Building, Maintaining and Growing a Market –
by Gene Muchanski
Editor, The Dive Industry Professional
The diving industry has a new call to action for the 21st Century. Something we can all wrap our heads around. Something that we are probably all good at doing, but didn’t know we were. Something that could turn the diving industry around for the better. It’s called “Retaining the market we have.” All we need is a little background education on what markets are, how they are made, and how they are maintained or abandoned. Our education should include how the current diving market was created, how it got this far this way, and how we can make it healthy and vibrant again.
A market is where Buyers & Sellers meet to exchanged goods and services for compensation. As you can see, there are many markets where diving equipment, training programs and travel products are bought and sold. At the next dive show we can meet at the bar to discuss the chicken ‘n egg thing as to who came first to the market, the Buyers or the Sellers. But for now let’s cover what we know.
Scuba Diving and all of the others kinds of diving, are different things to different people. For some it is a recreation, a hobby, an experience, or merely an interest. For some it is a profession, a collateral duty, or a part time job. For many of us in the diving community, it is a passion, a way of life and a vocational choice we wouldn’t trade for anything. We know that scuba diving equipment is a means to an end. We use it to explore new worlds, discover new interests and get us safely to the destinations we were searching for. Scuba diving is exciting, adventurous, unique, social, and individual. Like I said. It’s different things to different people.
A scuba diving market was first created on a large scale, during World War II. The Navy used diving equipment for it’s various combat missions. The Navy taught their Frogmen how to dive, bought scuba equipment from the few diving equipment manufacturers that were making gear at the time, and put their Divers on a boat or beach to do a job. If the mission was a success, they did it again. Right there you have the four pillars of a healthy market, albeit, a small market. The Navy Frogmen 1) Learned to dive. 2) Bought their gear. 3) Went diving. 4) Stayed active.
After the war, our Frogmen came home and taught their friends how to dive, and their friends, and their friends. Sea Hunt came on the TV and showed the general public how adventurous diving was. Pretty soon you had a larger demand for scuba diving and more manufacturers sprung up to meet the needs of more and better equipment. Dive equipment for civilians. Spear-fishermen and Lifeguards starting to use scuba equipment and more civilians were getting into the “sport.” Next thing you know, Diver Training Agencies came on the scene and certified Scuba Instructors who taught more scuba divers. Dive Shops, Marinas and Army-Navy Surplus Stores sold diving equipment and filled tanks. People were getting certified at the YMCA and the next thing you know, a market was flourishing for scuba diving equipment and training. Dive travel wasn’t a big thing yet.
By the time Jacques-Yves Cousteau invaded our living rooms with his TV program, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, the general public had barely heard about scuba diving, but were ready to take the plunge now and try this new thing. The market took off like a rocket ship. I was there when scuba diving went mainstream and yet I felt like a pioneer. I only knew a few “older” guys who got into it. They went out and started Dive Clubs and Dive Stores. They made their own underwater housings to take pictures under the sea and they traveled around with them, speaking at dive clubs and underwater film shows. They made their own masks and wetsuits.
What I saw back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was a market growing faster than what seemed possible. A few things helped scuba diving, as a recreation, grow. 1) Scuba Diving was a new activity. 2) Jacques Cousteau brought it to the general public in a very exciting way. 3) The post war Baby Boom produced a lot of kids who didn’t have the recreational options kids today have. 4) The age of consumerism began. Of course, there were a lot of other factors that contributed to the creation and growth of the recreational scuba diving market, but these four come to mind now as significant reasons.
What we didn’t see coming back then was the lack of mainstream business practices being used in the diving community. Sporting Goods Stores that started to carry diving equipment stopped because of the large capital investment needed (compressor, rental gear, repair tools, and a pool). The business also needed to hire scuba instructors and repair technicians. When you add the possibility of increased liability and a small market, investing in the diving niche was not all that attractive for a successful business. However, the one thing that made us who we are today is that diving businesses were started and run by scuba diving enthusiasts. They wanted to be in the diving business because they loved diving, not the business of diving. This double-edged sword is still the Industry’s #1 Strength and it’s #1 Weakness.
What we did see at the time but did nothing about was the way we focused on teaching more people to dive, but not following through with selling them gear so they could go diving. We also did very little about taking them diving either locally or internationally. and the last thing we dropped the ball on was keeping our divers active. The big push was to train more and more divers. The high drop-out numbers of the 80’s and 90’s should have been a big red flag to us back then, but we were too focused on more, more, more. We were great at creating a market, but for who? For what?
To run a successful business, you have to know the market, the product, the customer, and you have to understand business practices. Without the proper tools and technologies needed to run a business professionally, proficiently and profitably, the chances of running a large-scale, successful business is diminished. You also have to have at least one person working on the business while you have others who work in the business. Michael Gerber summed it up best in his book, The E Myth. Gerber’s book is not only a classic business book, it is on my “MUST READ” list for every Dive Industry Professional.
I’ve seen dive businesses of all kinds, ignore the need to have at least one person in the company who is responsible for the operation of the business. Being a successful business means staying in business. You can’t service your customers properly if you can’t pay your bills. Yes, someone has to teach the classes, sell the gear, take groups of people on those exotic dive trips, repair the rental equipment and work the store, but still, someone has to be in the office, running the business. If you are the one and only employee in your business and you have a “Closed – Gone Diving” sign on your door, you are not in business.
If you got into business because you love diving and not business, that’s fine. You can continue to teach classes, dive master boat trips and take exotic vacations with your customers. You can even spend all your time at trade shows racking up more certifications and awards BUT someone still has to be back at the business working to stay in business. Which brings us to the point of the article. Being in business is all about servicing a market that has a need and a desire to do what you do. They have the desire and the means to buy something from you that will fill a need of theirs. They are part of what we call the current market. Our total market.
The recreational diving market is created by Scuba Instructors who certify people to go diving. Teaching people how to dive is the first step in the process. Most diving classes are taught at dive stores, dive resorts, and schools because the general public knows how to find these Instructors. Their relationship with the industry begins with training. For our total market to grow, the industry needs to support and promote these market makers of ours, many of whom will not take these new divers to step two of the market process, purchasing their gear.
We know that certified divers who buy their own gear will dive more. After all, they invested in their own equipment because they wanted to go diving and do something. I can’t see why anyone would take the time to learn to dive and not want to go diving, unless of course, they had a bad training experience. A second question I have is if a scuba instructor is not selling gear to his or her students, where do these people buy their gear? Do they buy from someone else, rent or just drop out?
Professional diving businesses who understand market concepts will want to focus on retaining the market that has been created. If a person is certified and has purchased their equipment or stated a desire to rent their gear on occasion, we need to take them diving. Locally or on a dive trip. It doesn’t matter. They need to go diving. In a business course we teach, Hypergrow Your Business, we talk about the three types of customers – Current Customers – Former Customers and Future Customers. The more we focus on our current customers, the less former customers we will have and the need to find our future customers will be less critical. The best way to retain our current customers is to keep them active. That means Dive Trips, Dive Shows, Magazine Subscriptions, Continuing Education and getting involved in a dive club or an environmental organization that does stuff.
Teaching people how to dive, selling them gear, taking them diving and keeping them active is a full time job. It’s a lot of planning and a lot of day-to-day communicating. The process of retaining current customers, reclaiming former customers and acquiring new customers takes time and modern marketing tools and technologies. Becoming an expert in marketing and communications may take you away from becoming a more recognized Instructor or the group leader on your dive trips, but it keeps the doors to your business open and allows someone the privileged of doing those things. Maybe you could do both, maybe you can’t. A good business analysis will show you where you stand.
To remain competitive in a declining market we must first stop the bleeding. Step number one should be to focus on retaining as much of the current market that we can. We need to stay in touch with our current customers. Make sure their equipment and training is up to date. Schedule and lead a dive trip to a destination of their choice, be it local or a plane’s trip away. The industry as a whole needs to know how many active divers we have. Do you have the most modern marketing tools and techniques to do this on a targeted or massive scale?
Step two is to reach out to all of our former customers and try to recapture their patronage. Invite them to a reunion and rekindle the past love for diving. Or whatever it was that got them to get certified. Make sure their equipment and training are brought to current standards. Then promise to retain this group by keeping them active. Do you have the staff to handle that?
Finally, step three is to acquire new divers to replace the ones we lost over the years. If we create more new divers than we lost, the industry will have grown. Growth is good but only if it can be managed. Sounds simple now that we explained it. Hugh? Again, do you have the digital, print, online, mobile, social media, direct mail, and face-to-face marketing knowledge and capability to successfully execute those kinds of campaigns?
So what are you waiting for? 1) Appoint one person at your business to be the person in charge of taking care of the business of diving. 2) Apply for Membership in the Dive Industry Association ($125). Take advantage of our primary research and read our 18-page Members Guide and our white paper on “Unifying the Diving Industry.” 3) Consult with a Dive Industry Association Marketing Pro to chart your course to a Better Business Tomorrow.