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home | Featured Resources | Whats in Store for Your Customers? B . . .

What's in Store for Your Customers? Building Business by Helping Your Customers Create a Bucket List
By Robert N. Rossier

IT'S DIFFICULT TO SAY EXACTLY WHY ANY ONE INDIVIDUAL TAKES UP DIVING: so many facets of the sport are intriguing, attractive, enticing. But one thing we can depend on is this: once diving becomes a repetitive, ho-hum activity, divers are less likely to stay with it. What keeps divers enthused and engaged is the excitement, seeing new places, having new experiences and achieving new goals. To keep divers engaged, we need to constantly expand their horizons with new offerings.

Imagine sitting down and writing up a list of all the diving activities and experiences we have had in our careers and then offering those experiences to our clients. For new divers, or those just pondering the prospects of certification, creating a "wish list" of adventures--a bucket list--is exactly what helps prompt them to move from dreaming about it to actually doing it. Focusing on helping divers create and fill those bucket lists can be a fun, innovative way to build our business as well.

One way to decide what might be included in a diver's bucket list is to consider three key categories: skills and knowledge, experiences and service. While some diving activities might overlap these categories a bit, viewing them in this light can help us evaluate their business value, explore the marketing options and shape a cohesive strategy.

Skills and Knowledge

Diver Benefits: Gain new knowledge, certifications and really cool gear.

Dive Center Benefits: Sell specialty training and equipment; build customer base with higher skill levels.

For many people, the work-a-day world lacks the achievement milestones that give them gratification. So if work is repetitive and unrewarding, they may look for ways to grow and learn outside of the work environment. That's where this category of our bucket list activities focuses. From the dive center perspective, these are activities that revolve around skill building provide us the opportunity to sell gear and training.

We all know that Millennials--which form a large and growing market sector--crave recognition and achievement. And not surprisingly, others do too! Whether it's merit badges, college degrees or scuba certifications, earning some form of recognition boosts the self-image and provides a feeling of gratification. Perhaps more importantly, skill building helps create a foundation upon which new experiences can safely be built.

To that end, our skills and knowledge bucket might include the traditional advanced diver certifications: advanced diver, deep diving, night diving, stress and rescue, underwater navigation and other similar skill and experience building certifications. To that list we can add more high-voltage training that revolves around equipment, allowing our students to sample new and advanced technology. Here we might add such specialty courses as dry suit diving, underwater communication systems, full face mask diving, heads-up masks, diver propulsion vehicles, surface supply diving technology and even rebreathers.

Providing such specialty courses not only provides us the opportunity to market some exciting and engaging training courses, it also can lead to some high-ticket equipment sales. But to gain the full market potential, we need to help divers focus their forward-looking gaze on the experiences they can anticipate through the application of their new skills and equipment.


Diver Benefits: New notches in the dive belt.

Dive Center Benefits: Sell travel; create excitement.

We all know that some resort locations draw divers like moths to a flame and we know that the people at those resorts always come through with a top notch experience. So we book those locations over and over for our clients. But for some divers, making the same trips to the same location can lead to boredom. To add excitement to our offerings, we might need to step out of the box and dive into some new territories and new experiences. We might be surprised how many divers are secretly yearning to do something really new.

So the next group of activities for a bucket list involves unique experiences and locations. Think about the really special places to go, the "must do" dives in which more highly trained and experienced divers can participate. Some of these will require only a slight tweak of the basic scuba skills, but others will involve the application of high-tech specialty skills and gear. The real focus for the dive center here is an opportunity to promote new and unique experiences and travel packages. For divers, it's an opportunity for new notches in their dive belts.

Throughout the Caribbean we can find hundreds of fantastic locations where divers can see amazing sights and sea life. But some of the most eye-popping, thrilling experiences can be found scattered across the globe in hidden corners of the world and in places we might not expect. Some of them might be right in our own back yards.

The list here is limited only by imagination. Sharks have a powerful appeals and divers are often drawn to shark diving programs. Whether it's great whites off Montauk, NY or San Francisco, hammerheads of Costa Rica's Cocos Island, white tips and bulls in the Bahamas, or great white and whale sharks in Mexico, the chance to see the grace and beauty of these creatures first hand makes a tempting entry on many divers' bucket list. But hundreds of locations around the country and around the world offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences that many divers won't want to miss: diving with manta rays in Banderas Bay, Mexico or stingrays in Grand Cayman, cruising through the California kelp forests, drift diving in the currents of Cozumel, gliding among the sea life of an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, snorkeling with manatees in Florida, witnessing the coral spawning in the Caribbean or exploring the myriad marvels of nature in the Galapagos.

Once we have a group of divers that possess well-developed skills, we can challenge them with such specialties as overhead diving environments. The caverns and caves of Florida and cenotes of Mexico offer a lifetime of adventure, but just earning the certifications is a major achievement. Wreck diving, in its many forms, draws divers to unique locations up and down the east coast, to amazing locations in Canada and the Great Lakes and to magnificent destinations such as Micronesia's Chuuk lagoon.

Some of the dives we can imagine and plan are truly unique experiences and others are more to just to say we've done them: a high-altitude dive in the Rocky Mountains, a night dive under a frozen waterfall, a New Year's Day "frozen fin" dive, an underwater Easter-egg hunt or an underwater orienteering course. Each of these says "wow" in its own way and each forms a magical memory.


Wondering where the "bucket list" originated? The term gained popularity thanks to the 2007 film, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Both actors play characters that are complete strangers until fate lands them in the same hospital room, each diagnosed with a terminal illness. The adventure starts when the men set out to complete a list of things they wish to see and do before they "kick the bucket," which means to die.

Ironically, the bucket list is often called a "life list" by motivational therapists and coaches who claim that writing life goals on a list helps hold individuals accountable and helps motivate people to make their dreams come true.

Service and Challenge

Diver Benefits: Sense of community and accomplishment.

Dive Center Benefits: Community building; positive PR.

Many people crave the sense of belonging along with a sense of accomplishment that they receive through some form of community service. So this final facet of our bucket list includes the underwater life experiences that can help bring a sense of belonging, a sense of community building and that warmth that comes when giving back to others. This category of bucket list activities includes not only the opportunities for becoming engaged in the community but, in some cases, truly life- or world-changing activities.

One way divers can serve others is through public safety activities such as search and rescue, recovery and law enforcement-related diving. Even if divers cannot participate in official activities due to liability concerns, the opportunity to learn and receive training can in itself be an appealing and rewarding experience.

Environmental activism is another form of community service and community building that often draws divers. Projects such as reef and sponge reconstruction, artificial reef projects and beach cleanups all create positive public relations, while helping to conserve the abundance of the seas.

Scientific endeavors such as fish counts, archaeological projects and reef and wreck mapping are more candidates for the divers' bucket list. In some cases, divers will get some specialized instruction gratis as part of the program, but often divers will need to fine tune skills and learn new skills before participating in these programs.

Finally, fundraising events can give divers some unique experiences and provide an opportunity for divers and non-divers alike to apply their life- and work-skills to a charitable cause. Any way you look at it, it's a win-win-win situation for the volunteers, dive center and the recipients of the cause.

Overcoming Hurdles

Getting divers engaged in activities--no matter how enticing--has its challenges. But if we can identify the most likely hurdles, we can develop strategies to overcome them.

Fear. One of the common hurdles to overcome is the fear factor that comes when a particular type of diving activity has inherent perceived risk or danger. Remember that this factor may also be just the aspect that creates a desire to participate, to get the thrill and excitement offered by the activity. The remedy here is education and training, and sometimes we need to provide this, at least in small doses, before we can get divers to commit their time and resources. One example is shark diving. Lots of divers would love to see sharks underwater, but at the same time they don't want to expose themselves to what seems like an undue risk of injury. The way to allay those fears is to provide some basic education so they understand the true risk, which may be exaggerated in their minds and among the diving public at large. Facts about safety records, along with insights into precautions taken and equipment used, can help divers form a more informed perception and ultimately pursue the activity.

The same applies to other potential bucket list diving specialties. What could be crazier than diving the silt-covered interior of a wreck, penetrating the depths of an underwater cave or plunging through a small hole in the ice to explore the frozen depths? Any of these feats might seem foolhardy, but once divers understand the equipment, techniques and precautions, they can see how the risks are mitigated and managed. And part of the excitement of diving is learning how to apply technology to safely venture into such environments.

Confidence. Another hurdle is perhaps a lack of confidence or a timid attitude that prevents divers from going off on their own to engage in specialty training. It's always much easier when you have a buddy, a partner or group of friends to share in the excitement and keep each other engaged. So the strategy here is to engage peers and make it easy for that group to come together.

Finances. Next on the list is the financial limitation that divers might face. Coming up with the cash to train, travel or purchase needed equipment can often hold divers back and give them an excuse to not participate. Strategies to overcome this hurdle include in-store or outside financing or time payments made to the dive center in advance of the event.

Time. One more hurdle that divers often face is time. It often seems we don't have time to breathe, never mind engage in recreational activities. So the strategy here is to provide options. If we can offer flexible training times, evening or online training, one-on-one training sessions and weekend trips that are advertised well in advance, we make it easier for divers to coordinate their hectic schedules and join the fun.

Staging the Buckets

There is no single recipe for success, but there are many ways to stage the bucket list concept and get divers engaged. Regardless of which strategy or strategies are employed or what activities are chosen for the list, success hinges on getting the word out and keeping the program on people's minds. That often means pulling out the stops and engaging in a media blitz that includes the dive center newsletter, web site and direct mail campaign. But don't stop there. Local papers love human interest stories and may be willing to publish one or a series of articles on the subject. Similarly, dive centers may be able to arrange for a spot on a local TV station. And of course, there are the now obligatory postings on social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But before you start putting together the public media program you'll need to decide on the format for offering the bucket list project. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways such a program can be run.

The Challenge--Here, we're borrowing (and banking) on the popularity of television programs like "Survivor" or "The Amazing Race" and similar reality-TV shows. One way to put the bucket list promotion into motion is to establish an "official" bucket list challenge for the dive center and then encourage divers to participate by offering a free gift or recognition for the first (or five) divers to complete the challenge. The gift could be anything from a free trip, to dive equipment and accessories, to a free air-fill card or a discount purchase card.

The idea is to make the list and participants public, keep it current and communicate about it frequently. A bulletin board on the dive center wall or an online web page with headshots, on the water and underwater images can help build excitement. Achievements can be announced in the dive center newsletter, posted in a prominent location on the dive wall or posted online or through social media. What can make the challenge concept really fun is having some stiff competition among participants, so play on that concept and keep the words of encouragement flowing. Key to making the concept successful for the dive center is to include items from all three groups of activities: training, experiences and service. While some activities may have prerequisites, it's important to let divers know they can tackle the list in any order they choose. Setting up the list so that divers can complete more than one item on a trip is another way to spur participation.

The Bucket Club--Another variation on the bucket list concept is to form a Bucket Club where, again, divers work toward completing a list of activities and challenges established by the dive center. The twist here is to have challengers pay a monthly fee, which covers the costs of monthly or bi-monthly training-learning activities wherein divers can work toward completing their bucket list goals. This concept makes it easier for divers financially, but also keeps them progressing regularly, which makes it more fun and rewarding.

Diver Exchange--One way to really amp-up a bucket list program is to collaborate with other dive centers in other regions and offer to exchange and host divers from other areas so they can partake in the unique local activities. This concept provides a way to expand your bucket-list options without expending vast resources. It also promotes building a strong community of divers and networking among divers and dive centers. Just imagine, a Florida diver has the opportunity to make an ice dive in New England, a Midwest diver explores a kelp forest off the California coast, a West Coast diver experiences diving in a Midwest mine and a Midwest diver makes a wreck dive off the Jersey shore. To make the concept more affordable for clients, divers could carpool to event locations and book accommodations through online services.

Diving really is all about the experiences, the challenges and the social interaction with like-minded individuals. By focusing on maximizing these aspects of the sport, dive centers can capitalize on meeting divers' needs and filling an important role, while building a better business.

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