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From snowmobiling addict to owner

Hi-Performance gets a fanatic in charge

When Jeff Mattson took ownership of the Hi-Performance snowmobile parts distribution company on Oct. 1, he entered the powersports business with plans for success.

And while he maintains those goals nearly six months into his new gig, Mattson admits that the lack of early- and mid-season snowfall across much of the snowbelt didn’t figure into his Year 1 plans.

“I looked at how this business did through the recession, and it performed very well,” Mattson said from company headquarters in Thief River Falls, Minn. “But no, I didn’t anticipate not having any snow across the whole country during my first winter of ownership. But we’ll be fine long-term. It’s just a hiccup to start out with.”

Mattson has encountered the rollercoaster ride that accompanies business ownership. Prior to joining the powersports industry, he served in various roles as partner, GM, president or COO of finance and IT companies. He also ran a parts distribution business for a telecommunications company, and he’s been a lifelong trail rider. Alas, the Minnesota native found a perfect fit in Hi-Performance.

“I do love to snowmobile,” said Mattson, who prefers treks to Minnesota’s trail-friendly Arrowhead region. “I rode a lot as a kid, then got back to riding again in my 40s. I’ll ride trails as hard as my skills will let me. And this is a great little company with a very good track record and reputation.”

Mattson’s skill set and passion for snowmobiling, along with some positive financials, made Hi-Performance and intriguing target.

“I wanted to do something I enjoyed, yet had the final say on things,” he said. “At minimum I wanted to be a majority owner. I wasn’t opposed to having partners, but you don’t have control, you’re not calling the shots. I wanted the decisions to stop at my desk.”

Snowmobile parts distribution has been Hi-Performance’s forte since the company formed in 1981. That’s when Glen Follett, a former Arctic Cat race group employee, founded the company after Cat filed for bankruptcy. The 16,000 square foot facility was owned by Arctic Cat in the 1970s, Mattson said. Follett continues to serve as an advisor to Mattson. “That’s real nice because he’s got all the history. It helps to have an advisor to help a novice — but enthusiast — like me.”

About 10,000 SKUs are stocked today by Hi-Performance. Revenue sources include dealers, small service shops, along with riders themselves. The company’s total dealer network is 1,800, including the repair shops. Hi-Performance ships to about 100 dealers in Canada, as well as customers in Scandinavia and Japan. There also is small segment of OEM supply work.

Jeff Mattson took over as the new owner of the Hi-Performance snowmobile parts distribution company in October, combining a passion for snowmobiling with an ideal business background.

“That’s what I like about this business — there’s no concentration of customers or suppliers,” he said. “It’s really diverse, but it’s very dependent on snow. We learned that the hard way, as this season we’ll end up with more inventory than we want.”

Snowmobile racers also provide Hi-Performance with steady business.

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“We cater to them with as much performance product as can get,” said Mattson, who distributes a host of performance brands. “We work with those suppliers to keep products in inventory so we can cater to the racers.”

Finally, Mattson says recreational trail riders are the largest growing segment of customers. “We sell at a bit of a better price than they’re going to find in the overall market. And the price is important, but availability is much more important. We have product in stock,” he said.

Mattson said he has been serving an influx of riders who perform their own maintenance on hyfax or carbides. In addition, mountain riders tend to tweak their sleds more often than most, and Hi-Performance is reaching that demographic as well. Mattson plans to increase his marketing reach for the 2012-13 season and show an increased presence on the snowmobile scene.

Among his other goals are to keep most of his nine employees through the summer months by adding to the company’s ATV product distribution.

“At peak season we’re processing about 300 orders a day. In the summer we don’t do nearly that amount, so I’m looking for ways to expand,” said Mattson, who paid his way through college as an auto mechanic. “If I could keep seven people busy year-round, that would be great.”

Piston work (“not a day goes by when we don’t ship a piston,” he says) and storage elements on sleds (“people want to take things with them these days, and windshield bags and tunnel bags are big sellers,” he says) are two product segments that have been revenue drivers for Hi-Performance.

“People are keeping their sleds longer and running them harder. With these two-strokes, they keep the throttle down a little longer than they should, and it’s more wear and tear on the engine,” Mattson said. “We sell a lot of pistons to the small repair shops.”

It’s been that way for decades, and Mattson is aiming for more of the same.

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