When deciding where to take a scuba class, purchase or service dive equipment, or going on a group dive trip, the local dive shop (LDS) remains divers’ favorite choice of service delivery. Here we will explain in detail the areas to consider when selecting the best dive shop with which to affiliate.
There are definitely some things to look for when selecting a class, dive shop, and/or a scuba instructor. It can be broken down into three distinct areas to evaluate, thus it is worthy of three separate articles which I have written. Let’s take a look at each of these areas of consideration:
A. How to Select a Scuba Diving Class
B. How to Select a Dive Shop
C. How to Select a Scuba Instructor
HOW TO SELECT A DIVE SHOP
Let’s look at what makes a dive shop a dive shop. But first let me address an area of political correctness. A push was made in the diving industry to use the name “dive center” instead of “dive shop”. Research showed that the name “dive shop” had a small, rustic, mom-and-pop feel, and that a “dive center” was conducive to an upper class, professional business with more offerings. So, some agencies deem dive shops “Full Service Dive Centers” if they meet a plethora of criteria, and even give them ratings. However, search engine reporting shows that “dive shop” is still the most preferred title to refer to a brick-and-mortar dive retail business. So, I will use dive shop with no intent to diminish you dive stores, dive centers, or dive centre if you are British (fabulous wedding by the way).
Here are the main areas of business for dive shops:
- Scuba Instruction – Since you have read “How to Select a Scuba Diving Class” you now have an appreciation for some of the items necessary to take a scuba class. Most scuba training takes place in conjunction with dive shops. Even if you take a private scuba class with an independent diving instructor, chances are you will be visiting a dive shop that your instructor works with.
- Equipment Purchasing – The dive shop is an integral part of your future as a diver. You will visit your local dive shop when it comes time purchase your gear. This is especially important since fit and comfort are key criteria for your equipment selection. At a dive shop you will be able to try on multiple sizes and styles, under the expert care of a dive retail professional, to pick the items perfect for you.
- Equipment Servicing – The dive shop is where you go to have your tanks filled. The more you dive, the more air fills you need. This keeps a steady relationship between you and the dive shop. It is also the place that you will bring in your equipment to be serviced – annual inspections of your regulator and tanks, and every five years for the tank hydrostatic testing. Plus, if you have a repair need, they are the place to get those repairs fixed properly as scuba equipment repair requires specialized training and certification.
- Dive Travel – Tons of training and tons of equipment will not matter if you don’t dive! The dive shop is the hub of diving activities – especially dive travel. Whether it’s local or halfway around the world, your dive shop offers special dive travel opportunities to keep you wet and enjoying the sport. Dive travel is what it’s all about, exploring various locations each with their own unique conditions and marine life.
- Ask Around – You probably have lots of friends who are divers. Ask them. A simple inquiry to your friends on Facebook should reveal many suggestions of shops, both good and bad. Your looking for your friends’ actual experiences not rumors. Remember, just like a restaurant review, experiences and opinions may vary from person to person. But, if people are giving consistent reviews, chances are they are accurate.
– Ask what they like and dislike about the dive shop.
– Ask what they go there for the most.
– Ask if they have a favorite employee or instructor.
- Internet Research – Take each of the areas above (dive travel, scuba instruction, etc.) and explore them on the dive shop’s website. If the site looks like a ninth-grade computer project, be suspect. That is clearly a sign of owners who do not understand their consumers’ needs. Scuba diving is a wonderful combination of fun and safety. Safety is in the details. So, good dive shops will have websites that are fun and engaging, and at the same time detailed and full of information. NOTE: Don’t be discouraged if a dive shop does not post the prices of classes. That is a detail that many dive shops would rather have you call about so that they can tell you in detail what the class includes. The reason for this goes back to our first article, “How to Select a Scuba Diving Class”, as some dive shops post ridiculously low class prices yet have hidden costs. Most people don’t know how to do true class comparisons (like you now know how to do), so many dive shops want you to call for pricing. That is a good thing.
– Do you get a good and excited feeling about diving when you visit their website? Do they look like they embody the scuba lifestyle? Those are also good traits to look for when doing internet research.
– Go to the About Us section of their website. You should have a clear snapshot of the employees and instructors with their bio’s. Do they look professional and have professional credentials, yet exude a passion for diving? That is what you want. I shy away from dive shops that are not proud to show their most important asset; their people. If they don’t showcase their staff, it could mean they have massive turnover of staff or they have folks with mediocre credentials. The opposite could happen too. If the About Us section reveals only men who have mostly uber-technical credentials (cave, cavern, deep air, mixed gas, etc.). That could be a niche dive shop and may not be the right place for your family to become recreational divers. I am generalizing, so just use common sense, and you will get a good feel for what the dive shop is all about.
- Site Visit – This is hands-down the best way to evaluate a dive shop. Don’t be intimidated if you are a non-diver. Go there! As a non-diver you should leave the dive shop wanting to take your lessons yesterday! The people, the atmosphere, the equipment, the visuals, should make you feel like you have stepped into what diving is all about. A diving culture should be present and intense.
– How is the visual appeal? It should be somewhat overwhelming, but not chaotic. You want a nice layout with a good amount of products that makes you want to explore them. You should get the clear impression that this shop truly specializes in their sport.
– How is the customer service? This is a big one. You want to be greeted and you want them to ask questions about you. Within a couple minutes they should know you are a non-diver interested in taking scuba lessons. And they should be GENUINELY EXCITED for your interest. Notice also how they are helping other people, see if there is a class going on, or notice them selling equipment or filling tanks. These occurrences are what you will be going through, so you should like what you are seeing.
– Try to meet your instructor. If you can, this is a wonderful thing to do. For what to look for in your instructor see the next article, “How to Select a Scuba Instructor”.
– What professional image does the shop have? Is it clean? Would you trust the employees to fit you for life support equipment or take you underwater? Do you get the impression that safety is important to them? You will be amazed at how keen your sense of this is even though you are a soon-to-be-diver.
WHAT TO AVOID
As a former scuba training/certification agency director I had the opportunity to visit many dive shops nationally and abroad. Most were very good, but a few were not so good. One shop in particular, I will never forget. Immediately upon entering the small shop there was an old pizza box open on top of the glass display counter; a wastebasket overflowing with beer bottles; a smelly dog with white hair; the dog’s white hair was all over the un-vacuumed blue carpet and even on some of the retail diving equipment; the two owners were both smoking cigarettes; they shared a large, full ashtray also on top of the glass display counter; the shop and all the equipment reeked of smoke and dog. I was there to investigate a quality assurance complaint. Naturally.
Remember from the first article that there are many scuba training/certification agencies. What can also help you make your dive shop selection can be the status a shop may have with an agency. Some of the larger scuba training/certification agencies have standards for their sanctioned “dive centers”. And, again, they may have ratings or titles given to those dive shops with scales of gold, silver, platinum, palms, stars, or diamonds just to name a few. But what is helpful to know is that a dive shop that displays their “Dive Center Status” with an agency has had to be evaluated to the standards of that agency. They have been measured on air purification standards, equipment inventory, class offerings, service & repair, regular hours, proper business licenses, and no quality assurance or standards violations. These are all important areas that you may not see, so it is nice to know that the agency has inspected all that annually for you.
Finally, as a modern-day consumer you know what you want when it comes to how to be treated, and how a place and its people make you feel. Visit as many dive shops as you can to get the best comparisons, then go with your gut feeling. By following the tips in this article, chances are you will make the right decision.
Now read “How to Select a Scuba Instructor”