Here in the Northeast, we start preparing for winter weather in the early fall. For homeowners, “winter prep” is a chore – servicing snowblowers, buttoning up the house and deck against ice and snow, and arranging for plow services to clear driveways. For others, it’s an opportunity to earn extra seasonal income. Many landscaping and construction companies, repair shop owners and some private individuals operate snowplow services during the “slow months” in their primary fields. Finally, there are snowmobile enthusiasts who actually look forward to the white stuff falling!
When it comes to seasonal merchandising and sales, light-duty snowplow parts represent one of the best returns on investment of any seasonal display. Four to eight feet of gondola space is enough to show off a modest inventory of essential plow parts, lighting and fluids. If salesfloor space is at a premium, prominently advertising that you stock these specialty items can attract enough attention to start a conversation.
Stocking the most popular of these items is critical for realizing maximum sales. Plow operators don’t keep “banker’s hours,” and most of their workday is spent in the dark. Early mornings and late nights mean breakdowns occur when parts stores are closed, and I’ve had many a customer waiting in the parking lot when I arrived, eager to get a hydraulic hose and fluid, a solenoid or coil, so they can get back to plowing their customers’ properties. Downtime means lost revenue, so if you stock it, you’ve sold it!
Plow parts are mainstream enough for many SKUs to be stocked at the warehouse level, so replenishment or non-stock orders can be obtained same day or next day if your warehouse has invested in a stocking inventory. Many independent stores buy plow parts directly from a specialty distributor, so they place a large stock order at the beginning of the season, and special-order slower-moving parts on an as-requested basis. Return terms for these orders may vary, so selecting your stocking inventory carefully is the best way to avoid holding obsolete parts from year-to-year. Fluid, hoses and fittings, motors, solenoids and coils, lights, plow markers, trip springs, pins and shoes are some of the most commonly requested essential items.
Once the roads, parking lots and driveways have been cleared, for many of our customers it’s time to hit the snowmobile trails. Here in upstate New York, snowmobiles are a regular part of our local winter economy, bringing tourist dollars to our communities. Local riders already know you as a reliable source of parts and supplies for their sleds, but out-of-towners might be caught scrambling for a last-minute drive belt, spare spark plugs or injector oil. Your reputation in the community serves you well when these riders make “pit stops,” mingling with the locals and asking for advice.
The extreme temperatures that signal snow season also can be rough on the tow vehicles and trailers that bring snowmobilers to your town. Whether selling them DIY parts at your counter or recommending one of your commercial accounts to perform needed repairs, you’re capturing a part of that tourist dollar.
Parts opportunities for snowmobiles are very similar to other powersport units. Spark plugs, drive belts, lighting, oil and fluids are our best-selling items in this category. Two-stroke sleds had been the industry standard since the 1950s, but four-stroke engines have become an important part of the market over the past 20 years. These engines offer increased reliability and horsepower, less maintenance and lower emissions than the two-strokes of the past. All snowmobiles can offer us spark plug and drive belt sales opportunities, but two- and four-strokes have very different needs when it comes to engine oils. Like other two-stroke equipment, snowmobiles burn a gas-oil mixture. Oils specifically designed for two-stroke snowmobiles feature low-temperature pour points, clean-burning formulas to prevent carbon deposits and fouling, and create less smoke and odor, which is a bonus for the people riding behind you.
Four-stroke sleds have a traditional crankcase/sump design, and use a recirculating motor oil, which also means the opportunity for an oil-filter sale. Recommending oils (and coolant) for four-stroke snowmobiles is very much like navigating today’s automobile-fluids market. Manufacturer-specific approvals and compatibilities need to be considered, and if you don’t have the appropriate product, referring your customer to the local powersports dealer is the best thing you can do for your customer.
If your market warrants the investment, including some of these specialty oils and fluids in your inventory along with other powersport and plow-related SKUs will help to make your store more profitable no matter the weather!