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My Local Dive Shop January 6, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Training.
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My LDS is different from the ones I’ve been with before, and  I’ve stuck with them since my first purchase. After doing my rescue diver course and my aborted dry suit course, which turned me off the dive shop I had been frequenting at the time, I dropped into the shop, which happened to be the closest one to my home, for the second time. The first time I was there the person minding the store didn’t inspire confidence. I haven’t met him since, but some of the old-timers still remember who he was.

So it wasn’t until 8 or 9 months later I walked into the store again and met Brad the owner. I was about to take a trip to the Turks & Caicos in November 2005 and walked out more than $3,000 poorer, but I still use everything I bought (except the SMB he threw in for free and the computer which no longer works). We negotiated for a bit, he threw in free stuff, gave me discounts on other items, and I was pretty satisfied with what I took away.

I found out about the dive club and went to a meeting. They had scheduled a dive at the Niagara Falls aquarium with the sea lions. I signed up, but later found out the date was changed to one that I couldn’t accommodate. Later, the date was changed again and I called to say I would go, but then found out that unless you paid up front you weren’t really on the list. The policy is understandable given that people often sign up but change their minds, leaving the store holding the bag, but knowing about the policy in advance would have been nice. I ended up missing the dive and that was almost the end of my relationship with the store.

For some reason, though, I went back for the opening dive of the year, and realized what a great thing Brad had going. He is also an airline employee (cargo handler) which is a great job for a diver as he gets free flights, but manages to spend a lot of time in the store. I learned right away never to buy anything except from him, as he always gives the best prices.

The way he runs the store appears to be the antithesis of modern retailing, and is really refreshing. Some of the things that I’ve noticed:

  • No nickel and diming. If you’re a member of the club ($35/yr), a Divemaster in training, etc., you never pay for an air fill, an o-ring, and can borrow just about anything lying around.
  • I’ve only paid for Nitrox there twice out of about 50 fills. Once when Brad wasn’t around and the second time when I filled an AL80 with 80% O2, which is really a lot of Oxygen. The 50% O2 AL80 that I filled at the same time was free.
  • Small, high margin items are usually thrown in for free, unlike most places that depend on them for the bulk of their profit.
  • Irresponsible or disruptive divers will find themselves being asked to frequent other establishments.
  • Police, firefighters, paramedics and military personnel are given discounts. What a great idea! Not only is it good corporate citizenry, but their patronage adds a certain credibility to the operation which is noted by other divers.
  • One of the main differences in training there is that Divemasters are everywhere. I’ve helped out on courses where the Divemaster to student ratio is 1:1 (including Divemasters in training) because we just like to go diving, and help the course out while where there. It makes the instructor’s job way easier, and greatly increases the level of safety for the students.
  • Divemasters and Assistant Instructors don’t get paid (except perhaps on weekends where the club is away diving), but get good discounts and other preferential treatment. There never seems to be a shortage, though.
  • Organization isn’t their strong point. This in my mind is the shop’s biggest failing, but we’re all used to it and the club members step in to cover for it and things end up getting done. Divers just volunteer because they like the place.
  • The shop is understocked. There’s always a decent selection of basic dive stuff for the walk-in customer, but regulars know that sometimes they have to wait months until a particular item will show up, then grab it right away. The upside is that it will probably cost significantly less than it could have been obtained anywhere else, because Brad has managed to get a deal from the distributor, and of course his inventory carrying costs are lower than well-stocked stores.
  • There is no formal tracking of rental equipment. I found this really surprising. Sure, there is some shrinkage  that happens when people don’t return things, but it doesn’t happen a lot. So there are no numbers on the tanks, etc., and students just pick up gear without formality and are expected to return them. Contrast that with one story from a work colleague where he was on one of his open water training dives and lost one of the store’s fins. The store charged him $100 for it. At our shop a student diver would never be held responsible for that, and it likely would have been found anyway because so many Divemasters would make it a personal challenge to find it.

I could go on. By all the usual measures, the shop isn’t well-run – but customers keep coming back. For a lot of people, the club and the shop are their social scene, and when I go there I always see people I know just hanging around, helping out when asked, talking about diving and talking up diving with new customers. What more could you want.

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