Why We Built A Diving Industry
by Gene Muchanski, Editor
The Dive Industry Professional
As we enter into the post-pandemic economic recovery phase of the diving industry, I feel that it is upon all of the Dive Industry Professionals to pause for a moment and reflect on what we do for a living and why we do it. For the benefit of all of us who work part-time or full-time in some sort of diving business, it might be a good idea if we look back at our industry’s history, our present career situation, and our future potential as Dive Industry Professionals. I’ll tell you why I think it is important for new members of the industry to learn and for industry veterans to remember. I believe that the vision of a diving industry that was created by our Founding Fathers has not been fully understood by many and has definitely not been taught to the generations that followed. By the way, I use the term Founding Fathers rather than Pioneers to affectionately describe our first generation of Dive Industry Professionals like John Cronin (U.S. Divers & PADI), Dick Bonin (Scubapro), and Bob Hollis (Oceanic). These early Entrepreneurs were responsible for breaking away from the National Sporting Goods Association and creating an industry of our own. There was a reason they did that, and I think it should be revisited and expanded upon at this time.
Before we begin, it’s important that we define what is meant by an industry. An industry is a group of like-minded businesses based upon what type of program, product or service they produce. So, our diving niche market is really a collective group of industries that specialize in the creation and sale of diving and diving related products. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments. Our Founding Fathers were from the Manufacturing Sector (31-33) and were targeting the Retail Trade (Sectors 44-45), specifically subsector 459 (Sporting Goods Retailers). As the market grew, Educational Services (subsector 611) and Recreational Industries (subsector 713) joined with the Manufacturers and Retailers. Soon, the Travel Industries and Non-Profit Industries became actively engaged in the new niche market, and the “Diving Industry” was born.
In the early days of the diving industry, our Leaders were mostly business owners and entrepreneurs. They had a vested interest in working cooperatively with other Dive Industry Professionals. They worked together to carve out a niche market and created a trade show that brought buyers and sellers of diving and diving related products together. The early trade shows had a high concentration of divers and became a cost-effective annual meeting place to do business. The show also became the annual conference for professional growth and development. The disadvantage to having an annual national show was minorly overcome by moving the location of the show to different regional locations every year. A concept we need to go back to. Soon, Regional Dive Shows sprung up across the United States in the regional diving communities of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Tacoma, Miami, and Raleigh, NC. The Regional Shows became popular with the local diving community and flourished for 20-35 years. I remember well, the rapid growth of the industry in the 1970’s and 80’s. Many young Dive Industry Professionals in their late 20’s and early 30’s held key positions in the manufacturing, training, and retail industries. The travel industry was growing at a rapid pace and was being spearheaded by young baby boomers. So, what happened?
Looking back, I think the beginning of the decline in the recreational diving industry started while we were still experiencing the unprecedented growth of the 1980’s. As the U.S. economy began to slow-down in the early 1990’s, the Baby Boomers were now in the early to mid-40’s. Less people per year were taking up scuba diving and the number of dive stores started to decline. The major change, as I saw it, was that as our early entrepreneurial pioneers were growing their businesses and passing the torch on to the younger generation, but their replacements were employee types and not business owners. I saw an industry-wide shift of priority begin to change from a total industry perspective, to a more myopic focus of their individual businesses. It seemed that most of the new industry leaders were more interested in the individual success of their own business rather than the success of the collective industry. That could be my own take on things, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to me now.
I believe that if diving industry professionals at the time had focused more on working together on a collective industry growth strategy, instead of circling their wagons in an attempt to isolate their dealer bases, they would have grown the industry and become more proficient at target marketing. Instead, they spent more money on duplicate marketing efforts that basically targeted the same customer base as their competitors. This, in my opinion, brought them a significantly smaller return on investment for a larger marketing outlay. This fragmented approach and duplication of marketing efforts diluted their dealer base and put national and regional consumer and trade events on a downward spiral of profit and popularity. By not understanding the difference between a true dive industry professional and a dive consumer, manufacturers, training agencies, travel companies and shows & events producers were unable to correctly market to either niche group successfully.
I can show you the industry stats that back up my comments. Dive equipment manufacturers have gone through major consolidation and many brand marketers are selling the same OEM equipment under different labels. There are over 50 certification agencies in the United States alone. There must be a reason we need 50 certification agencies. There are over 800 dive resort destinations and liveaboards around the globe. And that’s just the ones we know about. There may be more we haven’t heard about yet. And they wonder why their occupancy rate is so low while other resorts are booked solid well into 2024 and beyond. What about the industry’s retail dive stores. Why has our industry gone from 2,400 stores to about 1,200 stores in the last 30 years? And tell me why trade shows and consumer dive shows have dwindled down to a mere few? Remember Our World Underwater? Sea Space? Seas Scuba Expo? The Tacoma Dive Show? The Florida Dive Shows? The Texas Dive Shows? What did they all have in common? Better still, what things did they all lack in common? From an exhibitor standpoint, trade and consumer dive shows peaked between 2006 and 2012. I’m waiting for a 2024 Revival, but unfortunately we are not ready for a revival until we have one thing – UNITY OF PURPOSE.
The challenges that face the industry are pretty clear to most of us in the business. The solutions to our challenges, in my opinion, are pretty clear also. First of all, not every certified diver should be led to believe they should follow a predetermined path to become a Dive Industry Professional. Not every person we certify as a diver wants to become a Scuba Instructor or Divemaster. Let’s just be happy they took up scuba diving as a recreation! And second of all, even if we become Dive Industry Professionals, we are still dive consumers. So don’t tell me that DEMA is not a consumer show. Of course it is. We are all consumers, and Dive Industry Professionals buy a lot of dive equipment, training, and travel. Let’s open up the industry instead of continually restricting its growth.
The good news is that we know the diving industry has a problem. The bad news is that I think the problem is us. I’m not quite sure who is not at fault here, but I can tell you I feel pretty safe knowing that only those amongst us without sin can cast the first stone! I don’t see any rocks flying. Do you?
Albert Einstein once said that mankind cannot get out of a problem using the same thought pattern that was used to get them into the problem. With that said, I might suggest we get back to the logic that our Diving Founding Fathers used to create the industry. Maybe it’s time to hold a round table discussion to establish where we currently are in our industry life cycle, what the problems that we face are, possible solutions to our problems, and actionable items we can collectively take to change our path of trajectory. I believe that if we are unified in our approach, we can indeed, solve our problems and overcome our challenges. In the meantime, our association will continue to build and organize Regional Diving Communities and work with Regional Leaders to promote diving shows and events that build and bring local diving communities together. We will continue to fund primary research into market analysis and business best practices and we will do everything we can to bring buyers and sellers of diving equipment, training, travel, and lifestyle products together. This is a call for industry unity and engagement. Are you ready to step up to the challenge? We can’t do it alone and the industry definitely cannot continue to do it the way it has done it in the past.
This is an exciting time to become part of the Global Diving Business Network. For more information, contact Gene Muchanski, Executive Director of the Dive Industry Association, 2294 Botanica Circle, West Melbourne, FL 32904. Phone: 321-914-3778. email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.diveindustry.net