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The Lion In Winter

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From SnowManager: Canada’s Magazine for Snow & Ice Removal Professionals

Snow Manager is once again showcasing Arctic Snow and Ice Products, the U.S. leader in snow plow technology and the creator of the legendary Arctic Sectional SnoPusher™, the gold standard of the industry for the last twenty years.  To be clear, this is the Arctic based in Frankfort, IL and is not to be confused with the Arctic headquartered in London, Ontario.  Think yellow, not orange!

At the start of last season, U.S. manufacturers were concerned about lackluster demand which they largely attributed to multiple mild winters across the Midwest.  Arctic looked to the north and approached veteran Canadian snow professionals whom they knew would demand the very best in their plows and equipment.  Their efforts were rewarded with their best year in Canada to date.  Add to that Arctic’s private label business with a major equipment manufacturer and it is evident that their products continue to impress.

Last year was also significant because it was the first time Arctic expanded their product line since their flagship product was first formerly introduced to the marketplace 10 years ago.  First, they introduced the Raptor pusher line for the more cost conscious customer, with much of the same technology as the Sectional (the Slip-Hitch™ mount, steel trip edges, etc.), but in a one piece blade.  Next, came the Arctic Sectional SnoPlow™, their first wingless power angled plow, and the first anywhere in a sectional configuration.  Finally, they entered the salt business with the DoubleDown Salt Bucket™, a remarkable scoop and spread attachment that was so popular, the company was forced to consider a rationing program for its dealers.  

At the same time, nearly all of the major snow attachment manufacturers, and a few new ones, unleashed new pusher models in nearly every variety that one could imagine.  They folded, angled, extended and tripped, and a few attempted their version of sectioned moldboards.  A few industry insiders shared the opinion that Arctic’s engineering reputation and the continued dominance of the Sectional had finally forced their competitors to do something to upset the status quo, and some observed that much of the promotional marketing was clearly directed at Arctic.  There was also talk of one manufacturer possibly violating one of Arctic’s key patents. 

We recently caught up with Arctic’s founder and CEO, Randy Strait, to ask him about his insights on this watershed year.  Here are some highlights from that conversation:

Snow Manager:  Bonjour Randy.  There seem to be suddenly an incredible number of new plow designs on the market, each claiming to be better than the rest.  To what do you attribute this flood of new products on the market, many of which seem to be targeted at you?  

Randy Strait:  It does seem like our competitors are all trying to come up with something new to make a name for themselves as engineering geniuses, and I agree that this is a relatively recent phenomenon.  There’s an easy explanation for both and we had predicted this for some time.  When I first developed the Sectional and its peripheral technology almost twenty years ago, it was for my own snow fleet exclusively, which just happens to be the largest in the U.S.  I was frustrated with the technology that existed at the time and I labored for several years to develop something that would revolutionize the way I plowed for a living.  It wasn’t until a little more than ten years ago that I created a separate company to sell these box plows to my fellow contractors.  When it became such a huge success, the manufacturers were caught off guard and could not react quickly because they were primarily metal fabrication and welding shops.  They needed a fair amount of time to catch up.  As far as any promotional marketing that draws comparisons to Arctic’s unique design features, it is understandable that they might want to rebrand their image into one associated with design and engineering excellence. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  

SM:  How do you expect these new products will affect your sales? 

RS:  From what I am seeing, it does not seem to be affecting us adversely at all.  It may even be helping.  In terms of performance, we do not see anything out there that can stack up to the various Arctic models.  Besides, I am receiving sales force reports that indicate that these comparisons to Arctic may be serving to highlight just how impressive our products and reputation are to our customers, similar to the reputation that Mercedes Benz enjoys.  In a practical sense, we have considered almost all of the design concepts that are out there, because we truly understand what works and what doesn’t.  As the largest self-performing snow contractor in the U.S., we have the practical field experience that none of our competitors have to test those concepts in the real world.  We believe we have the very best performing plows and pushers on the market, and that is also why our patents are so important.  

SM: Can you give us an example of an engineering feature that was or is being utilized by one or more competitors that you would have rejected in your designs?

RS: That’s an interesting question and I could certainly point out several little things that others have missed, but one glaring example that stands out is our competitors’ decision to use springs as the key component of a pusher or plow with sectional characteristics.  If you stop to consider how a spring actually works, you would realize that it is counter-intuitive to believe that springs can apply any downward pressure at all to a cutting blade. They have only one capability, which is to release upon impact.  They are designed to move away from pressure, and regardless of how strong they are, once they are compressed, they cannot push back.  They only possess a minor restoring force to return to equilibrium.  In practice, these pushers would actually scrape better if they had no springs at all, which we proved on our own.  In our case, we use specially formulated polyurethane block mounts that can allow the operator to angle his edge for literally thousands of pounds of additional downward pressure right at the cutting edge.  The spring designs simply ride over the ice and hard packed snow.  Plus, they can never contour below grade to remove snow from depressions, like the birdbaths you see in parking lots.  It’s why we completely rejected the spring concept years ago.

SM:  For the previous ten years you only sold one product, the Sectional SnoPusher™.  Then last year you introduced four more plows of various designs plus the DoubleDown Salt Bucket™.  What led to those decisions and what other surprises can we expect from Arctic this year?

RS:  Last year, many factors influenced our product line decisions, starting with the importance we placed in our dealer relationships.  Many wanted a full product line that could appeal to both the large and small customers, but they found it difficult to steer their smaller customers to a lower end non-Arctic pusher once that customer was spoiled by our Slip Hitch system as well as other various performance features.  The two Raptors solved that problem.  With regard to the power angled Sectional SnoPlow™, we had been approached several times by municipalities looking for us to develop a straight plow in a sectional design for their street clearing needs. They were concerned primarily with equipment longevity, operator safety, and the high cost of salt, and knew our reputation in each of these areas.  Now that we have a better understanding of potential demand, we will be working toward introducing additional mounting options this year.  The DoubleDown Salt Bucket™ was simply a year ahead of schedule, but we knew we couldn’t keep it a secret if we used it for internal use only.  This year, we have some new exciting products coming and I might add that this could be a particularly good time for new dealers to join our network.

SM:  Thank You Randy. Merci beaucoup. 

Catherine LeClerc is a freelance writer, consultant and bi-lingual publicist based in Quebec.

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