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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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April 1999 Vol. 25, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Report on the Dive Industry

the bulldog's sharp bite hurts

from the April, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The people who make their bucks from diving are loosely associated in the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, a nonprofit organization with a board of directors. Its primary goal is to help the industry grow, but itís been rife with conflict, criticism, and competition. Last August, DEMAís Board appointed the consulting firm Bulldog Drummond to create a plan to increase awareness of and participation in diving. While the report is long on generalities about the industry and short on evidence, it contains many gems of interest to us sport divers. We condensed and reorganized scores of pages representing the most salient points from the Bulldog....

We can trace most problems in the diving industry to one simple, yet pervasive problem: poor to nonexistent communication. Efforts to analyze and fix the problems have had no effect. The diving industry is a mess.

As an industry, scuba diving is more focused on the enemy within than on reinvigorating itself and attacking the real issues. It is incestuous and self-focused. It fears change, it fears new ideas, and it fears newcomers. It is so caught up in its own exclusivity, mystique, and turmoil that it has forgotten the consumer.

The industry should be interested in one thing: making money by attracting and retaining the consumer. And the industry needs to make the consumer interested in one thing: diving.

The industry, personified through DEMA, has absolutely no idea of the role it should play to serve either itself or its consumers. The industry exists to satisfy the adventure needs of the consumer. Only when the industry realizes this will it move forward and prosper.

The Industry

Started by a devoted group of diving pioneers seeking danger and the intrigue of the ocean in the early sixties, scuba diving became widely popularized by icons such as Lloyd Bridges and Jacques Cousteau. The early divers had people to look up to, and these pioneers are many of todayís dive retailers, instructors, and business leaders.

Yet today the sport suffers from a lack of new blood in every category from icons and retailers to consumers. Collectively it claims it wants to attract new blood, yet it canít help attempting to destroy it before it arrives. Equipment has become more technologically advanced, while the sport itself has changed little since its inception some thirty years ago. Despite a wider acceptance in the 1970s and 80s, participation has failed to grow. It is a sport known by many, but enjoyed by a relative few.

Diving industry professionals crave the success and comfort of the way things used to be. Those days are forever gone. Today there are more manufacturers, more retailers, and more resorts feeding on the same pool of consumers, creating the perception that there are fewer consumers overall.

Manufacturers are not selling the volume of products, retailers are not seeing as many consumers, the length and style of certification are making for a reluctant participant, and the web and catalogers are creating channel pressure. This combination of forces is fueling price erosion. As a result, the industry has failed to understand that the value of diving is not linked solely to price.

“It is incestuous and
self-focused. It fears
change, it fears new
ideas, and it fears
newcomers . . . it has
forgotten the consumer.”

Fueled by the lack of growth in participation, increased competition (for both the consumerís dollar and leisure time), and the growing number of alternative activities available, the diving industry is running scared. As a result, uncertainty is forcing irrational behavior. There is no trust, no cooperation, and no agreement on a focused, industry-wide initiative to effect change.

Consolidation in all industry segments (especially at the manufacture and retail level) is inevitable. There will be fewer dominant full-line brands and there will be an inevitable shake out of retailers, presenting an opportunity for the more powerful specialty stores to take market share.


The key to growth, of course, is attracting more new consumers and retaining those who already dive. But is it easier to keep an existing diver diving or to attract a new diver? And where should the focus be?

The answer is simple. Taking the convert or passive participant who has already experienced that thrill should be priority number one.

The industryís inability to retain existing divers and move them from one activity to the next is a direct result of lack of marketing focus and poor communication. In the desire to fuel growth, the industry is desperate to attract new participants, yet does little to concentrate on retaining the divers it already has.

The new diver that the industry so actively seeks today is unlike the new diver of ten years ago. They want different things from life. The experienced divers who dropped out of the sport and never came back left because their lives changed and diving didnít.

  • How can scuba diving attract more women when there are so few women in the industry? How is it that the diving industry can be blind to the power women wield as consumers?
  • How can scuba diving attract the young, affluent professionals who seek an active lifestyle when all they see is the dated image of diving projected by the current retail environment?
  • How can scuba diving attract more young families and children when there are no initiatives to encourage family participation?
  • How can scuba diving attract the young adventure-hungry generation when the current image of diving is caught in the seventies?
  • The industry is working in the dark. It is working on assumptions and hunches. How many people participate? How many people are certified? How many people drop out? What is the actual size of the market? The industry needs hard data and reliable numbers.
  • And it needs a powerful new image and a reputation that will attract a new generation of divers.

Bulldogís Determinations

We are in the midst of the greatest economic boom and technological revolution in history. The enormous spending power of the baby boomers combined with the lightning speed of technological innovation is creating unprecedented change.

Environmental awareness has never been higher. What has the diving industry done to capitalize on this? Nothing. It has stopped innovating, it has stopped creating new and exciting activities, it has stopped promoting itself, and it has lost its appeal and its vitality.

The diving industry fears being left behind. This fear is creating an industry-wide longing for the comfort of the way things used to be. Itís time to be forwardthinking and understand that todayís consumers are different from those of yesterday. What they want from life and how they want to experience it has completely changed, but the diving industry hasnít.

The Consumer: What One Feels

Today people seek a strange combination of multiple experiences. Attention spans are limited with consumers seeking instant gratification. Divingís unique difference is its ability to deliver a spectrum of gratification. There is no mental experience like it. It places the consumer completely out of his comfort zone and transports him into a different world with different rules and unexplored visual and mental experiences. It delivers a level of social gratification through both conversation and after-diving events.

Yet walk into a dive store or sit in a certification class, and it is difficult to picture the actual diving experience because of the environment, the tone, the style of instruction, and the lack of customer-focused service.

It is DEMAís task to develop a powerful new brand image for scuba diving. A brand is a combination of every experience, every visual image, every feeling that consumers manifest when they think of a company or a product.

From the perceptions of more than 500 people interviewed, we found a common thread that leads to the single most compelling reason to dive: discovery. Scuba diving is an evolutionary, multifaceted experience which uncovers an incredible variety of sensory benefits:

  • Emotional: amazement, self-awareness, confidence, and solitude. Physical: health and well-being.
  • Environmental: wrecks, fish, marine life, caves, and photography.
  • Social: people, food, lifestyle, and image.

In promoting the industry, all efforts should serve to create the following image in the consumerís mind: ďScuba diving is a journey that brings all of your senses, all of your emotions, and all of your being to life.Ē In short, the report's painful bite suggests that the industry needs to clean up its act and focus its every aspect on improving the current experience of diving.

ó Ben Davison

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