I think at some time or another most divers think that they would like to open a dive center. They see having their own business and being able to dive daily is the perfect choice for them. For a number of years, I have been a member of the board of advisers for the Subic Bay Dive Association (SBDA), The members of the SBDA are all dive centers and related companies. Over the years I have seen a number of new dive centers open, some did well and others did not last long. Here are some items to consider if you are thinking of opening a dive center yourself.
1. Great divers do not always make great dive center owners. Many dive instructors come to a point where they believe that the next step from being an instructor is having your own center. While the customer service aspect of being an instructor is certainly beneficial in owning a business, being a business owner requires an entirely different set of skills. You will be so busy, you will not have much time for diving.
2. PADI vs SSI. While a scuba divers will not see much difference between these two leading training organizations the dive professional and even more so the dive shop owner will see major differences. Let's start by looking at the way instructors operate. In PADI, once the dive instructor has been certified to teach, he will deal directly with PADI headquarters. He will order his training material. When a student completes training, the dive instructor will send the documentation necessary for the “c” card. The instructor is independent and can work for himself without any formal business if they wish. SSI, Scuba Schools International, the focus is on the business. Like a college, the instructors are qualified to teach but the school is the one responsible for ordering the training material and are the ones instigating the paperwork for certification. By themselves, an SSI instructor can not certify students. On the business side, becoming a PADI dive center is basically an application and the evaluation of the center is based on the productivity of the dive professionals that list the center as where training took place. While PADI has a business development branch it is more of a help desk. SSI is more like a franchise operation. They have packages available with different set ups to meet a variety of requirements. They also examine the business skills that the potential owners has applied.
3. A business plan is more complex than a dive plan. Do not start a business without a comprehensive business plan. If you are not familiar with a business plan, I suggest that you find a course in creating a business plan. While it is fine to get help to do the leg work putting together the plan, you need to put the plan together and understand everything in it. Any portion of the plan that you do not understand what is required is an area you need additional training before starting to develop your business. If you do not understand the marketing functions, then you need a marketing course. Expect to spend at least a few months putting together your plan.
4. Dive centers are a capital intensive start up. It takes a great deal of funds to open a dive center. Consider how many divers you feel you will want as customers a day. How will they get to the dive sites? 12 divers would require two six packs. How about tanks? For 12 divers you should have at least 36 tanks and a means to refill them. Fins, booties,wet suits come in different sizes so you need an assortment. BCD also and they have male and female versions. How about dive computer or camera rentals? Will you have retail sales as well? Then there is the cost of inventory. Your training organization can help get good rates for dive liability insurance, but it is an upfront premium payment. Do not forget your general business insurance and business permits.
5. Location, location, location the favorite statement of real estate. Dive centers are often located in high traffic, high rent areas. You may have to pay extra to have a place to park your boat.
6. Maintenance and replacement cost. People generally take great care of their $1,000 investment in dive gear, they might not take such care of your rental gear. With proper care a wet suit can last hundreds of dives. However, rental gear is not only harder used it is used more frequently in many cases. Even being well care for a wet suit may need replacement in just a few months.
There are many things to consider to opening any business and they all apply with a dive center. Most common factors for business that fail are under capitalization, poor business skills and lack of a proper business plan.
Cover photo: Oceano Scuba Taganga
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