Gaining Customer Trust

By Walt Stearns

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in your favorite dive shop? For many passionate divers, the idea of combining scuba with a career is very attractive. A dive shop or resort can be one of the most rewarding and fun work environments because of the people; fellow employees and patrons alike. After all, this is a service and entertainment oriented industry that involves the great outdoors.

Making your dreams a reality is seldom easy. Most often, a diver begins by seeking employment at a dive store or resort; becoming an instructor is an afterthought. Unfortunately, most dive centers only hire instructors. They feel an instructor can better promote their diving products, in addition to teaching classes. Instructors usually assume their primary function will be to teach. The reality, however, is considerably different.

Dive centers are seldom interested in instructors who only want to teach. To stay in the business they need to sell products and they need personnel to sell them, not watch them collect dust. When not involved in teaching courses, instructors must spend time handling the retail aspects of the job. Often, however, they have little or no sales training. This can lead to less effective representation for the store, which can lead to lower confidence among present and future patronage.

Divers Unlimited of Hollywood, Florida, has put together a radical and timely new course. It revolves exclusively around dive center retail and boosts the employment potential of its graduates several notches above the competition. The new course is not a surprising innovation, considering Divers Unlimited's chief commitment for the past 26 years has been to provide instruction for those looking to jump into the dive industry arena. This distinction makes this PADI Five Star retail facility and Instructor College at the top of its field.

DU's new Retail Training Program is open to all instructors/potential instructors, regardless of certification. It is intended to teach necessary skills to anyone wanting to become a highly desirable shop employee.

The program focuses on better product knowledge, coupled with increasing skills, as well as better presentation and display, to move stock more effectively. This includes learning to create sales programs and campaigns and using effective presentations and telephone techniques.

Know What You Are Working With

Two weeks in length, the Retail Training Program takes place in Divers Unlimited's 8,000 square foot complex. Amid its highly impressive retail floor, rental and repair center, dedicated classrooms and airfill station featuring nitrox EAN I and II, students gain comprehensive product knowledge.

Each piece of equipment is explored in depth; and today's scuba equipment is high tech. For example, students will learn virtually everything about dive fins: how they are made, what they are made of and all the various forms. Function, based on each model's design and materials, is covered, even brands that may never be carried in your specific facility. For instance, students will learn how to explain the differences between a fin with a longer, stiffer blade made of a specific polymer and one made of a thermoplastic resin that is lighter and more flexible.

Being able to provide clientele with such up to date information enhances the employee's professional image. The value of this level of knowledge is considerable. Clients feel more confident with their choices, the store makes a profit and, more importantly, repeat business is created.

Working The Product

Once everyone has developed a sense for the equipment, phase two of the Retail Training Program concentrates on how to confidently market and sell the product. This includes the mechanics of designing and strategically positioning displays in locations that can effectively enhance a product's salability. As many good salespeople will affirm, presentation is a key factor in making a successful sale. The creation of an eye-catching display that 'sizzles' increases a product's appeal. A book or piece of equipment will not sell itself. It takes a skilled, knowledgeable salesperson to shed light on its attributes!

According to DU Course Directors, once a shop employee is familiar with the product and has displayed it properly, the next logical step is to know how to talk to customers. The Retail Training Program teaches students how to approach customers without being tacky or too aggressive. For example, using effective listening skills, understanding what the customer is looking for and knowing how to find the answers to difficult questions can help a customer determine what is right for him or her.

This portion of the course also teaches instructors and non-instructors to market specialty courses, add-ons and accessories. When it comes to these areas, a shop will benefit most from an employee who is both knowledgeable and committed. If a diver is interested in taking a certain specialty course, a properly trained salesperson knows how to describe what is involved.

Hands-On Instruction

Divers Unlimited's students take part in actual exercises in the retail center, with the course instructor as role model. How to approach a customer, initiate conversation and promote products are demonstrated by the instructor and the student practices afterward.

A segment of the sales training is even dedicated to using good phone etiquette, which is often where a large number of transactions begin. Surprisingly, according to owner and president of DU, Dave Inman, this is where prospective customers can be lost. Learning to screen calls, effectively answer questions and obtain information via telephone is critical to the overall profitability of a shop. As with in-store training, students role play techniques demonstrated by an instructor on an actual call in the Divers Unlimited shop. Instructors walk through a wide range of scenarios that include the psychological aspects of telephone communication. Similar principles in using e-mail and fax requests are also covered.

Regardless of whether it's in South Florida or somewhere in the Midwest, a dive center needs personnel who can present significant product knowledge clearly and effectively. The focus of Divers Unlimited's Retail Training Program is to enhance the skills of good store personnel, no matter what their prior level of training or experience. Consequently, a shop gains the additional tools for continued success, while attracting trusting, repeat patrons. Graduates of the retail course program receive a certificate stating they have met the standards set by Divers Unlimited's own criteria for employees.

To reach a Divers Unlimited career counselor or to obtain an information packet call (800) 289-3483 in the U.S. or Canada; in Florida call (954) 981-0156 or fax (954) 963-5255. Mail your inquiries to Divers Unlimited, 6023 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, FL 33024.