During the spring and summer months, I get around one to three phone calls and emails from people wanting to learn to scuba dive. While I tell them about my open water course in detail, the number of people who actually reply or sign up for the class has been zero, at least in the past year. While I attribute this failure rate mostly due to the high price of my class, I also believe that many people seeking scuba diving instruction don’t know the subtle differences when dealing with an independent scuba instructor versus a dive store.
When I left the dive stores and began teaching on my own, I tried keeping the same business model that dive stores had. After all, it was working for the dive stores. They were getting a lot of students signing up for classes, so it should work for me right? Wrong!!!! There are significant differences between independent instructors and dive stores when doing business. Here are some of those areas that people seeking scuba diving classes should consider when talking with an independent instructor.
Whether I like it or not, price plays a huge factor when people look for scuba classes. In my example, my open water class runs close to $1,000. The dive store down the street from me runs the class for $350. That’s a significant price difference. But what prospective students should keep in mind is that independents have higher costs than the dive store. For example, just to rent equipment to run an open water class can cost $200 or more. Not to mention paying for pool time, etc.
People seeking scuba classes should weight the pros and cons of independents and dive stores when evaluating price. Independent scuba instructors typically will have smaller classes. I cap my classes at four people. I reduce this number for classes such as wreck, ice, deep, advanced wreck and Advanced Nitrox / Deco Procedures. The reason why I reduce the number of people I take into those classes is because the more people, the more difficult it is to maintain control (and safety). Especially given the hard and soft overhead environments those classes require. Less students in the class means there will be more face time with the instructor. More direct interaction with an instructor means you will learn more.
The policies that independent instructors will have regarding pricing will be different than dive stores. When you go to the dive stores, you pay your money and schedule a class. With independents, you will most likely be required to put down a deposit to hold your spot on the calendar.
I have a couple of reasons why I require a deposit. First, I’ve been burned by many people when initially setting up a class. I’ll go ahead and put it on my calendar and move other things in my life around. Then if someone cancels, and doesn’t sign back up, I can get screwed without a deposit. Independent instructors, like myself, may have other jobs or interests. If I schedule time away from my “regular” job in order to teach a scuba class, and someone bails on the class, then I make zero dollars. Then I have to explain it to my wife when I have no income for the weekend when I could have made some money working at the in-laws business. Second, at least with a deposit, I have something to show for my efforts in trying to set up a class. Depending on the class, I may have to find dive boat charters, hotels, travel arrangements, etc. This is why my deposit is non-refundable.
Prospective students need to realize that independent scuba instructors cannot compete with the dive stores based on price. Independent instructors would be wiped out if they were to compete with dive stores solely based on price. You must consider the other tangible benefits between independent instructors and the dive stores.
Dive stores do have the benefit of being more flexible when scheduling classes. They have an army of instructors who can jump in quickly and teach a class. Independent scuba instructors are an army of one. They may already have something scheduled during the time you want to take your scuba class.
When dealing with independent scuba instructors, you should try and be as flexible with your schedule as possible. There are times when independents just can’t offer a class. For example, if I were to schedule anything scuba related during Mother’s Day weekend, I’ll be divorced within 24 hours.
You will find that most independent instructors will bend over backwards when trying to schedule your scuba class. You just need to keep it in the back of your mind, that the instructor is just one person and has other classes to teach. So you may not get your ideal dates for your scuba class, but you will need to weight the other tangible benefits of going with an independent instructor versus a dive store.
In many cases, I get a lot of calls and emails where people request a scuba class just weeks (if not days) before a trip they are taking. Prospective students need to realize that a quality education may take some time.
While I’m not trying to sway people from taking classes from a dive store or independent instructor, they just need to realize that there are some differences when dealing with the two. The independent instructor may ask you to do things differently than the dive store, in regards to price and schedule that is.
Don’t be afraid to ask why an independent instructor is doing something. Trust me, you won’t offend an instructor if you question why his/her pricing policy is the way it is or why the class price is so high. I actually get more offended when people make assumptions about my pricing and schedule policies and DON’T ask questions.
I encourage everyone to consider both dive stores and independent instructors when looking for their scuba classes. After all, your scuba diving class should be an investment in your safety and enjoyment of scuba diving.