As parents buy kiddie snowmobiles, dealers are delighted to play Santa, hiding the extra-large present until Christmas.
This holiday season, Thomas Sno Sports in Ogilvie got a top-secret directive straight from the North Pole: Help parents hide the snowmobiles they bought for their kids until Christmas.
Across the Twin Cities, Thomas Sno and other dealers are seeing renewed interest in youth snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. The overall snowmobile segment for kids and adults alike, has gone up 28 percent since 2010, with worldwide sales of 144,601 units in 2013. Anecdotally, demand for the bite-sized machines is growing.
“We have three youth snowmobiles hidden out in one of our sheds” because the dads don’t have anywhere to hide them, said Thomas Sno salesman Josh Luberda, who admitted that he enjoys playing the role of Santa’s helper.
With an improving job market and overall economy, families are once again splurging on big-ticket recreational items, spending $3,000 or more on snowmobiles and ATVs made just for kids. The trend is being thoroughly enjoyed in Minnesota, home to two of the nation’s largest recreational vehicle makers and some of the snowiest turf in the country.
“For sure, our youth ATVs … and snowmobiles are [selling]. It’s a big time of year,” said Polaris spokeswoman Donna Beadle.
The change started last year amid abundant snowfalls that encouraged snowmobile enthusiasts. “People said we had a great snowy winter last year, and put a lot of miles on our snowmobiles,” said Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association in Michigan.
Snow aside, a host of economic factors pepped up the season. Klim noted the return of home equity loans, which families often use to fund big-ticket purchases. A surging stock market and falling gas prices are also helping families hold on to a few extra bucks. Together, they make for a robust season, Klim said.
As a 4-year-old, Klim’s daughter used to take her snowmobile on laps around their house while other kids waited for a turn. It’s been fun to see other families again enjoy that kind of excitement, he said.
Klim said official U.S. industry sales figures won’t be available until next year, but early indications are positive.
Last month’s U.S. snowmobile shows were packed. “A lot of people went to the shows, way more than normal,” said Klim, who attended several trade shows around the country. “We know that attendance was up and that people were talking about buying something for the holidays. So that is real.”
That is exactly what is happening at Tousley Motorsports in Vadnais Heights. Holiday promotions from the four big manufacturers helped drive up ATV and snowmobile sales 20 percent from a year ago, said Brad Edstrom, Tousley’s inventory manager. “Some promotions cut 600 bucks off the price of a vehicle.”
Those discounts have helped Tousley sell five Polaris youth snowmobiles and about 60 ATVs and snowmobiles to adults since Dec. 1.
Dads have been strolling into Tousley’s dealership “excited to get their child into the sport,” Edstrom said. “Parents see the small machines and go, ‘Awww. Little Bobby or Susie is going to love that.’ ”
Mike Larson, owner of Larson’s Cycle in Cambridge, is also seeing a bump. “We are seeing a little spike in youth ATVs and minicycles,” he said.
Larson’s sales have improved since the Great Recession, but are not back to the levels seen in the glory years of 2004-2006 when he was selling 3,000 recreational vehicles a year. Still, he’s not complaining.
Larson’s now selling about 1,200 a year thanks to the improved economy and increased snowfall.
Since Thanksgiving, Larson has sold three Yamaha youth snowmobiles and five adult motorcycles or ATVs for Christmas. They are secretly stored in Larson’s “ready room” waiting for the big reveal.