Dive Shops Need To Get Their Priorities Straight

It’s fairly indisputable that we can’t create a diving consumer until we at least get him or her into an entry-level training program. Let’s face it, golfers and tennis players don’t buy many wetsuits, regulators or dive computers.

The new market for diving instruction is a different breed of cat in many ways. Frequently, they are taking up the sport with the sole intention of participating only when they vacation in a resort area. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; the skiing industry has marketed themselves successfully in much the same way for decades. Diving has become a mainstream recreational pursuit for the masses, and it must compete with the other sporting interests of consumers who may also participate in boating, tennis, cycling, camping, skiing, etc.

The savvy dive store owner will recognize that his true competitor is the other active sports available to people, and learn to market diving instruction just like any other product in a competitive arena. Sell the fun elements, the adventure, the romance. And make it fit the consumers’ schedule, not the instructor’s. We have to successfully service the busy executive, the harried medical professional, the gonzo lawyer who nails 70-plus billable hours per week, the flight attendant who takes her classroom session in New Jersey but does the ocean dives while on layover in Bonaire or St. Thomas, as well as Joe Six-Pack who may be pulling double shifts to get by. The innovative training retailer will somehow provide a program for each individual.

And herein lies a fundamental flaw in our approach to selling diving: using training as a loss leader to hopefully attract merchandise sales. At a time when retailers are facing serious threats to their role as the primary suppliers of dive equipment from traditional mail-order competition and the burgeoning specter of “virtual dive stores” on the Internet, the protection of retail price margins is a central concern to all involved.

While I don’t have all the answers for the store owner confronted by his customer waving discount price quotes in his face and demanding parity or losing the sale, I can tell you that the one product that no one can take away from him is training. Why is it that, as retailers, we would rather eat razor blades than discount a snorkel, but think nothing of selling a 40-hour dive certification course for $59.95?

Training should be a profit center, not a loss leader. There, I said it when no one else wanted to. The Internet and mail order can’t teach a student to clear his mask, master buoyancy control or experience the unique thrill of simply breathing underwater for the first time. So why do we give this valuable service away for practically nothing? The answer, as so often is the case, is “because we always did it this way”.

That’s bad business. And it’s only going to get worse unless we wake up and charge what our professional services are worth. Because it is getting harder to manage price margins on gear in a rapidly changing retail environment that offers so many options to the savvy consumer. That’s reality and it’s not pretty. Where did you buy your last camera or television? At your local “mom & pop” storefront or at Best Buy, Wal-Mart or the Internet? The truth hurts.

Consumers pay hundreds of dollars to perfect their back swings and to improve their parallel turns. They will pay a fair price for dive training, too. If you consider the resources tied up in a typical certification program, we should charge about $500 a pop. But it will take a fundamental paradigm shift within the industry to eliminate the misconception that training is a giveaway to compete with the store down the block.

Embrace the concept of aggressively incorporating kids at the earliest age into junior-certification programs as a family unit. Sell the sizzle of dive travel simultaneously, and use the tropical resorts as your ally to complete openwater requirements in clear, warm water that invites continued participation in a sport notorious for its dropout rate.

When it comes to the customer who is just starting to consider diving, retailers control the keys to the kingdom. Service him and his family well during the training phase, and you have a fighting chance to get the majority of his retail purchases…especially if you have given yourself some wiggle room on price competition by making a fair margin already on his c-card.

You can take that to the bank.

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6 thoughts on “Dive Shops Need To Get Their Priorities Straight”

  1. I agree. The “big box sports store” here has a dive section and a pool on site. But in the dive section, if you want to take an open water class, you need to have four people, or pay a lot more money to do a “private” lesson. You also have to do the course on there schedule. If you work weekends, then your not going to be able to use that store. Also they only sell certain equipment. If they can’t buy 500 regs of a particular model in a brand that they sell, to distribute to there other stores, they wont buy them. If you walk in with a dive mag. and say that you want to get this reg that you saw a article on they will not get it for you if they don’t sell that brand.
    I teach independent and will teach only one student or more. We get our calenders out and match dates that we can get together without interfering with other commitments that we both might have already scheduled. Sometimes I have sent students to another independent dive center that is 50 miles away to make sure the the student gets the help and equipment that the student wants. Not what the big box store wants to sell them. Because I don’t have a store front, it limits me on what I can sell. And I have found that sometimes the student might not be happy in the beginning on having to do a lot of driving. In the end, they have been very thankful that they did. Some places need to get it together for the customer not the bottom line.

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  2. I agree. It is my belief that retailers relegat continuing education to the “back of the bus” and at the same time are trying to compete with internet sellers for their business. One thing that the internet will NEVER take away from the dive industry is good instructors and the person-to-person contact that was once the hallmark of this sport. By developing educational, entertaining and meaningful programs, I think dive centers can ensure their survival moving forward.

    Food for thought…

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  3. One of the major issues I have with dive store owners is what I call the need to create divers in their own image.

    When I was traveling on DEMA business I would take advantage of the Saturday night layover to reduce my travel expenses to the organization. I would take the time to travel from dive store to dive store. I would walk in like an ordinary customer and would never disclose who I was. Most of the time, I could tell you who made up the store’s clientele within seconds of walking in the door. Whether it was photo, travel, tech, or whatever, it reflected the reason why the store’s owner dove. This single minded goal drives many back out of the store.

    As a business man, I created my company by asking my potential customers what problems I could solve for them, and went on to create the largest company of its kind on the planet. Dive stores need to ask their customers why they would like to dive and what their goals are. By making the customer’s dreams come true, store owners will profit and those profits will allow their dreams to be fulfilled; don’t confuse your dreams with the customers!

    The other thing store owners need to understand is that they are in the entertainment business. I have long asked store owners why their customers dive. I get answers like “to see the underwater creatures” or “to see shipwrecks”. The real truth is most divers dive to be around other people and have a good time. It is really no different than bowling, golf, or square dancing. Let’s be honest, when you go diving with your friends, how much time is actually spent underwater? How much time is spent traveling, dining, and, if you’re like me, enjoying an adult beverage or two?
    Stores need to develop a strong social calendar to help build those friendships.

    I like diving, but I also like a lot of other things. I spend the bulk of my free time with divers, even though I don’t dive as much as I used to. I like the people.

    Think about it and tell me what you think.

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  4. Some dive gear can be obtained so much cheaper over the internet that dive stores can’t compete. This is not a sucessfule dive store’s profit center.

    While some affluent beginnig divers getting ready for their summer vacation just want to get a good kit set up and can afford it, many are more value conscious. The personal attention and advice provided at the LDS for equipment simply will not work with every diver due to financial limitations (“Umm I wasn’t expecting to spend $2,500.00”). With more experience the diver learns where to get equipment at 50% less purchase price.

    To ask the customer to ignore market ocntions and buy equipment at over market prices, and shun or diminish divers that do not follow this model, is asking the customer to leave and the LDS to be spun out of the market.

    Service, however, is the value provided by the LDS to the local community. The price of that service is determined by competion.

    The LDS that can provide excellent service through training, local dive activities, dive vacations and providng general dive information in a way that is well received by the local diving community will be successful. And the incidental dive equipment that the customer needs for tomorrow’s local dive can be sold above market, if that customer has not been run off by badgering to buy equipment at over market prices, short fills on air refills, shoody training, and poor people skills.

    In short, charge for the value you add to the community. When a customer brings in a $450.00 wet suit she bougth for $250.00 on the internet, do not deride her, but sell her a nice backup light and an advanced training course to free up all that extra money. Then deliver the course at the highest possible level. Don’t short fill the tanks, smile.

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  5. “It’s fairly indisputable that we can’t create a diving consumer until we at least get him or her into an entry-level training program.”

    properly noticed, I agree with you

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