Written by Megan Denny
Ever thought about opening a dive shop, resort, or running a dive charter boat? Getting started in the scuba business is easier than you may think, but being successful takes patience, planning and plenty of research.
Whether you’re a PADI® Pro who’s ready to be your own boss, or an experienced business professional ready for a second act, starting a scuba business can be very rewarding. As a dive shop owner, you’ll play an important role in introducing people to the underwater world and creating new underwater ambassadors. Not to mention you automatically become the most interesting person in the room when you tell people, “ I own a dive shop.”
Start With a Well-Researched, Realistic Business Plan
The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports, 20 percent of small businesses fail within their first year, and only about a third survive 10 years or more.” So how do you avoid becoming a negative statistic?
A good dive shop business plan helps you set attainable goals, manage resources, handle unforeseen problems and make solid decisions. There are many resources available online in addition to computer software, books with step-by-step guidelines; you can also hire a business consultant. The most important thing is to choose a business plan template that you’re comfortable with.
Other important considerations:
- Understand your local market including your non-scuba competition for customers’ free time (mountain biking, skiing, etc.).
- Decide who will teach your classes, complete gear repairs, manage the retail space, drive the boat, etc. One person should not attempt to do all of these things.
- Research permits, zoning ordinances, utility requirements, etc.
- Will you have an on-site pool? If not, confirm what confined water training options are available.
- Will you be self-funded? Crowd-funded? Have partner investors? Take out a small business loan?
- What business structure will you choose?
Guide to business structures in the US
Be Prepared to Work 40-50 Hours a Week
There’s a saying, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That said, opening a small business means spending a lot of time doing what you (hopefully) love. According to a study reported by Inc, nearly half of all small business owners work more than 50 hours per week, and 82 percent work more than 40 hours.
During the start-up phase, usually 9-12 months, those long hours will come with little to no pay. Though it’s possible to get a dive shop up and running in six months, building a customer base takes time. Learn more about the timeline to start a scuba business.
Buying a Dive Shop Vs. Starting from Square One
Taking over an existing dive shop may be easier than building a new scuba diving business from the ground up. When you buy an existing dive business, the start-up costs are generally lower and you can usually retain the dive shop’s customers, suppliers and staff. You may also benefit from the advice and experience of the current owner. If you’re a PADI Member, check out the Classified Ads on the PADI Pros’ Site to find dive operations for sale.
That said, buying a dive shop means taking the good with the bad. In addition to researching the business’ reputation online, talk to current customers and suppliers. If you learn about something that makes you uncomfortable, or discover the business has a lot of debt, start with a clean slate instead.
Avoid the Most Common Mistake New Dive Shop Owners Make
Not investing enough in marketing and promotion is the number one mistake new dive shop owners make. “I’ve seen people open a shop thinking their personal dive associates will keep them in business,” said PADI Americas Regional Manager LeRoy Wickham.
“They overlook the fact that the majority of these friends already have most of their gear and only bring in small business like air fills and maybe some repairs. It’s not enough to keep the doors open,” Wickham explained.
Read more about the Top 7 Mistakes New Dive Shop Owners Make.
Choose the Right Business Partner
Many passionate divers and scuba instructors run unsuccessful dive businesses because they don’t take the time to learn how to run a business. Very few people are experts in hiring, pricing, staff training, retail management and marketing. Seeking expert advice is one of the smartest things a new dive shop owner can do.
PADI Business Academy
Attend PADI Business Academy to ramp up your knowledge of important business skills and learn proven dive industry marketing techniques. Visit the PADI Pros Site to find an upcoming PADI Business Academy near you.
PADI Regional Managers
Don’t hesitate to contact your PADI Regional Manager (RM) early on. All PADI Regional Managers have worked in the dive industry for many years – many have owned or managed dive shops. They don’ represent other dive industry brands, and have unique knowledge about your local market.
Other PADI Benefits
PADI has the broadest marketing reach and is the most-recognized scuba diving brand in the world. As a PADI Dive Center or Resort, you’ll have access to innovative marketing tools online and in the PADI Marketing Toolbox. Additionally, your students will receive follow-up email reminders encouraging them to pursue additional training. Last but not least, your business will have access to premium liability insurance and risk management tools.
Learn more about the benefits of partnering with PADI
Tips for Starting a Business Later in Life (Inc)
Top 7 Mistakes New Dive Shop Owners Make
Small Business Funding (SBA)
Starting a Scuba Business – How Long Does it Take?