Warm weather putting a crimp on snowy sales

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 31, 2002

For Larry Ulland, this winter hasn't been much different from the last.

When part of your job includes selling things like snowmobiles and snowblowers, it's easy to see why.

Ulland, a sales representative at Persinger’s Equipment in Austin, still remains somewhat hopeful.

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"We're only one week into winter," he said.

But he was also realistic.

"Last year was a slow year with snowmobiles and this year it's looking that way," he said.

Sometimes, there's a preseason rush of sales on snowmobiles in the spring, Ulland said. But many times, used sleds are also a popular buy if there's significant snowfall.

But Ulland said snowmobiles are the more popular purchases, not only because they're worth more, but there's also the accessories and clothing that go with it.

Still, local business owners aren't the only ones hurting for the lack of accumulative snowfall.

Joe Schierl spent nearly $600,000 this summer on new trucks and trailers for his snowplowing company, Reliable Snow Plowing, in preparation for a long, cold winter.

Unfortunately, there's no snow to be scooped.

"You just gotta be prepared to deal with these extremes," Schierl said. "And you've got to have a good credit line at the bank."

That's snow business.

Still, some Minnesota businesses are beginning to worry -- no snow, normal temperatures and a forecast that calls for rain this week in the Twin Cities.

"People don't understand how this no-snow thing is killing us," said John Noard, who owns the Anoka Ramsey Sport Center in Anoka. Noard's snowmobile sales are down 60 percent from last year. During a normal winter he sells 600 to 700 snowmobiles, at $3,000 to $10,000 each. This year he'll be lucky to sell 200.

While the biggest snowfall months tend to be January through March, businesses such as Noard's rely on a good start to the snow season to boost sales. A March storm might bring a foot of snow, but most Minnesotans are thinking more about the boating season by then instead of whether they should get a new snowmobile or pair of skis.

Others hope the snow never comes.

Some retailers and restaurant owners such as Skip Fay, chairman of Dunn Bros. Coffee, say this kind of weather is great for business. The theory is that people are more willing to get in and out their cars than when it's freezing and there's a foot of snow.

The company, one of the state's largest property management companies, is saving money on snow removal and heating bills.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report