The Ranger RZR has been a home run for Polaris, and it has really redefined the entire ATV/UTV off-road market. Is there a possibility for such a true game-changer in the snowmobile market — something that really redefines the experience? Is there room for something that is that revolutionary, like the RZR was in the off-road market?

MJ: Actually, when I talked earlier about agitating ourselves and how we innovated ‘taking it to the next level,’ when you look at Polaris’ history, that’s what we did with the RMK mountain snowmobile, that’s what we did with the Sportsman 500, that’s what we did with the Ranger utility vehicle, and that’s what we did with the RZR. So, that’s a great question. That’s frankly what we’re agitated on every day, every week by our company on how we redefine things. So right now my answer is “Yes!” Do I know exactly what that is in every category? No, but we come in every day and try to figure out what that is, and we have some ideas and we’ll see over time whether they work.

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