IS THIS GROWTH SUSTAINABLE?
Seems like there's nothing but good news from every corner of the powersport industry. Last summer saw record demand and sales-to-the-bare-walls of watercraft, ATVs, SxSs and RVs. The COVID reality has driven people to explore new and different ways to recreate.
Our sport, snowmobiling, is as I write this, carding what may very well be the largest annual (percentage) increase in sales in decades. As you read this the supply of new sleds is pretty much dry, finished, over, done. You can't find a new sled for sale and if you do, you'll pay full MSRP - maybe more.
Used snowmobiles have sold at a pace I have personally never witnessed. Sellers are getting ridiculous jing for anything - and I do mean anything - used. I've had a few convos with industry insiders over the Christmas break and there is one question everyone is asking themselves: "Is this sustainable?".
For as many years as I've participated in this sport it has been widely recognized snowmobiling presents potential buyers (new entrants) with a plethora of barriers. Simply put, among other motorized recreational activities snowmobiling requires hand-holding and guidance to get into. Most often, new snowmobilers get into the sport on the seat of a friend's snowmobile.
This being reality, the sport is living off an indigenous core of seasoned, experienced participants whose average age appears to be about 46. The rate of new participants has slumped to less than 5-percent annually. The industry has been able to make this kind of anemic growth work by cannibalizing amongst the sport's four OEMs.
Enter 2020 and the whole picture has changed. New buyers and returning buyers (those who had snowmobiled in the recent or distant past) have come out in record numbers. These buyers represent what every OEM marketing guru dreams about: A genuine, legitimate expansion of the business with new (and returning) participants.
Here's what is exceptionally interesting: The list of barriers we always felt were to blame for the poor rate of growth in the sno-mo-biz were serious stuff. Like needing a 4x4 pickup or SUV to tow a trailer in the worst driving conditions of the year or how about the need for thousands of dollars of clothing for your family including helmets, boots and gloves.
Hang on though, there are more barriers like: "where do I use this thing?" and "What do I do if I get lost?" - all concerns for the uninitiated. Just finding a place to go riding is often intimidating.
Maybe you're thinking I'm nuts listing off these issues (and these are only a few of the many barriers), however, we veteran snowmobilers often take for granted the equipment we have amassed and the experience we have gained - all of which makes it easy for us to pack up, load up and travel to our fave destinations with four sleds and ton of gear in tow.
In 2021 you can almost throw out all the aforementioned barriers to snowmobiling. Oddly, it would appear the number one barrier limiting growth of the snowmobile industry has been warm weather vacations. Yes, I'm serious. People who live in cold, wintery climes are the number one market for a thousand warm weather, Caribbean vacation destinations.
Here's what's interesting - and maybe a little weird, too. Take away the opportunity to spend eight, ten or more K on a warm weather, mid-winter, family vacay and some of these people default to snowmobiling!
So what is it in the absence of a warm weather vacation there appears to be this dramatic increase in snowmobiling interest? "Who are these people" would be a good question for the marketing gurus to extract from new sled registrations. Maybe even surveying the used market using dealer records would further identify who these new buyers are. I can tell you one thing, the OEM marketing departments better identify this new group of buyers right now! Having this many newbies enter the sport all at once presents an opportunity of Olympic proportions!
It would appear the "barrier" our sport needs to rationalize is the unrestrained desire for fair weather, winter vacations. As an industry we must position snowmobiling as a legitimate alternative to a beach vacation - at the very least, a supplement to a warm clime holiday in the winter. All of this rationale and marketing needs to be in place, pronto, post-COVID.
Here is the alternative to figuring this out. When life returns to a state close to previous norms, there is the very real possibility all of these "COVID-market" sleds and equipment will simply be offered for sale. Watch what the prices do if this happens.
It's clear this amazingly bullish market will continue for at least another year. This spring's early order sales programs will set new records. Current demand guarantees lineups of buyers ready to put deposits down on new iron for next year.
What happens after that is squarely in the hands of the people who market snowmobiles. I can tell you one thing for sure - the OEMs need to learn how to communicate to a new group of people - right away!
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