A Day in the Life….. of a Dive Shop Owner
To many, I have the dream job.
I live on a remote tropical island, surrounded by beautiful blue seas and constant sunshine. There is a constant throng of new people coming through the island every day and I can choose to dive every day.
What could be more perfect?
I saw this image a short while ago and thought that it was an almost perfect representation of the perception others have of working in or owning a business in diving.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for any sympathy as I write this piece. Simply put, I love my job and I love the lifestyle I have chosen. It’s just that it’s a little different from the images you or I would have anticipated coming into this 10 years ago.
A dive shop is like any other small business operating within the tourism or service industry. In the simplest terms the business is about ‘bums on seats’ (or tanks on boats), but it is also about ensuring that each of the people attached to those bums has the best experience we can deliver… every single day. I see my role splitting down into five constituent components:
- Customer Service Host
- Logistical Planner
- Team Mentor
- Money Man
Probably the biggest portion of my working day is spent with my head outside the shop. I’m trying to envisage where our next potential clients are and where they might be looking as they plan their next vacation or dive trip. I’m looking at analytics from Google, Facebook and all the other areas I can get data from, and trying to determine what outreach activity is resonating and drawing people into our purchase consideration funnel. I’m also working with the team to ensure we capturing plenty of imagery about our experienced on the island. My evenings are typically spent editing together a short video and posting this to the various social media platforms. Without consistent marketing and promotion people would not know we exist and we’d likely have less of those valued bums on our seats…
Customer Service Host
When a potential client contacts us about diving, I am typically the first contact they have with the organization. I’ll try to determine their needs and work with them to create a package which fulfills those needs, and gently convince them to book.
When those clients arrive in the shop, I am typically one of the first faces they will see, and with my ‘cheeky chappy’ bon homme I like to welcome them into our family. My role now is to facilitate their introduction to the team and the process for getting them ready to be a bum on a seat. Honestly, I don’t just see you as a bum on a seat… you’re real people and I value you enormously, but for the purposes of this article, yeah, you’re a bum!
I also see my role as entertainer in chief. You’re not just here to jump in the water and go diving. You’re here for the end to end experience, but you’re also here to relax and unwind. I want to help in that process, by making things work effortlessly and for always having a laugh and a joke whilst I am doing it too. I’ll chat to you before the dives whilst your equipment is set up and loaded. I’ll probably keep you chatting too long too, so the boat will be late leaving… (oops). I’ll also be the one that asks if you had a great time when you come back, and organize your equipment rinsing too.
Apres Dive, if there is anything you want or need on the island, with my contact network I can probably make it happen. So typically, I’m organizing transfers, restaurant bookings or excursions. Always looking to exceed expectations.
On a day by day basis the buck stops with me if any of our primary equipment doesn’t work. A large portion of my day to day role is checking with the skippers about the boat. I want to know fuel levels, oil levels, how is the steering, any new dinks or dents. I’ll be checking the boat over and thinking about a maintenance schedule. When do we want to get the engines serviced? Can if be done in the water? What about the next haul out? Then there is the compressor, the tanks and all of our school equipment too. We have an excellent team at the shop who are all really hands-on and make all the ‘keeping it running’ stuff happen, but it needs to be planned out.
Each day we also need to assess the weather and sea conditions and over-lay this with the divers we have booked onto the boat to ensure that we can deliver an excellent service, safely. Safety is always my #1 consideration, and I do not typically like to put people in the water if the site or conditions may cause unnecessary stress (physical or mental), so as a team we discuss the divers, their capabilities and their aspirations for diving and try to plan the best options for everyone booked in. Then its about matching staffing to clients to ensure we can balance the rotation of teaching versus fun diving versus dry days (to try to avoid mental and physical fatigue). As it’s a fairly small team, this does not feel too much like spinning plates, but does mean you need to develop a feel for how the team members are.
I’ve been described many times as ‘Scuba Dad’ because of the paternal care I offer for the members of the team, as well as students and clients we have here. I have a vision for how I would like the shop to operate. I have a vision for how I would like courses to be taught. I also have a vision for how we conduct fun dives and engage with our clients. I work with our team so that we all understand this vision, its expectations and how we all play a part in its delivery. The vision is constantly evolving too, as new team members help us to add new angles or approaches, so its also about how we can integrate these new ideas into working better together.
I am also committed to continuous professional development, and coach our team on developing their skills and pushing them outside of their comfort zones. Whether that me using social media, engaging with clients and providing briefings, all the way through to training and developing to become a thorough and diligent teacher of scuba. We’ve created an environment where its good to share skills and help to develop each other.
And finally, there is the money. Yes, I am also the accountant, the one who ensures the data about your diving activity is tracked so we’re able to produce timely and accurate bills for you. I ensure we have mechanisms for you to be able to pay (thank you). Of course, I’m also managing the day to day expenditure on all the various incidentals one might want to spend in a dive shop, be that fuel, paint, equipment or contracted services.
I’m also doing a lot of planning and forecasting too, making sure there is sufficient cashflow to pay for those maintenance stops, buying in new merchandise or equipment and planning for the replacement or upgrade on any of our capital equipment. I’m also looking at the longer-term plans and market conditions to see if we’re likely to need to expand the team, or let it contract as people move on. My role is also to make sure that we always have sufficient cash to pay wages each month, especially in the slow months as its vitally important not to break that social contract with the team.
You’ll notice in all of the above there is very little in there about diving or teaching diving, and this is the reality of being a dive shop owner that you do not get to be in the water as often you might have thought you would be. The key is about finding and maintaining a balance, creating space to be able to teach and keeping fresh with regular fun dive trips. I was advised a long time ago by a mentor of mine to find something about scuba diving you do for you and keep it sacred. For me that’s CCR diving, and every now and again I’ll put a CCR dive in the plan… just for me.
Is this the role that I expected when I started my scuba career? Probably not. I love my job and I love the people around me. I recognize that I run a small business in the tourism service industry and the requirements of a small business do not change regardless of where you are in the world. In that regard I love what I do and doing it here in Carriacou.
Gary is the owner of Deefer Diving Carriacou. He is a Chartered Accountant by trade and holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Henley Business College. 10 years ago Gary & his wife made the decision to leave to UK and begin a new life in scuba diving. They have since made their home in Carriacou.
For more information about diving in Carriacou, visit the Deefer Diving website,