Strong sales numbers are good. Record sales numbers are better. Or are they?

The answer is complicated for Polar Tech.

“We’ve had a record-breaking year,” said project manager Mike Bryant. “We made a million dollars, I believe, in one month in snowmobile sales. And we’ve already broken that.”

Polar Tech owner Joey Sutton, left, and Mike Bryant, project manager, have seen their products sell fast during the pandemic.
Blair McBride/NNSL photos

Of the 200 snow machines that started arriving at the end of summer, about half have already sold.

The sharp reduction in residents travelling outside the territory due to the Covid-19 pandemic has made Northerners a “captive market” for the snowmobiles and other recreational equipment that Polar Tech specializes in.

“(People) aren’t going on summer vacations and staying in cottages down south in Ontario, or they’re not going to Cuba or Florida this winter, they’re not visiting family. And they’re spending money, because they’re looking for something to do. This is a year for a lot of people to buy a boat, or to buy a snow machine or an ATV. And we’re one of the few places where you can buy these things,” Bryant explained.

NWT-bound residents heading out for camping trips in the summer snapped up Polar Tech’s generators, and the shop sold almost all of its KingFisher boats.

Strong sales of recreational equipment point to the community coming together while most residents remain in the NWT.

“Camping has gone through the roof. We had our generators flying off the shelves, so people can go camping and going out a little further than they normally would,” said Bryant. “They’re buying a generator, so they can stay in their camper … and maybe going out there with their neighbours or their relatives in town, seeing each other a little bit more than they would (before).”

Wider context of record sales

This is where the complicated part comes in for Bryant.

Despite all the success that he described, he feels uneasy that the company is doing well while so many other businesses in the NWT are struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

“The glowing numbers that I’ve been talking about, I think everyone, including us, would trade all of that for the pandemic to end so we can go back to our normal lives,” he said.

Mike Bryant, left, project manager at Polar Tech, and company owner Joey Sutton have sold about half of the 200 snow machines the company ordered for this season.

“We really feel badly for all the companies that aren’t doing well and are being totally cut off just because of the kind of business that they do, whether it’s close personal contact, or running an establishment, or the restaurants that are having an incredibly difficult time,” he said. “The tourism industry has been devastated, and we don’t know when that’s going to improve.”

Amid Polar Tech’s brisk business activity over the last six months, it shares some of the same difficulties that have affected almost all retail companies this year. Disrupted supply chains have led to shortages of parts and products, most of which come from the United States. Compounding that is the reality that most powersports vendors like Polar Tech tend to be thriving during Covid, which has driven up demand.

Another challenge for Polar Tech has been the training sessions for its new point-of-sale system called Lightspeed.

“We switched over to that in September. They’re supposed to set a team here to help train us and they couldn’t do that. And so we had to do all the training remotely and that has been an extreme challenge,” Bryant said, adding that similar problems arose with doing inventory audits remotely because the auditors couldn’t come in person.

Looking ahead to the winter

The company isn’t letting its retail success distract it from the cold months ahead and the challenges the season could bring.

For one thing, Bryant can’t be certain the shop will be able to receive enough product to meet the demands of eager snowmobilers staying in the NWT for the winter.

“The business is very good right now. That could change dramatically,” he said.

He also wonders what will happen if the coronavirus “roars into” the NWT and upsets the relative security the territory has been experiencing.

“We’re just hoping that we can keep Covid out of the NWT, and that we keep each other safe, and hopefully things will improve in the spring,” he said.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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