I’m not going to mention the “C” word in this editorial. It’s not about obstacles in our path or demons at our doorstep. It’s not even about monsters under our bed in the middle of the night. Today is all about you and your business. So is every today for the rest of your life. So what’s your plan? Given the hand you have been dealt, what are you going to do now?
Not every dive business in our industry is in free-fall now. Some are actually doing better. Some not so good. Many are free-falling and out of control, but that’s not the worst thing. The thing that is hurting our community the most is that there are too many dive businesses that don’t even know they are in trouble and headed for ruin. What you don’t know can hurt you. This year or next, I feel that each member of our community will have to make a choice to either continue as a diving business (Industry Professional) or return to scuba diving as a recreation (Recreational Diver). Either way, our community needs to come together to make diving better for all of us. Hard choices have to be made.
For dive businesses, consider the fact that we are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm. Every businesses is uniquely different but the solutions to our challenges are pretty similar. First we have to get a feeling for where we are in this economic downturn. We need to assess our current situation. What is our current income and current expenses? How is our cash flow and what do we have for assets? Can we sell a sufficient number of profitable products to enough profitable customers to stay in business? Can we be successful in the future or would it be wiser to cut our losses now and close our business? Either way, the choice is yours, alone, to make.
Staying in business or closing your business requires the same logical format. 1) Establish your current situation. 2) Analyze the current and future market potential. 3) List all the potential options available to you. 4) Choose the best inputs (actions) to achieve your planned outcomes. 5) Execute your plan.
There are a number of things you might want to consider when making your choice about your profession or hobby as it were. What do you want out of scuba diving as a recreation or profession? Is it the diving what makes you happy? Do you get enjoyment and fulfillment out of teaching people to scuba dive? Do you enjoy the diving lifestyle and exotic travel it provides? Is running a diving business successfully the thing that motivates you the most? These are all good reasons to be into diving. Pick the ones that are best for you. Whatever you decide, we have some predictions about what is happening in the international diving community that may affect your choices.
Because of the current challenges that are affecting the worldwide recreational industry, I believe that business conditions have changed permanently. The size of the supply side is getting much smaller. Marginal businesses without good cash flow management are going out of business. Without the necessary sales of diving equipment, training and travel, hundreds of dive stores will be forced to close their doors. Many part time stores will decide that it is not worth the time, money and manpower investment to operate a marginal business. Countless independent instructors may not be able to justify renewing their instructor dues, liability insurance and agency affiliations without being able to teach a sufficient number of new divers. Liveaboards and Dive Resorts will be forced to let go of staff and close their operations because of limitations placed on them by their local government, tourism boards, and the airlines.
So where is the silver lining in these dark clouds? Good question. First of all, I feel that the supply side of the diving business community will reorganize and focus on the business of diving priorities. As their competition decreases, their market share will increase. If they wisely choose to return to established channels of distribution, they will decentralize their operations and strengthen their local market dominance. I truly believe that centralizing and vertically integrating a diving business at this time will put even profitable companies out of business in this new era. I believe that dive companies who have recently made a business model change to centralize and vertically integrate will be too slow to reverse direction and it may cost them their market position or their company.
With that said, there may be tremendous opportunities on the horizon for small, smart and progressive companies to create and follow a detailed plan to recapture market share from their competitors and establish dominate local customer loyalty. The silver lining in all of this is that the demand side of our recreation is still quite large. There may even be an increased pent-up demand caused by six months of decreased spending and increased savings. The market is there. The money is there. But they may not know that you are there. When was the last time you were in direct contact with your current and former customers? Well, now is the time.
As the world economy is beginning to open up, millions of buying decisions are being contemplated by divers all over the world. If you have been marketing and advertising during the pandemic, these customers may know who you are. If you have been waiting for the market to return before you advertise, these customers either have forgotten you or don’t know you from a goat.
For the past forty years I have been saying that dive companies should always be promoting their company and their products to the current, former and future market. Staying in front of potential customers is what brings in sales. Create a relationship with your customers and they will think of you first when they decide to buy. And this is the time where customers are thinking about buying again.
Put yourself in your customer’s head. What do you want them to know about you right now? “We are Dive Company X” – “We make Dive Gear / Training Courses / Travel Products” – “We are Open for business / Not open yet” – “Here is our Get Back to Diving Special” – “Here is our Call To Action Offer & Contact Information”
Go to the market now and let buyers know you are still in business. Don’t wait until the market starts buying. Once they start buying it means they didn’t choose you. They bought from someone else!