What can Johnny teach us about buying scuba gear?

Well let me tell a story to shed a light on scuba marketing strategy. I am probably not gonna be too popular with some of the Dive Pros out there. I apologize at the outset, but I want to pull back the curtain.

Johnny has wanted to learn to dive for years, but he thinks it’s too expensive. He finally can’t stand himself and checks into his closest dive shop despite the high cost. They talk him into taking an open water class, and offer to let him make payments IF he signs up with the next class series. He does. PAUSE: To their credit they let him make payments. But, it is with an agenda. They know they have to talk Johnny past that first staggering cost hurdle. Dive Pros have to set the hook. PLAY: They tell him he MUST purchase fins (boots too)/mask/snorkel for the class, and they will provide him with the rest. But, he will get a 10% discount (on the 100% markup retail price they charge at dive shops – “Keystoning”), while he is a student,  on dive gear bought in that shop. WHAT A GREAT DEAL. PAUSE: why can’t they just provide everything for free as part of the class, and let him buy after? The shop guarantees a sale on the expensive brand name gear right out of the gate. And, once he spends a chunk of change, he is more likely to stick with the sport…and spend more cash. Every student has a financial expiration date. Shops don’t make much money on the classes (but they do make some). PLAY: HE writes a check for NEW gear to their shop ($130 for fins, $50 boots, $50 snorkel, $80 mask= $310+ for NEW gear, plus the $3-400 fee for the course – 10% off). He attends class #1 and is told he must come up with another $150 (often plus food and/or gas and/or hotel) to do his final certification testing in “open water”. Done. Hoorah he is now certified, yeah Johnny!

PAUSE: Throughout Johnny’s certification process, every dive professional he comes in contact with has been programmed to make him believe the fate of his certifying dive shop’s financial success rides on poor Johnny’s shoulders. If he doesn’t “stay loyal to his local dive shop” they are doomed to going out of business, and he will be disappointing those that are about to become his buds and mentors in a very tight club. PLAY: So, now certified, Johnny wants to finish buying his total dive system. He is steered, with hugs and tons of camaraderie, directly and promptly to HIS local dive shop. They sell him a top of the line “Brand” name (“cuz all the others are unsafe or just plain junk, and the used stuff…it is downright dangerous, this is your life support equipment”) BCD, regulator set, weights and a belt/harness, lights, catch bag, gloves, hood, wetsuit, rash guard set, safety sausage, decorated mask strap cover, t-shirt, baseball cap, dive knife, dive tool, computer, analog gauges, tank or 2, tank decorator, and colored hose protectors.

Now he is ready to “hang with our amazing tight knit group of dive buddies, and go on exotic adventures constantly”! PAUSE: why is used scuba gear “junk”? Granted, some of it can be poorly cared for, and you need to be smart when you buy. But, much of it is amazing and affordable gear! And, used dive gear is certainly appropriate to keep using! Used gear will save you 30-50% on the price of like-gear, new. PLAY: “It is OK” they tell him at the dive shop, he “can break it all up into 2-3 large payments, or buy things 1-2 at a time”. PAUSE: No more discount. Johnny is no longer a student. He is committed to diving, owns some gear, and is not likely to give up. His mentors work hard to keep him local with all that good bolstering and community encouragement. PLAY: They finish him off with “dive shop gear, OUR GEAR, is safe… you want to be safe, you want that warranty, you want to be part of us, and you want to support us, right? Your one of us now, right”? Johnny buys his gear, and is excited.

Johnny is ready to dive, and chomping at the bit to use his brand new, color coded, $2-4,000.00, total dive system. He goes on a couple easy dives, and they tell him he is “ready to dive with the big boys, cuz these local dives…well they ain’t nothin’!” Johnny wants to fit in, he looks great in his gear, he has found an amazing new sport, and new friends that instantly love him. So, when his new dive leaders encourage him to go on a grand all-inclusive dive trip, he jumps at the chance to spend another $2-3000 to see the amazing “blue water”. Johnny doesn’t really have the money, and he feels like he is bleeding large bills, but he doesn’t want to disappoint his new mentors or his new crew, and it is all so wonderful and new. Besides, he spent a fortune getting started at this. Johnny’s Dive Instructor (now “friend”) tells Johnny he can make payments on the trip, just like he did with the gear. Johnny goes on the trip. Johnny dives, and parties, and has the time of his life. Johnny is addicted! And, it all only cost him $5-7000.00! And, what’s more, he was loyal to his Dive Instructor and dive shop owner. And, Johnny looks great in his top dollar, brand name, shiny, new gear!

PAUSE: Johnny is many of us. Johnny is how most of us entered into this sport. PLAY: Now that Johnny is a seasoned diver he occasionally adds gear to his system, or exchanges parts.  

Great, what a nice (long) story. But, why buy used scuba gear? This is why:

  1. It is acceptable and cost effective for dive students to buy used mask/fin/boot/snorkel packages. Spend less on what you will outgrow fast. Then buy new when you know what and why you are buying. The dive pro may not really know what you need for the long haul. You won’t know till you have some dives under your belt. Do some research into how to size a mask, fins and boots, and what types of snorkels are out there. When you go into the dive shop, ask them to assist you with a USED purchase. But, remember, it isn’t in their best interest to put you in GOOD used scuba gear, they may not even carry any. And, they probably won’t make a referral. That dive shop may not be friendly about it all, be prepared. Find a friend who dives to help you out. BUY USED GEAR TO SAVE MONEY GETTING INTO THE SPORT.
  2. It is perfectly acceptable for new divers to decline to purchase gear through their local dive shop. You HIRED and PAID them to train you. You do not OWE them. Dive shops need to work to retain your business, not the other way around. Do not fall into believing the “we are doing you a favor” mindset that will subtly flow from many dive shops. There are dive clubs, dive buddies, dive trips, and dive shops all over the place. And, the dive shop will not fail if you decide to purchase a used BCD from places like blueorbdiving.com, Craigslist, Webstore, eBay, scuba message boards (like scubaboard.com), or your local newspaper. Blueorbdiving.com and other sellers will buy, sell, give free estimates, and instruct you along the way…FREE! It is your job to protect yourself, protect your hard earned dollar, and to do what suits you best. BUY USED DIVE GEAR TO SAVE MONEY AS YOU BECOME PROFICIENT IN THE SPORT, AND LEARN WHAT NEW GEAR YOU REALLY WANT.
  3. Scuba gear manufacturers REFUSE to allow anyone that is not a fully functional brick and mortar dive shop to carry their products. It is how they regulate the dive shops and their brand, and the way the industry markets goods and services. Your dive shop won’t go broke if you and your friends don’t buy $3000 each of used gear from them. They will lower prices or learn to market differently, or the industry will change the way it does business. BUY USED DIVE GEAR TO PROMOTE YOUR OWN BUYING POWER.
  4. Your BCD and regulator are true life support systems. It is fine to buy these things used; FINE. BUT, you need to be sure that you have educated yourself first. You need to check everything over very well before you buy. You are saving a hefty chunk of change, but you are still buying without warranty. And, you MUST take them to a professional dive technician to have them examined and serviced BEFORE you dive with them. You are your own lifeguard! BUY USED DIVE GEAR SO THAT YOUR SYSTEM IS TAILORED TO YOUR NEEDS, NOT AVERAGE JOE BUYER.
  5. You do not NEED a warranty on everything! BCD, regulators, computer, MAYBE! My motto is this, if they made it worth the money you are about to spend on it…why should they expect it to break! I don’t buy extra warranties. However, if you are dropping NEW gear prices on a NEW $800 regulator, avoid the online deals and get it at your local dive shop – for the warranty. BUY USED DIVE GEAR ON EVERYTHING THAT DOESN’T NEED A WARRANTY.
  6. Lastly, for the record, I am not dissing dive shops here. My local dive shop supports my used gear business, NW Scuba LLC is GREAT that way. Shops serve their purpose; fills, new gear, classes, trips. They are the place we all must birth from. I am vocally dissing the way the dive industry (manufacturers and scuba schools) choose to market, manage, and limit, enterprise within industry. I am sure I will close some doors because I am expressing. I am also dissing the mindset that looks on the surface to be all about taking caring of the local dive patrons, but is really just another financial funnel at the bottom of your wallet. BUY USED DIVE GEAR BECAUSE YOU WANT TO BUY USED DIVE GEAR…buy new if you want new.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the Sea”