Well, well, well. Here’s a topic that comes up in fizzles and spurts about every week. And that is the adventures many of us have at the LDSs (Local Dive Shops). Such things heard are; “The guy that runs my LDS said that my equipment is out of date.“ or “My LDS wouldn’t service my regulators because they are more than 10 years old.” or when referring to a double hose or vintage single hose; “ OMG, you actually dive that thing?” or “Those things are dangerous and will kill you! Our shop will not touch them with a ten-mile pole!” or the classic (in a shop that claims they are a full-service shop, but when you take your gear inside); “We only service “Brand X” regulators; maybe you should purchase some “Brand X” regs!”
We in the veteran diving community have all heard this kind of garbage from around 70% of LDSs across the planet at one time or another. To be fair, it would be idiotic for me to blanket all LDSs in this light. One needs to remember that the main business of an LDS is to sell equipment. Ask any LDS owner and (if he or she is honest) they will tell you that diving lessons and trips aren’t where the money is and that the real dough is in retail sales, followed by equipment service and air fills. Hey, no problem here as I am an avowed capitalist and love free enterprise. That said, for those of us that do refurbish double hose and vintage single hose regulators as well as service our own modern equipment, the quest of finding a good LDS is filled with pitfalls. The following is an example and let’s just call it an acid test of regulator technician competency.
A few years ago, I had a Scubapro Mark 2 with R190 seconds that I knew I had to service. Instead, as a “test” of the workmanship of a LDS’s technical acumen to wit; a Q&A check. I disassembled the regs, marked the underside of the HP seat as well as LP seats on the 2nd stages, not to mention placing deliberately aged O-rings on various locations and removed one of the IP adjustment shims. I made sure that I videoed the entire enterprise (with close-ups) from start to finish. I then took the regulator set into the LDS and let them roll with it.
To be fair, I knew the shop owner and he himself had said he had problems with his in-house regulator technician doing a good job. At the shop, the “Tech,” a twenty-something young man, said the following upon seeing my regulator set; “Gee, man, these regs are at least 10 years old.” (They were actually 25) “You should check out the new “Brand X” regs in the shop! They are the best out there and will outperform the stuff you have.” I told him no thanks and I just wanted an annual service. I asked him how long the service would take. “Well, it will be about two weeks.” the “Tech” said. This statement, considering that the shop is always touting they are “A Full-Service Shop” and that they are a certified Scubapro shop, amazed me. I asked him why it would take so long and he replied; “Well, we’re a little backlogged on services and we might have to order the parts for your set.” Another amazing and IMO, totally bullshit statement considering the MK2 and R190s have commonly acquired O-rings and the seats are common to many regs. So, I went along with his bullshit and left the set there. The “Tech” said he would “call me when they were ready.” The cost for the service was $78 dollars! Around two weeks later, I called the shop to check progress and received the following answer; “Oh, uh, they’ll be done in two days as we just got the parts in. I’ll call you when they are done.” After three days, I called again. This time the guy said;” Oh, I was just going to call you, your regs are ready.”
I had called the owner previously and told him what I’d been up to and asked him to meet me at the shop. The owner (We’ll call him John) was more than happy to see if his tech had been doing that which he said he’d been doing and reporting on his maintenance log. Upon reaching the LDS, I went into the shop and collected the regs. I asked the “Tech” a couple of interesting things that one can and should do when getting your regs back. I asked him if he had any issues that I should know about and the tech said: “No, they breathe great.” I then asked him what the IP was after the service? I saw a strange look come over him and he said “about 142” in an off the cuff manner not looking me in the eye. I also asked him for the old parts which he said; “Oh, man, I threw them away.” I said no problem and then enthusiastically went away and greeted John (the LDS owner) in his office. I had brought my own tools with me in a backpack as well as a flash drive with the video of me and the inner guts of the regs with their tell-tales on the seats and crappy O-rings. Firstly, we put it on a tank and checked IP. I P was 125. I then disassembled the regs and low and behold, no O-rings had been replaced and the seats were the same ones I had marked!
John then proceeded to call the “Tech” into the office and we both confronted him with the cumulative evidence of his fraudulent service. To make a long story short the tech was fired and his service certifications for Scubapro have been revoked. Before any of you snowflake “excuse” makers come to this guy’s aid, remember that this lazy idiot had put not only himself in trouble, but due to his negligence could have ruined John’s livelihood and even (and most importantly) gotten someone killed! The tech had charged $25 dollars for parts and the rest was labor (about $40) and Texas sales tax for a job he didn’t even do! So ends this little story with the proviso that in today’s world apparently, “If you want a job done right, you’d better do it yourself, because it’s your life on the line, not that technician’s!”
Which lead us to the “Meat of the Matter,” What constitutes a great Local Dive Shop (LDS)?
Firstly, before we delve into that matter, one needs to remember that most LDSs are geared toward “Newbie” BOW (Basic Open Water) divers, in that they have a lot of “Eye Candy” in their shops to entice the Newbie into purchasing new and expensive equipment. Hey, not a problem as long as that shop continues to treat you as a good customer 3 years down the road and not like yesterday’s leftovers when you come into the shop a year after your purchase. This seems to be the prevailing mindset for the last 20 years in most (but not all) LDSs in California for some strange reason. This kind of LDS doesn’t see any profitability in veteran divers as they tend to take care of their equipment and only come in for air fills or the occasional dive trinket. Thus they are avoided and are made to feel unwelcome, albeit accidentally.
Secondly, and let’s be honest, veteran as well as vintage veteran divers tend to scare staff personnel in most LDSs. Why may you ask? Well, think about it for a moment. You have a twenty-something kid who might have been working at an LDS for a couple of years and might have his or her (depending) Basic Open water, Advanced Open Water, or Rescue Diver, or even is a Master Diver or higher. They might have 60 dives or they might have 500 or more. This person (in their own mind’s eye) is ALWAYS expected to know the answer to a customer’s questions, This works fine when the customer is a “Newbie” but tends to go awry when the staff member is confronted by a veteran diver who not only has more hours under water than the staffer’s total summer vacations since birth but is experienced in multiple different equipment configurations and dive environments. To wit; the staffer is way out of his or her comfort zone of knowledge and platitudes. Add to that a customer might not only have his own air compressor, rebuilds and dives vintage double hose regulators as well as vintage and modern single hose regs and you will cause most (but not all) LDS personnel to revert to what I call “Know-it-all” syndrome or K.I.A..
K .I.A. syndrome are those actions taken by said LDS staff person or persons that protect said person’s worldview of himself by ample use of corporate (PADI, NAUI, ASI) doctrinal statements as well as neo-diving equipment gibberish that only makes that person look more idiotic to the veteran diver. Remember that these people are “used” to being the “go-to guy” and the total “answer man” for their “Newbie” audiences. Such things said are; “OMG, Double hose regulators are dangerous and will kill you, which is why I only use the latest models of Brand –X!”, or “Well you know that the Sport diving industry has come a long way since my grandfather’s time and we instruct our students as to CORRECT methods of diving nowadays!”, or “You are taking a real risk in servicing your own equipment without proper technical certification!” etc. etc. etc. The “Bottom-line Up Front” as we say in the Army, is that K.I.A. syndrome is indicative of our PC and liability laced society and allows the relatively uninitiated dive shop “Pro” a way to disparage a veteran diver and hide that staffer’s ignorance of the greater world and history of diving. Instead of admitting he or she doesn’t know something, the “Know-it-all” LDS staffer will also perform what we call in the Army the “Lieutenant’s Kabuki Dance.” The “Kabuki Dance” involves a lot of utterances and rapid movement in order to bamboozle the observer into believing that the LDS staffer knows what the hell he or she is talking about when in reality that staffer has said little or nothing that can even remotely make sense. The “Kabuki Dance” works well on the uninitiated “Newbie” diver, but fails the “Know-it-all” LDS staffer terribly when confronted with a veteran diver. Though I must admit it is entertaining to watch.
One also needs to remember that these LDSs and their staff are inculcated in a web of corporate salesmanship and are many times under pressured to push their vested corporate sponsor or sponsors products often for a commission. All of that scuba “Eye Candy” costs big bucks, so sell, sell, sell. Out with last year’s stuff and in with the new. This can lead to an LDS imploding by focusing on new equipment sales to the detriment of everything else, including equipment service. Many a new and promising LDS has met its demise in this way.
Again, “What makes a great Local Dive Shop?” The following, in my experience, are the keys to what makes a great LDS.
1. Word of Mouth
Nothing sells better than the good old fashioned word of mouth and the flip side is nothing kills an LDS faster than word of mouth. That said, for the beginner or the veteran diver, word of mouth is not the recommendation of a “Newbie” diver who just got his Basic Open Water Certification. When an LDS is given the title “It's a great shop” via word of mouth, it needs to come from a trusted source that has years of experience behind it. Such a source is not a magazine ad or commercial that has the LDS owner’s agenda all over it.
A good source is a veteran diver that you trust, who has years of experience behind him or herself and makes a recommendation based on his or her experiences with that shop OVER THER YEARS, not months. Word of mouth by divers both new and old will make or break an LDS. A person looking for reviews can use the internet but must Beware the “Newbie” hemming and hawing over his or her experience at a given LDS, which might be the ONLY LDS that that person has ever had any experience with.
2. Full-Service Shop
By this, I mean just that. Full service means complete bottom to top service for all types of equipment (from regulators to masks, BCDs, fins tanks and valves, as well as computers cameras etc.), classroom and “wet” training on all levels as well as weekend and holiday dive events sponsored by the shop. Full service is far harder to achieve than one might think. If an LDS only services three different brands of regulators but fulfills all the other stuff is it still full service? Is it full service if it does everything else and fully services ONLY Brands X, Y or Z? Granted, no one dive shop will be able to service ALL regulators, but if it is truly full service, it should be able to service the top 10 manufacturer’s regulator sets for the last 15 years in my opinion. Having a truly Full-Service Shop can be a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor in so many ways, but if you love what you’re doing and do it right it does tend to pay off.
Granted, when it comes to servicing so-called “Classic” or “Vintage” equipment most full-service establishments will fall short here. They also have a legitimate fear of litigation problems if they attempt to service so called vintage regulators like the double hose types from the 1950s to the early 1970s just because their service personnel have no experience with them let alone how to service one. Even though parts for many of these regulators are now available in 2017, many LDSs will refuse to work on them. This applies to many single hose regulators of earlier manufacture.
Also, a real Full-Service Shop will admit that they can’t service your equipment, tell you why they can’t and will go the extra mile by sending you to their competitor’s shop that does. If they service a piece of equipment, the “Tech” should walk you through what he or she did to service that equipment, honestly tell you if there is a problem with a given piece of equipment and if a parts replacement occurs such as regulators servicing, they can give you the old parts that have been replaced or at least show you the old parts that have been replaced due to the possibility of those old parts being re-used. This depends on what the policy that then shop must follow. These things definitely help the “Word of Mouth” factor for any LDS.
3. No Pressure Sales
The last thing a veteran diver needs is an LDS staffer going on the sales warpath the moment he or she enters a shop. All staff members should be given this briefing with regards to new people coming into the store; “If a customer enters the building ask him or her “Can I help you?” If the customer says; “No thanks, I’m just looking.” tell the customer that you will be there if he or she has any questions be pleasant and courteous and leave them the hell alone!”
Yes, Staffers, this means you! If I happen to be admiring a $15,000 rebreather or some other new-fangled gadget, don’t come swooping down on me with K.I.A. syndrome and your eyes full of commission possibilities, then proceed to overwhelm me with information and feature facts I never wanted to know, nor did I ask for. Believe me, for $15,000, if I have a question I guarantee I will ask it.
Also, when a new diver who honestly admits his or her needs asks for your advice on a piece of equipment or even a complete diving equipment package, if you care about having that person return and give good “Word of Mouth” advertising for your shop, forego the instant gratification of selling him or her the most expensive set of gear on the planet and try to accommodate that individual’s skill level and pocket book by asking the customer just that. Base your recommendations as to his or her needs and on your own experience when you were a "Newbie". Honest sales and salesmanship will get your shop the “green light” with both newer and older divers by way of showing that you really care about the divers' needs, not just making a buck. This will re-enforce both “Word of Mouth and Full Service” in people’s minds when they think about your shop for their next purchase. And of course ALWAYS treat new and old customers with respect and courtesy and just because that veteran diving customer isn't buying a $15,000.00 re-breather and only getting an O-ring kit that day, doesn't mean he won't get that re-breather later!
4. Genuine Interest and Human Fallibility
Finally, the area that will re-enforce all the other areas hitherto written about. Face it, if you have an LDS you are there for two things, both of which are equally important; 1. You want to make money. 2. You have to really love what you are doing and in this industry and that is diving, period. Everyone in the LDS should really love what they’re doing and share that fever with everyone they come in contact with.
Staffers should listen to customers dive experiences, whether they are newbies or old salty dogs, with equal gusto. A staffer can gain valuable insight and knowledge by listening to the various experiences of other divers and can add to that experience with their own love of the sport. A shop that has a person working for it that might not have all that much experience diving, but shows a real love of the sport and is willing to listen to others with more experiences in the industry is a person on their way up in the world. By showing GENUINE interest in the experiences of others an LDS bolsters its image as a great place for other divers to hang out and builds a social bond between the LDS and its clients.
An LDS that is successful, has people working for it who don’t exhibit “Know-it-all” syndrome, admit they are fallible as human beings and make real attempts at making things right for the customer. A successful LDS is willing to grow and garner more industry knowledge in order to make people’s experiences in diving more enjoyable. This is the kind of LDS that will stay the course and be around for years to come.
"Where'd ya get that ol' thang, don't cha' know them thare things ill kill ya!"
Live From the Red Sea,