With the sad news last week that one of the UKs largest diver training centres Scuba Pursuits had gone into administration does the industry need to take note? Is this just an unfortunate one off or a sign of the health of our industry?
Over the years many established and lots of smaller dive centres fail ever year. It is the natural way of things. However I believe we as an industry can do more to help ourselves. One huge concern I have for our industry is the price of training. When I started Simply Scuba in 1995 the price of a PADI Open Water Diver course was £330 now the same course is advertised at £299 or less. Unless I missed an important announcement the materials, times and effort to train someone well have only increased. We are teaching people a fantastic skill, why does it have to be cheap?
If I were learning to rock climb or hand glide I would definitely not look to do it on the cheap so why do we do it in diving? Maybe we make it too easy to become an instructor so we flood the market with providers and the only way to compete is to pull the price down. Surely the cost of training is directly linked to the quality of the training? If I arrange a staff training session for say first aid at work course which takes about 5 days, in our own classroom with nothing more than an instructor, resus Anne doll and some basic materials that costs the better part of £1000 per person. Why should a 5 day diver course with far more equipment, locations and variation cost a fraction of this? As consumers we all love discounts and no one wants to be ripped off but making a profit is a fundamental skill in running a business of any size. I know people used to refer to me running a dive centre as a hobby job. Although for the people doing it, it is a hobby but the professionals running and organising dives it is definitely a job, a great job but definitely a job. Long hours, hard work, and responsibility. It's not all about diving and sun bathing like you see in the adverts!
I am not sure divers as a whole want stuff at the cheapest possible price (admittedly some do), I think people want great value. Great value and being the cheapest are not the same thing. Recently this blog article was shared with me via the SITA newsletter I think we all have had these customers but as an industry can we afford to give them what they want? Any small dive centre has a tough time competing. However they have values to offer that others do not, such as personal advice. If you ask a professional for an opinion is it not fair for them to expect to be paid for that advice? They have given up time and money to gain those qualifications and experience. I realise many reading this may be sceptical that the boss of large internet dive retailer is trying to suggest we put up prices. Cards on the table, I would love to raise our prices but we aim to offer great value, and that is balance between competitive prices, good solid advice, a solid financial stable organisation and being a good company to deal with. Anyone can advertise a cheap price that's the easy bit. However a bit like convenience stores near big supermarkets, local dive stores need to play to their strengths if they are to survive. They may have to charge a little more for the same products but if we want that pop in store there in six months’ time we have to support them.
We can't do air fills by post! I don't want to end this effectively criticising my own business! Obviously I believe in the business model I operate and see many advantages in it. We have a growing customer base but I also want and need a strong diver base and industry to support my business. I don't have the attitude of I want it all, I am keen as an industry we increase the size of the pie rather than the individual slice each company fights for. The loss of any dive schools and dive centres is not to be welcomed in any way.