The Scuba Monkey Speaks…
In the last few decades the number of people who are Scuba Diving has increased.
The PADI statistics state that the number of certified divers (under their agency) in 2012 were just over 21 million people. That’s quite a lot.
To give you some sense of perspective the number of PADI divers in 2002, just 10 years previous to that, was just over 11 million people. Now, however you slice the cake, that’s a lot of people blowing bubbles. And a massive increase in numbers.
(Strangely, over the last few years BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) have seen their memberships drop from approx. 40,000 to just over half that.)
However, the overall increase means diving is now more accessible than at any time before. It also means that (hopefully) more people are taking an active interest in our underwater world. More people getting passionate about conservation. More people realising, at last, that sharks aren’t a bunch of blood crazed psychopaths – but beautiful living dinosaurs. That reefs and eco-systems need protection and hopefully, even if not actively and personally taking part in conservation projects and beach clean-ups, then at least signing petitions and making their voices heard at places like the CITES meetings. That, surely, is a good thing.
This should also mean a blossoming market of dive centres in the UK, where I presently live, providing service, training and equipment to these new divers. And yet every week in the industry word goes round of another domestic dive centre going into liquidation or throwing in the towel. So, why is that?…
Well, there’s lots of issues contributing to this and if you speak to leading figures in the industry; instructors, dive centre owners, manufacturers and training agencies, there’s lots of influencing factors.
1. Dive Centre Customer Mentatility
I’m sure that most people reading this have bought food at Tescos. Or bought a pair of jeans in House of Fraser. Or picked out a t-shirt from Next or Hollister. Correct?
Now, ask yourself another question. How many times have you walked to the counter in Next with your t-shirt and debit card and said “Look, I know it says £34.99 on the label, but what discount can you give me?”. Or, in Tescos, as you pull up at the checkout said “I’m buying quite a lot of stuff this week, how about you throw in the bottles of Coke for nothing?…”. It wouldn’t cross your mind. You wouldn’t entertain the idea. And yet…
Working in a dive centre I’ve seen people expect discount on everything. And look shocked to be told the price is the price – no you can’t have money off your £25 spring straps!
Every time you push for discount in the dive centre it eats into the profitability of that centre and, believe me, the margins on dive equipment are a lot less that those on the t-shirt you bought out of the Hollister store.
2. ‘Clubbie’ Mentality
PADI, like many training agencies, actively promote divers purchasing their own equipment. It makes sense. Not only are divers guaranteed to have modern, efficient, functioning equipment but, owning your own equipment means you’re more likely to continue with your hobby of choice. Ever hear of a motorcyclist who hires a Honda CBR600 every weekend to ride? No, didn’t think so.
And yet, in club environments, there’s a mentality passed down from ABLJ wearing training officer from generation to generation that you should simply cobble-together equipment. That old = good. That there’s no need to have your own equipment.
This is a failure on a number of levels. Firstly, it encourages divers to use old, obsolete equipment to train in. If you had to learn to drive for the first time today and your instructor gave you a 1976 Austin Allegro, do your think you would have a great experience and continue?
Secondly, it’s unprofessional of the instructor to turn up to teach in that same old equipment. It’s very much like ordering a cab and that same old 1976 Austin Allegro arriving to pick you up.
Thirdly, that reluctance to purchase new equipment (or even service existing equipment) unless at substantial discount strangles a diving industry that survives in part on equipment sales.
3. Internet Companies
Ooooo!!! The bogeyman – internet dive stores!! A lot of dive centre owners swear blind that these are, single-handedly, destroying the industry. This is not true. However, most non-industry divers don’t understand how they work. So here’s a quick précis from the monkey:
1. Bob the dive centre owner buys equipment from a manufacturer called Divedude who makes regs, suits, BCDs etc.
2. Divedude have a strict pricing policy with all retailers to protect their brand image and exclusivity – all current year models are only allowed to be discounted by a maximum of 10%.
3. Bob can’t sell as many Divedude BCDs and Regs as he predicted as, even though he’s offering at RRP – 10% when pushed, Interdive Online are offering the same BCD at -25%. How can it be?!
4. When Bob checks Interdive Online he finds the answer – Interdive Online aren’t selling 2013 model BCDs, they’re old 2011-12 models bought in massive bulk (sometimes from dive centres in liquidation) and then stored until they can be sold off in massive quantities cheaply to unsuspecting divers online and at dive shows who don’t know they’re buying an old model.
As someone wiser than me once said, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” so, when you see that new BCD or regs at a knock-down price, there’s usually a reason: it’s not a ‘new’ set of regulators at all.
So, what’s the answer? Well, there are no simple answers. Every industry – whether that’s the scuba diving industry, the music industry, or the motor industry – has to adapt to survive. It’s just an eco-system itself and just as prone to Darwinian evolution.
What can dive centres do to increase their survival chances? Do what the internet can’t do. Offer a personal service. Offer sound advice. Offer the voice of experience on equipment purchases. Offer equipment servicing and assembly in their packages (the majority of online shoppers don’t realise that often their regs arrive in a box, unassembled and unbalanced and wouldn’t know an HP port if it bit them on the bum!). Offer equipment in conjunction with training. Let people touch, try and feel the equipment – you can’t try on a BCD online. Get people involved with the centre and club you run alongside it. Organise local trips and activities. Get speakers in from different areas to spark interest in Tek diving, Free-diving, dive medicine etc. Make your clients feel part of it.
And for all you divers out there who didn’t buy a BCD from your local centre as it was £5 cheaper online, remember… you can’t get an air fill online.