Strategy: Redefining The Role of The Dive Center

Will the dive shop as we know it remains at the heart of the dive industry?

Darcy Kieran
Jul 18, 2019 · 13 min read
Will the dive shop as we know it remains at the heart of the dive industry?
Will the dive shop as we know it remains at the heart of the dive industry?

The dive center is currently at the heart of the dive industry. It is, therefore, worthy of a discussion on how we could improve the dive center to increase the value provided to today’s consumers.

Will the dive shop as we know it remains at the heart of the dive industry?

For decades, dive centers have been the main channel to reach client-divers. Training agencies and dive gear manufacturers insist on keeping dive centers as their unique distribution channel. And their definition of a dive center remains that of a business providing six lines of products and services under one roof.

In a 2018 blog post, PADI continued to trumpet its commitment to local dive shops. Most dive training agencies do the same. In the PADI blog post, we can read that dive shop owners “embody the diving lifestyle, having sacrificed a great deal to be there for us at a local level across the world.” We all know great dive store owners fitting that description. But with all due respect…

If you need to “sacrifice yourself” to run a dive shop, then we shouldn’t call it a business. Nor should we call the dive industry an industry.

We believe the “everything for everybody” structure (all six businesses under one roof) was a good business model before the advent of the internet. And before the arrival of younger generations with different values, attitudes, expectations, and shopping preferences. Local dive shops may still be an appropriate channel for aging baby boomers. But, in its current form, it is not the way of the future.

Consumers have changed, and we haven’t — right there it tells us something.

We will look at the six lines of products and services offered by today’s dive centers to identify ways to provide more value to the consumer, at a lower cost.

Hobbyists vs. Business Managers

“Successful dive retailing will call for more sophisticated retailers. The scuba instructor who opens a store with little retail background isn’t likely to succeed in most market areas.” Source: PADI’s Business of Diving book.

This was written in the early 90s. And it is even more real today.

We keep on talking about it. Yet, we’ve seen minimal improvement on that front. The structure of dive retailing is such that real business people are not attracted to it — while passionate dive instructors continue to be.

Passion is good but it’s not enough.

For a training agency or a dive gear manufacturer, this structure means that you are leaving to passionate hobbyists all the consumer touchpoints with your brand. What is the quality of these interactions? You don’t know. We don’t know. It’s hit-and-miss.

As a dive shop owner or manager, you are left playing superman. You have to manage six completely different businesses, all at once, with barely enough resources to operate one.

Recently, I was working with a private equity firm considering an investment in the dive industry. They agreed with the idea of restructuring the dive industry with a new business model, but they ended up pulling the plug on the project. They concluded there were just too many hobbyists and not enough businesspeople in the dive industry.

However, I believe the lack of businesspeople in the dive industry creates an opportunity. Whoever moves forward, first, on a project to redefine the business model, will gain a significant first-mover advantage.

Dive Shop Specialisation

As we’ve discussed in the article on six businesses inside a dive store, local dive shops often have a specialty. In many cases, because many dive store owners were dive instructors passionate about scuba diving, the dive center is very good at providing dive courses but lousy in all other aspects.

Other dive store owners are like mechanics in a garage. In such a dive store, you’ll get top-notch service on the annual maintenance of your regulator. This dive store owner has all the tools and parts to maintain and adequately adjust your dive regulator. I know one of these guys.

In other dive stores, you’ll find an owner who was a businessman. It is one of the rare dive centers where you see professional merchandising of dive, outdoor, and water sports gear & apparel.

And so on. Each dive shop tends to be very good at one of the six businesses while operating poorly in the other areas. This may be fine for the dive store owner — he does what he is passionate about — but it’s unacceptable for the customer who is expecting quality and professionalism in everything.

Let’s see how we could restructure each one of these six businesses to bring more value to our clients while providing consistent quality in all interactions.

1. Dive Training & Scuba Diving Gear

Scuba diving equipment and dive training are our two main lines of products. They are respectively the first and second T of scuba diving.

Up to recently, the typical consumer journey was to learn scuba diving and buy dive gear in a local dive shop and, then, go on a dive trip organized by this same dive shop. The consumer journey is no longer that linear. Many future divers use online training to cover the theory and, then, search online for a location that can help them complete their entry-level certification course.

We’ve already discussed dive gear and dive training in Octopus Strategy: Dive Gear (Toys) vs. Dive Training.

Summary of the Octopus STrategy

In the dive industry octopus structure, the origin and destination dive centers have a slightly different role.

Our proposed octopus business model includes a centralized “dive store” covering gear sales (online and in-store), repair & maintenance, fly-away travel, marketing, quality assurance, and brand management. Meanwhile, each one of the smaller training locations offers rental gear, fills, day trips, and courses.

In such a model, we would need a very efficient computerized system to allow bookings, management of rosters, and more. For instance, instructors in the smaller training centers should be able to sell dive gear from the branded app on their iPad.

a) Origin Dive Centers

For the origin dive centers, the dive training courses are provided at a nearby pool, unless the dive shop owns a pool.

These local dive training centers need rental gear to use during the pool and open-water dives. This rental gear could be provided by the sizeable centralized retailer of dive gear. This gear can be used as samples for the instructor to offer dive gear sales.

At the same time, this pool needs to have a fill station, at least for air.

And since going on a dive trip is automatic after entry-level training, the app can also be useful for the dive instructor to promote and sell dive trips in exotic destinations. These local dive instructors would organized local day trips for whatever is interesting to see in that geographic region.

In other words, this local training center is an experience center benefitting from the support of a centralized dive gear supplier. All of these operations would operate under one brand with extensive quality assurance for consistency in the quality of the experience.

b) Destination Dive Centers

For destination dive centers, the shop is similar to the origin (urban) dive center except that local day trips (e.g., a 2-tank dive on one of the dive charter boats) are the bread and butter. And with the current evolution of the dive industry, these destination dive centers complete more referrals (completion of a scuba diving course started elsewhere).

These destination dive centers would also carry inventory, mainly in the form of apparel and accessories — the stuff tourists buy.

Under the octopus structure, these resort locations would face fewer changes than the current origin dive centers (local dive shops in urban areas). The main difference would be their inclusion under a brand build to provide consistency in the quality of the experience.

2. Dive Travel

Travel is the 3rd T of scuba diving.

We’ve already reviewed, above, the role of travel in the local dive training centers in origin destinations vs. the destination dive centers (dive resorts). What else is there to discuss? A couple of essential aspects related to consumer satisfaction and convenience.

Quality of The Experience

First, the lack of consistency in the quality of the experience is especially acute in dive destinations.

Most divers don’t take many courses nor buy much scuba gear after the completion of their entry-level dive certification course. However, we hope they’ll continue to go on vacations that include scuba diving. But when they have a terrible experience at a 5-Star facility, ruining their hard-earned annual one-week vacation, they will have a lot of reservations at giving scuba diving another chance.

Therefore, it’s especially important that when we work on our Blue Ocean canvas to redefine the dive industry business model and value chain, we include dive resorts in any plan to increase quality assurance, trust, and brand value.

Shopping For Dive Travel

The way people shop for dive travel has radically changed over the last few years, and we need to adapt.

Consumers won’t adapt to us. It’s the other way around.

Divers used to look at picture albums at my dive shop, from a previous trip we had done to this destination. This would guide their decision to book on our group dive trip. When we were going to a brand new location, we sent a staff member on a fam trip, ahead of time, to gather information and pictures.

Nowadays, nobody cares for these picture albums at the dive shop. If we say “Bonaire,” they say “Ok. I’ll check on the internet tonight.” Pictures, videos, and reviews are readily available online for all dive destinations. But there’s a problem with reviews.

The main problem with reviews on dive destinations is that they mean nothing.

A diver may have the time of his life with outstanding service this week. But next week, it will be another divemaster and instructor, and he will feel like he risked his life. That’s one more reason why we need to implement quality control under a reliable brand name.

Convenience in Dive Travel

Once they’ve decided on their vacation destination, consumers don’t want to jump through hula-hoops to book a trip.

You’ll tell me that we can, already, book most dive destinations online. It’s true. However, our definition of “convenient” is quite high.

For instance, online bookings of a dive trip should include features like one-click booking of the rental dive gear you’ll need at the destination. It should be the same dive gear (model and size) you used during your vacations last year. That is convenient. And comfort is ensured.

PADI is going in the right direction on that front with their acquisition of Diviac to rename it PADI Travel. On that website, you can book both dive travel and courses. The user interface is well done. It’s a good step in the right direction.

We need a new business entity (or an old entity under new leadership with vision) to proceed with all the changes we need to improve on the distribution, promotion, and delivery of the 3Ts of scuba diving.

3. Repair & Maintenance of Scuba Gear

Repair & maintenance is the first R of scuba diving.

“You want to buy your regulator from us because the eCommerce website won’t help you much with your annual maintenance.” We often heard this sentence used in local dive shops as an argument to close the sale of a regulator. Fair enough. But what kind of repair & maintenance are you providing?

If your repair & maintenance (RAM) department is so relevant, shouldn’t it look professional?

Setting Up a Professional Repair & Maintenance Center

In most dive stores I’ve been in, the RAM department looks like an abandoned machine shop. It’s not clean. There’s barely any tools or instruments to maintain and calibrate dive gear. You may also find a couple of leftover pizza slices from last week. Once I’ve seen it, I probably don’t want to buy a regulator from you.

A proper repair & maintenance department should look like an operating room at the hospital.

That is if you want your clients to take you seriously. It should be spotlessly clean, and you should have a fair amount of instruments in there, just like an operating room. For instance, do you have a breathing simulator? And while we’re on the subject of looking professional, why don’t you give the results of the breathing tests to your clients? It would help convince them to come back to you for more quality service.

We rarely see that kind of professionalism in repair & maintenance departments.

Even more severe and even dangerous, is the fact that the service itself is poorly executed. I’ve seen a Brand X dealer doing the annual maintenance of my regulator with second-hand Brand Z parts. Real-life story.

So, how can we do better on that front?

The answer is probably straightforward. How about we do what we are good at, instead of trying to be a superhero capable of being the best at all six businesses under our roof? If we do more of what we are good at and let other specialists do what we are lousy at, we will provide better quality to our clients. And we probably will have better financial results as well.

Service Technician Training

If you want to be good at providing repair and maintenance services, you need to spend time learning your skills and maintaining them.

Most dive gear manufacturers require some sort of annual training to maintain credentials as an approved technician for their brand. Yet, nobody in North American seems to offer general service technician training, which should be done before attending any dive gear manufacturer training session.

In Europe, they have training programs for scuba diving service technicians. ASSET (Association of Scuba Service Engineers and Technicians) offer a starting training course for those wanting to become a professional scuba service technician. They also have a process to approve regulator service centers.

We don’t have such a service in North American. And even if we did, we would still have the issue of finding and retaining such a trained person interested in being a professional service technician. Setting up a professionally equipped workshop requires a fair amount of money and time.

It’s unrealistic to pretend we could find a top-notch service technician for every dive store in every town and village. It’s a very specialized job.

In North American, some professional service technicians are offering their service remotely, like Airtech Scuba Services in Raleigh, North Carolina. They claim their “purpose in life is to provide competent, professional, and timely scuba equipment service.” With that kind of specialization, you have a chance at consistently providing good repair & maintenance service. And with UPS, FedEx, and USPS, it’s pretty easy to ship anything, nationwide.

In our vision of a bright future for the dive industry with a new business model using an octopus structure, it would be easy to ship regulators and other dive gear back and forth to a centralized service center, since we are also planning on a central warehouse shipping dive gear to numerous locations.

4. Refill Station

Fill stations are an exciting subject. Refills are the 2nd R of scuba diving.

Why do we have fill stations in each local dive shop? There’s only one reason: training agencies and dive gear manufacturers insist on their dealers offering everything under one roof. If it wasn’t for them, I’m pretty sure fill stations would be at the dive site, not in a retail store downtown.

Why are we asking our clients to come to the dive shop, downtown, to fill their cylinders before going to a dive site outside of town? Think about it.

It would be like forcing people to go pick up snow at the ski store downtown before driving to the ski hill.

There’s nothing convenient for our clients in this process.

When I ask why we have fill stations in every “retail store,” I’m usually told that clients coming to the dive shop for fills will buy stuff while being there. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. We don’t have stats on this. However, there’s one sure thing:

Forcing clients to do something that is not convenient for them is no way of succeeding in business.

You’ll tell me that putting a fill station at every pool and dive site would be too expensive. Well, being successful requires hard work. It may be complicated to find a way to achieve this objective, but it’s our duty to do so.

At dive resorts, fill stations are already right next to the dive boats. We don’t ask clients to carry cylinders around the island.

5. Rental Dive Gear

Finally, rental gear. It’s the 3rd R of scuba diving.

To make it convenient for our clients, our rental gear setup should be similar to what we’ve discussed for fill stations. Why wouldn’t rental gear be next to the dive site? That would be convenient.

Furthermore, if we are serious about making it convenient for clients to rent dive gear, we need a system by which divers can store a profile and proceed with their next rental with only one click, even if it’s to go dive at numerous different dive sites.

Otherwise, it’s impossible to provide a quality dive experience when we rent cheap (and often poorly maintained) dive gear. The traditional theory behind this practice was that divers would not like the rental equipment and so they will buy their own.

It would be like a Ford dealer having you test drive an old Pinto to convince you to buy a Platinum F150.

Currently, we sell less dive gear per newly certified diver for many reasons. The trend is toward renting, not buying. We need to adjust to consumers, not ask them to adapt to what we want.

Providing a bad experience is always wrong — and we need to stop that practice.

What’s next?

To execute such an in-depth restructuring of the dive centers, we need serious investors looking beyond next month's sales results.

And we need to elaborate the business plan carefully based on a new dive industry business model developed with a Blue Ocean canvas.

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The Scuba Diving Industry by the Business of Diving Institute (BODI)

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Darcy Kieran

Written by

Entrepreneur | Executive | Author | Radio Announcer | Scuba Diving Instructor — #WritingCommunity — #Miami #Montreal #Marseille


News & editorials for the scuba diving industry. Scuba diving market data & statistics. Business analysis. Innovation-fueled strategies for growth. Dive store management. Your career as a dive professional.

Darcy Kieran

Written by

Entrepreneur | Executive | Author | Radio Announcer | Scuba Diving Instructor — #WritingCommunity — #Miami #Montreal #Marseille


News & editorials for the scuba diving industry. Scuba diving market data & statistics. Business analysis. Innovation-fueled strategies for growth. Dive store management. Your career as a dive professional.

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