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January 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What Dive Shops Think About Your Gear

especially if you didn’t buy it from them

from the January, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent subscriber Chip Wright (Hebron, KY) sent us a letter about the Scuba Shack, a dive store in Florence, KY, where he once shopped but no longer does. "My wife and I did a refresher course there and ultimately bought our gear there. We have been happy with the gear and pleased with the instruction. However, the Shack will not allow you to dive with them unless you either rent their equipment or buy your gear there. If you bring in something you purchased elsewhere, they must "inspect it." The claim is that this is an insurance issue. Personally, I don't buy it, pun very much intended. Is the Shack just trying to force customers to buy from them, or could they have a legitimate argument? If so, is it because they can't get any better insurance coverage? Just how common is this?"

While this was a response of some dive stores when mail order and Internet purchases offered early competition with them, we thought most had given up such practices, realizing they're better off competing than setting up artificial barriers for their customers. We e-mailed and called the Scuba Shack for their response but never got a reply. We also put Wright's question in our monthly subscriber e-newsletter, asking if anyone had experienced something similar. We received plenty of feedback, from both divers and dive shop owners.

Most divers said their dive shops don't act like the Scuba Shack, and are very accommodating. Terry Taylor (Towson, MD) praises Aqua Ventures in Cockeysville, MD. "I have purchased the majority of my dive equipment there. The Aqua Ventures owner has been most gracious, still offering advice with the items not bought at his shop. They have always treated me fairly, often providing advice that was best for my needs but not always in their best interest. I feel a strong loyalty to my local dive shop, and will almost always purchase items from them before I look to other venues."

Mike Boom (Oakland, CA) also has a good dive shop/bad dive shop story. "Jim Steele, the owner of Steele's in Oakland, has no problems with people servicing their own regulators, and isn't put out by people buying equipment anywhere else. The opposite of Jim was a shop (now out of business, possibly for good reason) in Monterey that refused to fill a brand-new steel tank purchased elsewhere unless it had a visibility check first. There's a tiny chance that a brand-new steel tank could be rusty, but there's a much larger chance of an older tank 11 months after a check being rusty. They'd fill the older tank, bought at their shop, though. I think shop Nazis are the result of the dive industry's tendency to be overly paternalistic: '"We know best, and you must do everything through us.'"

On the other hand, says Bill Hickert (Russell, KS), you have to show some respect to the business owner, especially when the Internet is putting a major dent in his sales. "Why in the hell would he open his pool or his dive trips to people who support Internet shopping? Support your local dive shops or they will not be around, period. The local dive shop that falls over backwards catering to customers who shop on line and buy their gear everywhere else will find out soon enough that he can't pay his bills that way, and he won't be around either. I'm not saying treat your customers bad, but the customer should be grateful that he has a local dive shop still open."

That attitude was in favor years back, but we think it is fading fast. Noel Voroba, who owns Orbit Marine Sports Center in Bridgeport, CT, says "those policies are detrimental to diver retention. It's hard enough to attract new divers in this economic climate, and you'll lose them with policies such as you mention. I have never turned anyone away because they bought gear somewhere else. I have lost that sale, but I have an opportunity to gain another customer for service, upper level classes, global dive trips and local boat charters. It's insane for a shop to have such a rigid policy."

John McKenzie (Kingston, WA) works at Octopus Gardens Diving in Port Townsend, WA, and says that when people come to class with their own gear that has not been seen before, the shop inspects it free of charge. "They do this as a 'courtesy inspection' and not a 'shaming inspection.' They also offer a free regulator inspection and bench test to anyone who walks in the door with any gear. Shops need to be positive, and not punitive, in their competition with online retailers and other shops. Inspire divers to want to shop with them."

But dive shops do have rules and legalities they need to follow, says Doug Burch of FF Divers in Sellersville, PA, who has some frustration with price-focused divers. "I realize that in this economy, folks need to save, but I am getting tired of the abuse from some customers when they get hooked on the Internet, then take it out on a shop because they won't take care of gear not purchased there, even if the shop is a dealer for that line. Some folks just do not understand the restrictions and rules you must obey if you are a dealer for some of the major outfits."

While we understand all these points of view, in a world where more and more sales transactions are happening online, brick-and-mortar dive shops have a harder challenge staying in business. However, from a consumer standpoint -- and that is Undercurrent's point of view -- no customer likes "you can't do that" stipulations. Restrictive policies by manufacturers and dive shops refusing to cater to potential customers are ultimately losing strategies. An increasing number of divers are shopping far beyond their local dive shop. The mantra "support your local dive shop," while well intentioned, means little to a new generation of divers who use the Internet, iPhones and Fed Ex to conduct business.

-- Vanessa Richardson

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