Although the illustrious beginnings of Arctic Cat occurred before my time, my personal experience as an Arctic Cat Consumer, Arctic Cat dealer and Arctic Cat corporate leader gives me a unique perspective on the history, current state and possible future state of Arctic Cat.
Edgar Hetteen, founder of Polaris, launched Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls, Minnesota after leaving Polaris behind. The legend of Arctic Cat was born in 1960 and the story continues today with innovative snowmobiles that float, climb and carve through feet of snow. The iconic brand is beloved across multigenerational families that bleed green. The new Arctic Cat Alpha with the single beam rear skid is the latest example of Arctic Cat engineering bred from it’s racing heritage.
As a child my first snowmobile ride was on a 1977 Arctic Cat Panther. Graduating to a 1979 Arctic Cat Pantera, I fell in love with winter recreation on the rolling hills of Idaho potato farms. Arctic Cat was my ticket to winter adventures while my Schwinn bicycle was stored away. My parents bought matching one piece Arctic Cat snowmobile suits because they were warm and cool. We had a lot of fun on the Cats. One day, Dad used a snowmobile to get to work because the snow drifts were to deep to drive a 4×4 through.
In 1985, our local Arctic Cat dealership was only a block away from my Middle School. They also carried Honda and Yamaha motorcycles. I occasionally would sneak over to the dealership to check out the new sleds and motorcycles. One day, I asked Mr. Thompson, the owner, if I could have a snowmobile brochure. He told me they were only for real customers. I asked him what it would cost if I paid for the brochure. He agreed to sell me a brochure for $0.50. So, the next day I used some of my lunch money to purchase the Arctic Cat and Yamaha snowmobile brochures. I hung the pictures from the brochures up in my bedroom.
About 20 years later, I bought that same dealership as the operating partner for Rexburg Motorsports, originally a Polaris dealership in Rexburg, Idaho. I think the buyout of that dealership finally qualified me as being a “real customer” since I bought all their inventory. (Note: I didn’t pay any extra for the brochure inventory.)
Arctic Cat became one of seven other major unit product lines our dealership carried including Polaris, Suzuki, BRP (Can-Am and Ski-Doo), Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Husqvarna. Arctic Cat customers were passionate and die-hard. The hard core customer group were great riders and bled green. The other Arctic Cat dealers were usually hard core enthusiasts. And the employees of Arctic Cat were helpful as a troop of boy scouts. Being an Arctic Cat dealer meant being part of a new family. The Arctic Cat culture was about people and winning. Arctic Cat was the first manufacturer to bring to market a 1000 cc ATV, 1000 cc Side by Side and 1000 cc snowmobile.
In 2014, I sold out of Rexburg Motorsports to pursue additional education and a pivot to the manufacturing side of the powersports business. My primary motivation to make such an abrupt career pivot was to have a bigger hand in guiding the transformation and disruption of the industry in a way that would capture more Customers and dramatically improve the overall Customer experience.
I took the GMAT exam in January of 2015, enrolled in the Marriott School of Business Executive MBA program. That year, I got to know Arctic Cat’s leadership team while leading marketing and international sales for Motorfist. Chris Metz, the CEO of Arctic Cat hired me to be the Director of Dealer Development for North America. I worked for Arctic Cat and then Textron after their acquisition of Arctic Cat in 2017 and worked for Textron as Director of Channel Development for Textron’s consumer brands including Arctic Cat through 2018. A month later, I co-founded Hero Hub, Inc, home of Dealer Hero, a digital platform solutions firm positioned to help manufacturers establish stronger connections to dealers to delight Customers.
My unique experience as an Arctic Cat consumer and rider, as a dealer and as an OEM employee gives me a 360-degree perspective of the brand. The brand has been through a lot of ups and downs corporately. When Textron acquired Arctic Cat and terminated the Arctic Cat branding for off-road vehicles, the dealers made an uproar, fighting for the brand. The Customers hardly noticed a name change. By the time Textron changed the name back in early 2019, most Arctic Cat Customers didn’t even realize what happened.
Recessions, a 1982 bankruptcy, several headquarter moves, and ownership changes couldn’t kill the Arctic Cat brand power. The boy scout friendly people of Thief River Falls, Minnesota that design, engineer, manufacture and support the great Arctic Cat products feed the passion of Dealers and Consumers around the globe. Arctic Cat was always known for having superior suspensions to get through rough terrain. Metaphorically, the Arctic Cat brand has successfully navigated through really rough terrain because of the heart of the great Dealers and the passion that bleeds green in the veins of Arctic Cat riders.
How will the next generation experience Arctic Cat? What does the brand promise its Customers? The most important question may be this: What Arctic Cat product experience is so exciting that Generation Z would be willing to give up half their lunch money (or Fortnite V-bucks) to hang the dream of that experience on his or her bedroom wall? Textron, the talented people in Thief River Falls, and the network of dealers have a powerful and legendary brand as a foundation for the future. Aligning the Arctic Cat brand promise and Customer experience with the hard core Arctic Cat Customer’s dreams and passion is the task at hand. If successful, the Arctic Cat story will continue for many generations to come.
Jared Burt is the Chief Strategist of Automotive for Williams Forrest and co-founder of Hero Hub Inc home of Dealer Hero. He is a powersports enthusiast, Consumer, former dealership owner and OEM leader. Jared teaches Marketing and Business courses as an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University–Idaho. He and his wife Nicole have three daughters and a son that love adventures in the mountains of Idaho.
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