Despite a sluggish start to early season sales of ice and snow removal equipment, confidence is starting to grow in the industry, creating some pockets of hope we might see a good year after all. First, let’s look at why some people in the industry are struggling.
Why the Snow and Ice Equipment Industry is Sluggish this Quarter
Mild 2015-2016 Winter
The slow start of early season sales is due to the very mild 2015-2016 weather. Snow contractors did not make a lot of money nor did they put a lot of hours on their equipment creating lower than normal product demand. Pete Simpson at Plow Parts Direct speaks for most in the industry, “We expected the season to have a bit of a soft start due to the mild winter last year, and so far that has been true.”
Then comes along our extended summer. The extended summer weather is both good and bad. It is good because landscapers, who still make up a majority of snow removal contractors, are making more money and they can better afford new equipment. On the flip side, they are so busy in the field, they do not have time to think about getting ready for winter; for the most part they just are not buying new snow plows yet.
Terry Wendorff, president of plow manufacturer Sno-Way Intl, tells us, “Sales have been at a steady but slow pace largely due to the warm weather throughout September.” The industry knows a lot of people just don’t buy their snow plow until it is cold outside, and even then, some wait until the snow starts flying.
Added to the lack of sales is the huge amount of inventory throughout the supply chain, especially in the hands of dealers. The dealers are reluctant to buy when they have inventory still sitting from last year and distributors are in the same boat. Until clear winter forecasts came out, most dealers were reluctant to take the financial risk of ordering stock they may not need.
With so many variables leaning toward negativity and conservatism, the industry is at a teetering point waiting on some good news that will bring growth back into the viewfinder. That good news seems to have come from the latest winter weather forecasts and sales of niche and money saving equipment.
As Snow Plow News did its own research these past few weeks, we found a few bright spots and a growing number of indicators that an uptick in sales is at hand with a look toward the positive.
Snow Plow Buyer Confidence is Returning
2016 a Best Year for Sales?
Jeen Stork shared with us “so far we are ahead of our best year.” Jeen is responsible for sales at Stork’s Plows who snatches up old inventory and sells it off at discount prices. Jeen added, “The snow predictions look to be in our favor; we hope to keep it up.”
All We Need Now is Snow!
“We need snow activity to be above last winter in order to clear dealer inventories,” comments Wendorff at Sno-Way. That snow is exactly what the weather forecasters are predicting, snows returning back to normal, and those forecasts are helping prod sales along.
Optimistic Contractors Helping Current Sales
Todd Riley at PACE, Inc. wrote in to us his agreement. “Some products are still moving, so there must be some optimism with commercial contractors, most likely based on the solid long-range forecast.” PACE, Inc. is a distributor for several major brands in the snow and ice industry, and it appears they are seeing across the board movement, not just inventory from a single manufacturer.
Manufacturers Trying to Jump Start Sales
It is not just the weather, as Riley points out, “Manufactures have made some effort to jump start sales mostly with financing and some special pricing.” Some manufacturers are even giving out free financing until the snow comes. That means while most of us are yet to see our first snow flake, it still appears to be a market favoring the early bird who gets the plow.
Most manufacturers are glad to see an uptick. As Steve Sepaniak at Arctic Sectional Plows mentions, “The season started slow but is picking up speed. In our business everyone understands that it’s not a matter of if it snows, it’s when!”
New Trucks Mean New Snow Plow Sales
The snow is not here yet, but the “when” to buy a new plow appears to be now. Simpson adds his two cents, “We expected the season to have a bit of a soft start due to the mild winter on the east coast last year. In the last week or so we have seen a big jump in requests for quotes on new plows for 2017 trucks getting ready to hit the market. We are also seeing an uptick in the number of clients who are interested in the more versatile plows.” Simpson is referring to plows like Western’s MVP 3 V-plow or Boss’s Power V-plows that can act as a straight blade, a v-plow, or a scoop plow and referring to straight blades with various wing accessories. Should we tell you he has already order more plows from the manufacturer to keep up with demand with these versatile plows?
New Technology Influencing Sales
The new technology certainly helps sales as well. People are replacing their straight blade plows with the newer versatile plows because they just move more snow faster than the old technology. Parking lots can be cleaned with less people and less equipment when one new snow plow can move more than 6 cu. feet of snow; that means buying that new plow actually save you money.
Those that manufacture niche snow plows are also seeing strength from their growing markets. Chuck Kimmel at Blackline Snow Plows commented, “The ATV and UTV industry seems to be growing and with more people putting plows on Zero turn mowers it should be a great year.”
Salt Systems Technology Helping Too
It is not just newer snow plows that are spurring on sales. Simpson also shared, “I expect some interest in pre-wet systems this season as more clients realize the value of adding a liquid solution to their salting fleets.” It is not just pre-wetting systems, but brine application systems are also on the rise. The liquid systems (brine or pre-wet) help reduce the overall use of salt and also allows the salt to work faster in icy conditions.
Looking Forward to that First Snow Storm
As dealers, distributors, and manufacturers are seeing the industry pick up steam, everyone is still wondering when that first snow will hit. Early snows can hit as early as October, but for most of the states that see the bulk of snow and ice removal, that snow will likely come in mid-November. Speaking of a pre-Thanksgiving storm, Simpson also mentioned, “all the fence sitters will jump to the purchase side and it will be a busy holiday!”
If sales keep on building steam, hopefully those fence sitters will still find the snow plow they are looking for to move that white gold from the sky. Here’s to looking at a great snow and ice industry year this season, folks, and if you are buying a new plow this year, be sure to make a comment on our Facebook page about what plow that is!
Mike Stevens is Editor of Snow Plow News. He has been in the industry for decades working for and closely with the biggest names in the industry.