INDEPENDENCE, Iowa --- Paul Bachman prayed for a white Christmas.
As owner of a new Arctic Cat snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle dealership, Maverick Powersports in Independence, that's expected. Snowmobile sales often are influenced by December snow.
The young entrepreneur was disappointed the ground was bare as December waned, but he said he was optimistic about the long-term success of his business. Bachman is part of a growing trend of companies catering to the winter sport again, according to snowmobile enthusiasts, reversing years of decline.
"I've done my research, know what my margins are and what the area will support for sales," Bachman said. "We're not oversaturated. ... There's tons of potential."
In the early to mid-2000s, snowmobile dealerships statewide fell due to lackluster sales and snow cover. In Northeast Iowa, Weber's Cycle Center in Waterloo and Leroy's Repair near Nashua, among others, quit selling new sleds in 2007 after decades of having done so.
Iowa averaged a paltry 18.7 inches of snow 2001-02, about half as much as normal. It wasn't until 2005-06 that the state exceeded 30 inches.
"We had a few years in the early 2000s that the number of dealers dwindled," said Gary Burger, president of the Iowa State Snowmobile Association.
Enthusiasm for riding and selling snowmobiles changed as snowfall -- especially early -- increased. Weather statistics show Waterloo had 14 inches on the ground a year ago today and 12 inches on Christmas Day in 2008 and 2009. And the snow stuck around for months. Overall, totals exceeded 40 inches three out of the past four years, state climatology records indicate.
Early snow gets people excited to ride and buy, Bachman said. This month's persistent rain and warm temperatures do not. Yet, the 26-year-old won't let Mother Nature sour his mood.
"To be honest, it's about dealer attitude," Bachman said. "I'm young and ambitious ... our No. 1 goal is customer service. We definitely need it, snow helps business. ... There's going to be downturns when snow is less than (needed). I'm going in knowing it's an up-and-down sport."
Since Maverick Powersports, at 1308 5th Ave. N.E., opened in March, Bachman said sales have been good. Ten new sleds and a dozen ATVs and side-by-sides have found new homes. Parts, accessories and clothes sales have been brisk, along with repairs, he said. New snowmobiles cost between $7,200 and $14,500.
Despite the slow economic recovery, Bachman says he is confident he and his family, which own Bachman Tool and Die, made a good investment. Several hundred thousand dollars was sunk into remodeling one of the family's manufacturing facilities into a showroom and repair shop and inventory.
As die-hard snowmobilers, the Bachmans said riders are fiercely brand loyal and there wasn't a Cat dealer within 50 miles of Independence.
"There was a large void in the area, so we decided to (be) a Cat house," Bachman said. "It's a luxury item, and people will spend on luxury."
Snowmobiling is a financial boon for the state, according to a report prepared for the state snowmobile association.
Burger said the vast majority of Iowans are surprised to learn that snowmobiling generates millions in revenue and a thousand-plus jobs statewide.
He said several new dealerships have opened in the last few years, which help the economy.
The website Snowmobile.com reports 21 dealers in the state.
According to the report released earlier this year, Iowa snowmobilers spend an estimated $76.3 million per year on equipment and activities. More than $50 million stays in-state, while $26 million is spent on trips out of state.
There were 28,265 registered snowmobiles in 2009-10 and an estimated 11,306 families riding, the report said. Nonresidents purchased 640 trail permits in 2010, dropping more than a half-million dollars in Iowa, according to the report.
"I think it's very positive the number of dealers coming back," Burger said. "The more snowmobiles sold, the more fuel is consumed and gear purchased ... it has a direct relationship (on the economy)."