Craig Kennedy, Vice President, avid snowmobiler through-and-through is a passionate down to earth experienced snowmobiler. From a young age, he remembers being reprimanded for sketching his ideas of new snowmobiles instead of getting his homework done.
In his 22 years with Arctic Cat®, Kennedy has held various engineering and leadership positions where he has excelled to become the Vice President. He started with the company in 1997 as a Tigershark® Watercraft Engineer. After serving in a few leadership roles as a supervisor of engineering in both watercraft and off-road, Kennedy moved into an engineering product management role for all ATVs that he held for over 10 years. His final engineering project was leading the development of the original Wildcat®.
In 2012, Kennedy moved into international business working with Scandinavia, Europe and Asia for off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, along with parts, garments and accessories. After two years, he became the product strategy director for off-road vehicles where he was responsible for global multi-generational product plans and providing guidance and leadership for business financial objectives.
After the acquisition of Arctic Cat by Textron Inc. in 2017, Kennedy was promoted to Vice President of Snowmobiles and International Powersports. His deep knowledge and understanding of the industry saw his responsibilities expand in early 2019 when he became the Vice President of Arctic Cat (Snowmobiles and Off-Road). In his current role, he has general management responsibilities for Arctic Cat, within Textron Specialized Vehicles.
Basically, Craig is a really big deal, his expertise is unmatched and he probably really does bleed green! In his spare time, Kennedy enjoys the outdoors on anything motorized, with an occasional mountain bike ride. Lucky for us, Craig was able to meet up with us for a quick interview.
We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to talk with you today. How are things these days at Arctic Cat?
Things are going very well. We have taken the off-season to get our house in order and focus on making Arctic Cat profitable. We knew we couldn’t be profitable operating the same way we always have. We took necessary steps to get our dealer channel and business healthy. Our Snowmageddon presale event we implemented for our 2020 model year was extremely successful. We presold three times the amount of sleds of any other presale we have done. This season, we will fire on all cylinders and I’m confident in the future of Arctic Cat.
The industry has been buzzing the last few weeks with rumours circulating about the future of Arctic Cat, and who might be looking at purchasing the company in the near future. Can you tell us more about this, and put an end to these rumours?
There have been several rumors circulating about Arctic Cat that are not true. We are not for sale or being sold, will have a race team and we have a full team of engineers working to bring you exciting new product for 2021.
It’s a busy time of year, and here we are already heading in to the 2020 snowmobile season. How excited are you with the fresh approach that Arctic Cat is taking?
I’m very excited. You can only do things the same way for so long. Times are changing and we recognized we needed to adjust our business model. The industry needs a rejuvenation and fresh ideas infused into it for the future of the sport. We will continue with our presale-only business model and we will announce our 2021 products earlier as part of that.
In 2017 Textron purchased Arctic Cat, how if at all has this impacted Arctic Cat?
Textron is a large, profitable company who knows how to run successful businesses. While there were some growing pains and difficult changes, it is sometimes what is needed to get a business back in the black. The combination of Arctic Cat’s legacy and the new ideas Textron has brought has set Arctic Cat up to be a successful and viable business.
Arctic Cat moved its corporate office out of the Twin Cities and back to Thief River Falls, how has that move back to the factory helped the company?
The people of Thief River Falls are the heart and soul of Arctic Cat, and it is my job to ensure they are taken care of. Being there gives me a finger on the pulse of the business.
Arctic Cat has a lot of strong dealers with a lot of loyal customers across the Snowbelt. What is the dealer strategy moving into 2020?
We’ve worked in the off-season to make our dealer chain healthy. This included aligning with dealers interested in being great business partners. We worked to get inventory levels down so our dealers could run a viable business. We were successful at reducing non-currents and the channel is much stronger. The implementation of the pre-sale only Snowmageddon business model gives us the opportunity to produce what the dealer needs vs what they think customers want. This sets them up to run a healthier business where they can focus on customer service instead of worrying about selling through non-currents.
Is there availability of product for customers that did not ‘snow check’ a snowmobile last Spring?
Snowmageddon was pre-sale only so it’s unlikely. There could be the occasional situation where a dealer took a deposit on a 2020 and a customer doesn’t follow through with the purchase. There are some non-current models in the channel. A customer should check with their local dealer to see what’s available.
You have been riding Arctic Cat’s for a long time and have been working there since 1997, what is your all-time favorite Arctic Cat snowmobile?
I absolutely loved the 700 Firecat! It was a rocket ship. Lots of great memories on that snowmobile. And, it’s still getting it done in the grass drags today, all these years later.
We’ve heard from many snowmobilers that they were hoping for a new 850, or even a larger engine for 2020 and many were thinking that you would be releasing a new platform. Can you give any insight for the 2021 Arctic Cat line-up?
I cannot give specifics on the lineup until it launches, but I can tell you we will have several new sleds introduced.
Racing runs deep in Arctic Cat’s history and has always been a large part of the brand name. What is the plan for the 2020 race season and the future 2021 season?
We will continue to race at a level that makes sense. Arctic Cat has a legacy in racing and we will continue to support it.
On the sidelines Arctic Cat and Yamaha have a great working partnership and an important one. Will this partnership continue and possibly grow in 2021?
Yamaha is a great partner, and we work very closely in snowmobile development. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that will continue.
Being an avid snowmobiler, what sleds are you most excited to ride in the 2020 season?
You know, it all depends on where I’m riding. It’s hard not to love the Alpha in the mountains. It’s so light and nimble feeling. And, a ZR 800 RR is so great at attacking the trails. We had a lot of late snow last winter in Thief River Falls, that made the new Riot incredible fun, whether on trail or off. For those conditions, I had a smile on my face for hours!
Thank you Craig for taking the time to talk sleds with us. We very much appreciate your time and we hope to see you on the snow for a rally this winter.