Three years ago, a couple of Polaris employees had a hunch.
If vacationers could rent the latest models of Polaris snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles or Slingshot three-wheelers, they would gain “an experience” and become fast fans of one of America’s top power-sports vehicle makers.
With the blessing of their boss — and a budget — Jan Rintamaki and Paul Vitrano spent 2016 researching their concept of vacation vehicle rentals in Colorado.
They then tested the business model with equipment outfitters at resorts in New Hampshire and California and developed a system that allows vacationers to rent the vehicles, sign waivers and buy a day’s worth of insurance using a simple computer tablet.
“Today, we are in about 75 locations in 30 states. We have done over 25,000 rides,” said Bob Mack, senior vice president of corporate development and strategies. “It’s exciting.”
The new unit partners with local outfitters and leases a fleet of GPS-equipped vehicles from Polaris, whose main business is actually to manufacture the vehicles — to the tune of $5.5 billion in annual sales.
Polaris CEO Scott Wine sees the venture as a smart marketing tool — and one more way to diversify. In recent years, the Medina-based company has expanded its riding-accessories line, bought stores that customize trucks and acquired two big boat manufacturers.
“Polaris Adventures arose from our passion to introduce people to power sports and the realization that we could extend our reach by introducing a new, premium opportunity for off- and on-road day trips,” Wine said. “With the growth of the ‘sharing economy’ we see this as a unique opportunity to share the excitement of riding and driving Polaris vehicles with new customers all across the country.”
The program was designed to be the first of its kind and “really pairs epic locations with fantastic products to create a magical experience,” said Rintamaki, now Polaris Adventures’ general manager. “Simply put, we’re empowering families to explore,” enjoy nature and discover new places.
Locations include Maui; the Grand Canyon; the red rocks of Sedona, Ariz.; the sand dunes of California’s Mohave Mountains; and the trails of South Lake Tahoe.
Industry leaders said Polaris may be onto something.
“What we found in our surveys is that there are a lot of people who don’t own a snowmobile but they would like to rent one [and] try snowmobiling. So we have talked about this leasing idea with all the manufacturers,” said Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association in Michigan.
Harley-Davidson also leases vehicles through EagleRider tour company.
But not all touring companies are convinced that leasing a fleet is the way to go.
Tyler Field, general manager of Lofty Peaks Adventures, in Heber City, Utah, said he had recently been briefed on Polaris Adventures.
“It’s intriguing,” Field said. “But right now, we have a great relationship with our equipment dealer that is just down the street. I guess I’d have to crunch the numbers and figure out if buying vs. leasing a fleet would make sense.”
Lofty Peaks currently owns and rents its guests Polaris, Bombardier Ski-Doos and Kawasaki snowmobiles and four-wheelers. It sells each vehicle after a year or two — before the value depreciates too much.
Field is not sure he is sold on adopting an exclusive alliance with just one equipment manufacturer. That’s a sticking point that Polaris Adventures requires.
But other outfitters said the Polaris Adventures model of leasing fleets works for them.
“Polaris Adventures has allowed me to take it to the next level,” said Eric Loyer, whose Ice Pirates touring company signed on with Polaris last year. It has since received positive feedback from customers.
Loyer started Ice Pirates in Silverton, Colo., in 2008 with six of his own snowmobiles to show off the mountain passes and old ghost towns of the region, which sees more than 150 inches of snow each year. After Silverton officials voted to allow off-road four-wheelers onto city streets, Loyer added a few Polaris RZR models in 2016 and created the “Rock Pirates” division. Not long after, two Polaris officials asked him if he would like to become an official Polaris Adventures partner. He jumped.
In 2017, “when that Polaris trailer first pulled up here, it was impressive. I was excited,” Loyer said. “The Polaris RZRs were the ones that came off the trailer. They were all brand-new and beautiful 2017 red and black shiny new RZR four wheelers.”
The relationship worked so well Loyer boosted the number of RZRs he will lease this spring.
“Polaris has certainly helped to grow our business,” he said.
To keep resort owners coming back, Polaris felt it had to make it simple for outfitters to do business. “So, we provided a turnkey system” that let guests check in with a simple computer tablet, Mack said.
At the same time, outfitters received maintenance schedules, safety training and brand-new vehicles fresh from the factory that were equipped with GPS systems for easy tracking.
“It’s kind of a fun entrepreneurial thing that we did,” Mack said. “We are going to keep learning and growing this. The goal is to see how we can provide potential customers with a safe and fun custom experience.”