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SNOWBLOWERS HAVE BECOME RARE BREED - AS ANYONE WHO WANTS ONE CAN ATTEST

SHARE SNOWBLOWERS HAVE BECOME RARE BREED - AS ANYONE WHO WANTS ONE CAN ATTEST

Penny-pinching Salt Lake Valley residents who've been unwilling to dish out the dough for a snowblower should warm up their backs and get cozy with their shovels.

There's more snow on the way, and not a trace of a snowblower on the Salt Lake market.Weirdly warm weather through the fall and early winter caused local distributers to evaluate huge inventories of the expensive machines in their warehouses. When snow storms ravaged Eastern states in early January, most sent their inventories there.

"From the manufacturer, to the distributer, to the dealer level - there's no snowblowers in Utah," said Dave Myrup, owner of Jordan Mower in Midvale.

Unless residents get lucky and find one of a handful of snowthrowers hiding around the valley, people the rest of the winter will be shoveling their snow out of the way instead of walking behind a machine that does the work for them.

Mike Howe, at Mowers and Blowers in Sandy, has tapped every dealer in the West to beef up his inventory. Southern Utah didn't get hit as hard as the Wasatch Front in last week's storm, so he picked up a few in Spanish Fork.

Now he's thankful for the handful of machines he scrounged up in California. He paid cash up-front for the equipment, and customers are buying them sight unseen, Howe said.

Later Monday, his luck continued.

"I found 12 in New Jersey an hour ago. I'm paying $100 to ship them, but people are paying $200 to $300 over list price for these things."

Howe has a letter posted in his store explaining higher costs to his customers. He's paying more for the machines and more to get them to Utah, and the customer has to cover those high costs.

It's all about the supply and demand theory, said Howe, who has his own warehouse and was able to stockpile a couple hundred machines in case the snow came late. "You take a gamble, and this time I won, but I've lost in the past," Howe said.

It's financially dangerous to hold onto the machines - which sell for $399 to $2,200 - if they aren't selling.

But like the dozens of other snowblower dealers contacted in by telephone, Howe was close to sold out.

"(The big storm) caught everybody off guard."

Phone calls revealed a $900 machine here, a TCR-2000 tucked away there, a shipment hoped for later in the week, but generally a dearth of the equipment. Retailers offered apologies and explanations.

"Inventory is exhausted," Myrup said. "We might get a few in, but we're not talking truckloads, we're talking a few."

The unexpected winners in the sold-out snowblower scenario are the snow removal companies flooded with calls from consumers in an 11th-hour effort to hire out the dirty work.

Snow removal in commercial parking lots makes up the bulk of work for A-1 Sprinklers/

Maintenance. Usually the company gets five or six residential calls. "This year we got 200," said Wayne Wardle, general manager for the company.

The phone's been ringing off the hook at Tri-Care Services, which does snow blowing, salting and walks. Tri-Care sets up most of its business in October and can't take new customers at this point in the year, said owner Leonard Iversen.

"People are like, `Gosh can't you do anything for me? I can't get my car out of the driveway,' " Iversen said. "But we've got to take care of our regular customers, not the people waiting until the last minute and trying to save money.

"Trying to save that extra dollar ends up costing them $20."