Scuba Value – A point of view from the consumer and retailer

By Thomas Powell

Over my years in scuba diving, I have noticed a trend that seems unique to this sport. First, it must be pointed out that scuba divers are typically fun-loving, jovial people who have a true passion for the water. That being said, scuba divers also tend to be very frugal. That is a good thing…up to a point.

When I first began selling scuba equipment, I was entering the retail world as an avid diver and as a shopper, I too had always looked for the best prices and the best deals. I naturally assumed that this was the best approach to proper shopping, and I still think that is a fair statement. As a dive business owner, however, my views on frugal shoppers have gone from accepting, to frustrated, to irritated and then finally to questioning.

Around the dive industry, you frequently hear shop owners and dive professional ask, “What is your life worth?” In many cases, they are talking about the need to buy quality effective gear for the types of diving you enjoy.

For many years I was amazed at how buyers would argue over the price of a dive computer, regulator set or BC. Dive stores rarely set the standard retail price. Anything below the manufacturer endorsed advertised price is often based on value.

It seemed as though every diver in the world felt they deserved a 99% discount on every item they needed. The problem with this situation is that a dive business cannot stay in business if it does not make a profit. In many cases, I have seen dive shops and divers become at odds with one another over a perceived lack of honesty or fairness in pricing. But where does this perception come from?

Competition

Competition in a free market is one of the things that lets American businesses thrive. Conversely, it can also hinder growth. For example, If I charge $100 for something, and my competition charges $90 to win my customers, we will both fail if we continue to drop prices.

Initially, this is great for consumers. But what happens when their local dive center is gone for good? When consumers lose the opportunity to see things, touch things or simply have a person to speak to, they have to learn to trust the Internet.

Oddly, an example of how the Internet can be problematic walked into my store just minutes ago. A lady had purchased dive lights on two different occasions on line. Each time she was sent pest repellant that cost too much to return. Not surprisingly, she lost her trust in the Internet. This is just an example of how some online retailers customer support sucks, but that’s not always the case.  So, do your research and make sure your buying decisions are made on the factors that make the most sense to you.

Fair Pricing

The idea of fair pricing requires give and take from every party involved. For this discussion, consumers and retailers are both factors. Consumers want a product that will work well, last and look good. Retailers want to sell products at a price that allows them to make a profit and stay in business. Retailers also hopes to win customers’ loyalty by selling quality products.

The Retailer

As a retailer, I have learned many things. First, if I knowingly sell junk, my customers will eventually see what I am doing and go elsewhere. Everything I sell is something I would use, have used or do use.

You have to view the items you sell like you were buying them yourself. That does not mean everything should be focused on one type of diving, but should be acceptable to you if your friends and family were going to use the items.

I have also discovered that honesty is essential. If I sell something as having a “parts for life” guarantee, I need to explain the parameters surround that factor. I also need to be very truthful about the reality of certain deals.

One major manufacturer recently informed one of my shops that its deal surrounding free parts was designed to be so difficult that dive retailers simply choose not to use it. Hopefully you can see the further problems that can result from a situation like that?

The Consumer

As a consumer, you should ask yourself one thing: When you walk into a major box store, round up the items you need and walk up to the cashier (or electronic sales system), would you debate the total? Or do you pay the listed prices?

What makes a dive shop different? Honestly, I believe that the scuba industry has allowed competition from the manufacturers to the retailers to condition consumers to demand “deals.”

In our businesses, we always look to take care of the customer who develops loyalty and business support. The $5.00 purchase every so often keeps the lights on better than seeing a person buy $500.00 worth of gear one time.

Always put yourself into the shoes of the small business owner. Think of what you would do in your industry. If you choose to patronize a local dive store, you should expect fair treatment, honesty and support. However, if the store gives you their time, their work and their wares, is it fair to expect it to be discounted from day one? Is that what you do for any customers, clients or business partners you may have?

Scuba Value

The reality is that no market should ever have a consumer-versus-retailer mentality. Every party should have value in interacting. Consumers should get support and the items they need. Retailers should work to develop a “friend of the business.” Either way, there has to be value for everyone.

If a consumer has a problem and brings it to the dive shop, the shop should make the calls, work the corrective measures and take the difficulty out of things. In contrast, a shop staff member should not have to work for hours just to debate the value of his or her time.

Competition should never be the cause of a decrease in perceived value beyond the point of responsible business operations. The one thing you must consider is value outside of a financial perspective.

For instance, if a person fixes the dive center’s sink, teaches a class or provides some other service, payment could be made in the form of equipment or training. This is a fair and sensible interaction that provides value on both sides. That is the real goal. Retailers and divers must find their scuba value in the scuba world. That basic action makes sure we all keep diving with a reasonable support structure around us.

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2 replies
  1. Rob Bradish
    Rob Bradish says:

    Love to hear this said and hope someone listens before the dive shop goes the way of the neighborhood Hardware store. Part of the real challenge I have seen is that so many dive shop owners have little actual business experience. Standard practices such as Cost Of Business, Stock Rotation, and Minimal Profit Percentages are ignored. I know of one shop that brings in it’s merchandise, then prices it according to the internet, often times at a loss. That just will not scale in any business model.

    Reply
  2. Roy Cabalo
    Roy Cabalo says:

    This was a great read and I for one advocate NOT buying gear from the internet unless it’s a piece of equipment you already have and are intimately familiar with i.e. your favorite mask. When it comes to gear like regulators and BCDs or technical gear there is no better experience than actually going to a store especially a local one and getting with their staff and hearing them out. I think many divers, especially new ones, have no idea how the scuba industry really works and how far a little loyalty can go. I’ve made some great friends through my local dive shop. I’ve got some great deals and been on some very fun dives . . . through my local dive shop. The interaction time is priceless and can’t be bought on the internet.

    Reply

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