I think it is fair to say each subsequent dive show seems a bit smaller than the last. The amount of cafes and width of the aisles increase whilst the square footage of stands seemingly diminishes. For over a decade for one reason or another we chose not to exhibit at the shows, but a few years ago we decided to attend a couple. The response was fantastic, we meet our customers face to face, ran competitions and allowed people to order from us at the show for delivery the following Tuesday. The last couple of years however, we decided to give it a miss due the ever mounting costs. Participating in a show has a massive strain on resources. Not only the stand costs but preparation time, staffing, accommodation, thefts, vehicle rentals, subsidence, etc… Couple that with the fact that most show goers expect additional discounts at the show and it simply wasn’t viable for us anymore.
Some suppliers like Suunto offer participating retailers extra discounts to help soften the margin squeeze but most manufactures don’t and we have to remember that retailers need to make a profit to survive. The Diver Group (as in Diver magazine) who organise the dive shows have done a phenomenal job of reinventing the event. Years ago they resembled a massive market. Whole dive clubs used to roam the exhibition hall with their novices to obtain the best bulk deal, playing retailers against each other, cutting their own throats just to cover their costs. Now the shows feature mostly manufacturers and resorts with only a handful of retailers. It simply wasn’t sustainable.
When we visited the show at Birmingham NEC again a couple of weeks ago the sparkle seemed to have gone. The huge retailers of the 80s and 90s now absent. The mega stands of yester-year packed full of dive gear no longer filling the exhibition hall. Maybe the Internet retailers put pay to these now you can get great bargains 365 days a year? No more waiting for a couple of weekends at either end of the dive season. I know in the trade many question the viability of the two shows suggesting that one larger show would be better. Certainly the huge shows of the past seem to have disappeared replaced with leaner equivalents. Maybe this is just evolution? Maybe customers don’t want to carry their bargain price dive tanks on the tube anymore and prefer to have them delivered? Personally I would say the shows now cater more for the travelling diver than the traditional British diver of old.
If you want to learn about new diving destinations or book a live-aboard there’s certainly lots of choice at the show. I do have to question the inclusion of overseas retailers in the show under cutting UK retailers thanks to favourable exchange rates. Maybe the most important issue is providing cheap dive kit at the show, rather than supporting the UK dive industry? It would be sad though if the UK dive industry went the same way as our manufacturing. Maybe I am being over simplistic, maybe Diver are right to include any nationality that is happy to pay for stand space, evolution and survival of the fittest (cheapest) in action? I imagine some people will read this and point out that Simply Scuba could be accused of pushing prices down and potentially causing local dive shops to struggle. Why should we moan about dive shows and overseas retailers? A fair point, but we’ve also helped to drive customer service standards up, we pay UK taxes (certainly a lot more corporation tax than Amazon pay), employ over 35 staff, all of them paying taxes in turn. In a world where it’s evolve or die I hope that the dive shows are just going through a transition and not the final death rattle. The talks from industry leaders and the likes of Andy Torbet, Monty Halls and Paul Rose (to name a few) are a great addition of recent years and should be commended but we need more reasons to keep the divers coming to the show.