ST. CLOUD (AP) -- Kevin Gans has found himself working from 7 a.m. to midnight lately.
The general manager of Pro Cycle & Snowmobile, just east of this central Minnesota city, said that for the last three snow-starved winters, he was lucky to see 15 customers in the first hour of a day's business.
Thursday, he saw nearly 60 in that time.
Inventories are finally moving at snowmobile dealerships, where managers had cut back stock by an estimated 30 percent and have taken less than half the normal preseason orders.
This year's resurgent snowfall has boosted sales of more expensive models, and bigger preseason orders are likely in March and April, said Rand Roeske, manager of Paynesville Sports Center.
"People are willing to invest a little more when they see the snow," Roeske said. New machines range from $1,800 for a youth model to $10,000 for a large, two-person model.
Boat sales have helped business survive the winter drought, Roeske said, and other shops have leaned on fast-growing revenues from all-terrain vehicles. Craig Clark, owner of Little Falls Lawn & Sports, has seen snowmobile owners trade in their winter sleds for ATVs in recent years.
About 20 percent of the snowmobile market swings with weather trends, Clark said. Industrywide, sales are expected to total 170,000 for 2000, down from the norm of 200,000 and well below the peak of 240,000 in 1997, Clark said. Preseason sales usually hover at 40 to 50 percent of the total but fell to 20 percent during years of light snowfalls.
Numbers for 2001 should be higher than in 2000, he said.
That will be good news to the four snowmobile manufacturers, a pack led by Polaris with 32 percent of market share. Ski-Doo grabs 30 percent of the market, Clark said, followed by Arctic Cat with 26 percent and Yamaha with the remainder.
Polaris Industries, Inc. could see sales improve next year if this season's snow cleans out dealer inventories and revives spring orders, said Mike Malone, chief financial officer of the Plymouth-based manufacturer.
Polaris has seen revenues from snowmobiles shrink by 15 percent from 1997 to 1998 and go up just half a percent from 1998 to 1999, he said. Sales for 2000 are expected to be down 5 to 7 percent.
ATV sales, meanwhile, have grown to become 60 percent of Polaris' business, Malone said.
Both balmy winters and snowy seasons work in favor of a Royalton business that manufactures snowmobile trailers.
Sales of the aluminum Sled Bed made by Newman's Manufacturing Inc. are up 30 percent this year, owner Doug Newman Sr. said.
Snow helps, but lack of snow also prompted sales when snowmobilers had to drive greater distances to enjoy the sport, company spokesman Jeff Deering said.
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