Sometimes success may come from turning the traditional business model completely upside down. Craig Willemsen, owner of the very successful Silent Word Diving Systems, Inc. dive shop in Bellevue, Washington has done just that. He said that “most dives shop owners think success  comes from getting prospective new divers into open water courses.” It sounds good because it means a good chunk of income from the initial sales. Willemsen called this approach “turn-em and burn-em” and thinks it is the wrong strategy. There are only so many non-divers in any market zone and at some point you are going to exhaust that market. Trying to make most of your money on OW courses and the associated sales is a path to eventual failure.

Instead Willemsen uses his resources to keep his customer base motivated to explore the unlimited world of diving. He starts this by feeding his divers more than the average number of dive trips and by making sure the trips are interesting and sometimes challenging (inspiring more advanced training). Plus, as soon as a diver finishes a level of training, Craig’s shop is ready with next level of training or a trip that may be more advanced. Even the new open water students are offered the option to

start off in drysuits for a small additional fee.

It is the same with products. So many dives shops are

either recreational based or tech based. That means that when your recreational diver customer is ready to transition, you are basically sending away that business. In our ScubaGadget story The Great Nitrox Myth ( we illustrated how our closest local dive shop lost over $9000 of business in one year just from our family because they did not supply nitrox. We purchased that all of that gear from a shop that was less convenient to us, but did have the nitrox fills we needed.

Anyplace in US outside of the south and mostly southeast, wetsuit divers are vacation only divers. Craig knows and has embraced the concept that is lost on so many dive shop owners: drysuit divers, nitrox divers, tech divers, advanced divers all dive more and spend exponentially more money at your shop then open water vacation divers. And if you are not keeping them interested and offering them the gear they want, they are going elsewhere.

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