When I first started diving about 5 years ago, the dive centers in my area (Houston, TX) were VERY cut throat. The owners of most dive shops seemed to literally hate divers that bought gear online. It amazed me that they had this attitude and I knew something had to change.
Some scuba agencies promote the philosophy that the only way to make money as a dive shop is by selling Equipment, Entertainment (ie: travel) and Education (ie: training)...and that you would only do well if all three were an integral part of your business.
The internet makes it soo easy for us to research and price shop, only a fool would walk into any store and spend over $500 on anything without first checking to see if they’re getting a good deal. Many dive shops tend to mark-up their equipment by as much as 300% in some cases. One problem is that they don’t think companies that sell gear online are competition. The main arguments are lack of warranty and service. But years of online buying experience and many satisfied online customers have all but ruined those arguments.
If dive shop owners continue to show hatred towards potential customers that buy some gear online...they will be out of business soon. Divers tend to be pretty darn tech savvy. We will do research online...we will ask our friends for information...we will shop around...we will get the best deal.
After reading the above, you may think I’m against dive shops. Quite the opposite, I want to help dive shops. We need you. We need your support. We need your air. We need your training. We need your travel coordination. We need your experience. So...I propose the following solution for the next generation of dive centers:
1. Reduce your expectation of equipment sales as a primary source of revenue by at least 50%.
2. Reduce your gear inventory (bc’s, regs, wetsuits) by 50% and only stock your most popular items or impulse buys.
3. Offer a price match, even if it means you hardly make any money...at least you’re keeping the customer happy which greatly increases their chance of returning.
4. Concentrate on scuba accessories, training, air fills, maintenance and travel.
5. Consider a fitting or tryout type of service that lets potential customers research gear...without feeling like they must also buy the gear from you.
6. Signup for the affiliate programs of every major online gear sales company and refer your customers to them as a last resort if you can’t match a price or sell a certain brand. You’ll end up making the customer very happy and in return make 5-10% commission on the sale through the affiliate program. Consider having 1 or 2 computer stations in your shop for online research and price shopping.
7. Provide equal support and service for gear a customer didn’t buy from you. If you’re not authorized to service a particular brand, don’t act like that brand is horrible...instead, make a deal with another company that is authorized to sell/service it so you remain the point of contact for the customer and can potentially make a bit of mark-up. Again, you’re making the customer happy which increases their change of returning to you.
8. Consider a monthly membership program that provides your customers with free air fills, annual maintenance, preferred rental rates, discounts on travel, etc. This will produce a constant stream of revenue and may end up covering all your overhead expenses.
9. And last but not least, get involved online. Join DiveBuddy.com and other social networks and stay active with your customers and past students. Write blogs, participate in forum discussions, share photos. Prove that you understand what’s required to do business in this Web 2.0 world!
If you don’t own a dive shop and you’re reading this blog...share these concepts with your local dive center. Help them understand what you need as a consumer. Buy from them whenever you can and when it makes sense. Understand that they are a part of your community and lifestyle.
For those dive shops that are sticking to their old ways...I wish you the best of luck. But I encourage you to adapt and find new ways to thrive.
Stay safe underwater and always remember to dive with a buddy!
Owner and Member 1