Like any small business, starting a scuba diving shop requires knowledge of the market. Scuba diving is not necessarily an expensive sport---once you've made your initial investment in gear such as a wetsuit, fins, mask, buoyancy control device (BCD), snorkel, etc. Training courses and guided dives cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars, a bargain considering all the expertise and experience you'll gain from them. If, in the course of learning the sport, you become passionate about helping others get involved in scuba, running a dive shop could turn into an extremely rewarding career.
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New or Used?
Before opening your diving business, you'll need to decide whether you want to open a new shop or buy an existing location. This decision will have a major effect on your costs, as a new location will require an investment in land or retail space. Then you will have to build your shop or, if leasing existing retail space, have it converted or renovated to a suitable condition. This means installation of a training pool; if space doesn't permit the installation of a pool, you'll have to rent time at area facilities that have pools. You will also need to decide whether to base your business at a resort, catering to tourists; or in a town or city, catering to local residents. A third option, if you own a boat or fleet of vessels, is to seek certification as a dive boat operation. If you're buying land and building a dive business from the ground up, your costs could range from a few hundred thousand dollars to well over £0.6 million---or more---if you're setting up shop in a resort community or other location with high property values and taxes. However, before spending a single dollar on your new venture, you might want to solicit the advice of other dive shop owners.
Make a Plan
Attend a diving industry conference, such as the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) Show, where experts will be able to advise you on your costs and time line. Obtain local, state and federal licenses, which you'll need to open your new business, and come up with a business plan that you can present to banks and potential investors. Your business plan should be simple and easy to understand, with measurable, realistic goals. It should also provide key information about your target market, such as the demographics of your potential customers. At this stage of the process, you shouldn't be spending too much of your own money.
Spend Money to Make Money
Once you've secured bank loan or financial support from private investors, you'll need to buy or lease property; select suppliers and order scuba gear from them; commission interior design and signage; buy insurance; hire employees; institute an advertising campaign; arrange for utilities, a cleaning service and waste removal; commission a website and online store; and implement computer systems to manage administrative tasks such as payroll and inventory. You'll be spending tens of thousands of dollars at this point, but if you've come up with a solid business plan and garnered the support of an investor, you'll have the financial backing to take these steps.
Once you've established your scuba diving business and developed a solid customer base and reliable revenue streams, you might want to consider expanding your services to include charter boat dives to local marine areas with significant ecological or historical value. In addition to purchasing a suitable vessel, trailer and tow vehicle, you might need to hire additional staff to serve as guides on these expeditions. Conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis before adding charter boat diving services to your business, as this is a major capital investment. Although you can get a decent trailer-boat package for less than £65,000, you'll have to decide whether taking only a handful of divers out at a time is worth the cost in fuel, towing mileage, maintenance, insurance and other expenses you'll incur every time you offer a boat-diving excursion. To get maximum return on your investment, you might need a bigger vessel capable of handling large groups of divers.
The Business Comes First
Running a dive shop may sound like a dream job for someone who's really into scuba diving (and in many ways, it probably is) but remember that your first obligation is to the business---not to filling out your dive logbook on the company's dime. You'll work long hours---and probably a lot of weekends too, as that is when many people choose to go on dives or take part in training courses. And because scuba is a highly technical sport, you'll need to be around to answer questions from customers and staff who might not have as much diving experience as you do.
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