11 ways to increase that first sale

MaskAccording to a survey of dive retailers, over 80 percent of USA dive stores have their entry-level students purchase a minimum of mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit boots. In most instances, this is the first (and, all too often, only) equipment sale you make to customers — and it is, arguably, the most important.

  • How you deal with customers during this transaction sets the tone for future equipment sales.
  • The more satisfied your customers are with their mask/snorkel/fins purchase, the more likely they will be to purchase larger-ticket items in the future.

Here are eleven simple steps you can take to increase how much customers spend on these important items.

A Matter of Time

The worst thing that can possibly happen is for customers to wait until the last possible minute to purchase mask, snorkel and fins. Students whose beginning scuba course starts in ten minutes do not tend to make the right decision, and seldom feel good about doing so. This can cost you money. It is vital you make customers understand the importance of allowing sufficient time to select what will be the best possible personal equipment for them.

  • Whenever possible, have students purchase their masks, snorkels, fins and other personal items at the same time they sign up for class. Then there is no possibility they will procrastinate.
  • If the customers cannot purchase their personal equipment at the same time they sign up for class, schedule a specific date and time for them to do so — one well in advance of the start of their course. Stress that doing so will not only help students make the best possible choices, it will also save them money in the long run. (Customer will also need the additional time to clean their masks out prior to class.)

Many stores schedule a formal orientation session that takes place several days prior to the start of training. This session not only provides the opportunity to cover course logistics (dates, times, locations and paperwork), it also provides the time needed to properly educate students about how to make their equipment purchases.

Stress Value

There will always be students whose equipment purchases are limited by budgetary constraints (or just plain pig-headedness). On the other hand, there are plenty of students who will gladly spend more on equipment purchases if you can show them the value in doing so.

Here are some points that should be part of every presentation you make when selling personal dive equipment:

Good Equipment Lasts With proper care, it’s not unreasonable to expect to get ten years or more from a set of mask and fins. (Of course, we all hope divers won’t wait this long to move up to newer items. When better equipment has become available, we hope as many customers as possible take advantage of this fact.) Nevertheless, it’s foolish to spend money on lesser-quality items, when doing so means you only have to replace them every couple of years.

The Cost of Better Quality Equipment is Negligible, Compared to the Cost of a Ruined Dive Vacation A customer once told me how a cheap mask ruined his brother’s once-in-a-lifetime Red Sea dive vacation. Instead of enjoying an otherwise breathtaking wall dive, this fellow was utterly blinded by a mask that would not stay clear. Because he was unable to see, the current slammed him into razor-sharp coral (the resulting blood garnering much interest among nearby sharks), and he bottomed his tank in five minutes, in an effort to blow water out of his mask. So, for lack of a $70 mask, this idiot ended up blowing a dive vacation worth over 50 times as much.

Dive vacations aren’t cheap. On the other hand, quality equipment that is reliable, fits right and lasts can be affordable insurance that customers get the most from their vacation dollars.

Explain Why Adjustable Fins Are a Better Value

I love it when know-it-all dive store salespeople make blanket statements such as, “Full foot fins aren’t adequate for scuba diving.” Then, when customers see that dive guides and boat captains in many resort environments use only high-end full-foot fins, they start to wonder whether they can believe anything their dive store tells them.

If you want to maintain your credibility with customers, it’s worth taking the time to explain the following:

  • Yes, high-quality full-foot fins that are adequate for scuba diving do exist. However…
  • These fins are only good when diving in warm water, from smooth boat decks or sandy beaches. They are no damn good in cold water or when the possibility exists that divers may have to walk over rough surfaces when entering and exiting.
  • Dive professionals who use full-foot fins for warm-water boat dives almost always have a second pair of adjustable fins available for use when conditions dictate.
  • Because most scuba divers will only own a single pair of fins, the safest bet is to invest in wetsuit boots and adjustable fins, as these will work in any environment.

“By the way, the full-foot fins that the captain of the Aggressor uses are a helluva lot more powerful than those cheapo snorkeling fins you bought last summer at K-Mart. He can use his to deal with strong currents. Try the same with your Blue Light specials, and we’ll be lucky if we find you washed up on the next island.”

Let Better Quality Boots Sell Themselves

I’ve watched a number of dive store salespeople sell wetsuit boots using the following approach:

  • The salesperson will explain the features and benefits of the various boots the store offers, along with their prices.
  • Only after the customer has decided how much he or she wishes to spend will the salesperson bring a pair of boots for the customer to try on.
  • If it turns out the store is out of the boots the customer wants in his or her size, the customer will either grudgingly move up to the next more expensive boot — or just go down a notch in value (or not buy at all).

If this sounds like how you sell boots, you may want to try this approach instead:

  • Find out the customer’s shoe size.
  • See what boots you have in stock in that size, and bring one of each for the customer to try on.
  • Because better-quality boots generally feel more substantial (and more comfortable), customers will usually choose them over less expensive alternatives.
  • Mention price only after the customer has had the opportunity to experience, first hand, why it is some boots are worth more than others. At this point, you will most likely find that it is less of an issue.

The further benefit of this approach is that, by allowing the customer to try on only those boots you have in stock in his or her size, the fact you may not have every make and model available is not likely to come up.

Show the Best First

Several years ago, I noticed that a friend’s mid-Atlantic dive store had started selling the same top-of-the-line spit fin as I’d had considerable luck selling the previous year in the Midwest. I asked how well they were doing with it.

“Not well,” my friend replied. “Of course, that’s mostly our fault. We don’t know much about this fin.”

I suggested that the store owner and his staff get in the pool and try the fin, then went through the key features and benefits I stressed when selling the same model. Apparently I made a big issue of the fact Scuba Diving magazine rated this particular fin as being the best in the world.

A few months later, I was in the pool with the store owner and several of his instructors and students. I noticed that the majority of students were now wearing the same split fin we’d discussed earlier. “What happened?” I asked.

The store manager spoke up and said, “I changed my whole approach to selling fins. Now, before I show any others, I put this fin in customers’ hands and say, This is the world’s top-rated fin and here’s why… That’s all many people need to hear.”

It’s a basic tenet of sales that it’s always easier to sell down than up. That’s why you always present your best product first. If customers buy what you first recommend, then you can’t possibly do any better. On the other hand, if you present a medium-priced product first, they may make the decision to buy without even realizing there are better choices.

Fins are no different from any other product in this respect.

Sell in a Logical Sequence

Logic dictates that you get customers to decide on a pair of boots before having them try on fins. After all, how can they possibly try on fins unless they are wearing the boots they will be using with them? Have you given thought, however, to which you should sell first: Masks…or wetsuit boots and fins?

Because we tend to say “mask and fins” rather than “fins and mask,” or think of things in terms of top to bottom, there is a natural tendency to have customers choose a mask before they decide on fins and boots. But consider this:

If yours is like most stores, you stock masks in a wider assortment of colors than you do fins. Therefore, if you get a customer’s heart set on, say, a particular mask in flaming pink, he or she may be disappointed to find that you don’t have fins in the same color. It’s at this point that some customers will consider shopping elsewhere.

It may be a safer bet to have customers select their fins first. That way, the odds of you finding a mask in a color to match may be better than if you do it the other way around.

Learn Apples From Oranges

Most of us realize that it’s better to have customers buy a less-expensive mask that fits, rather than a more-expensive mask that leaks. Fortunately, it’s the better quality masks that tend to fit more people.

What do you do, however, when customers discover that two masks fit equally well, yet one costs more than the other? Is there a way to show customers the value in investing in the better-quality mask?

In this case, it’s helpful if you learn as much as possible about the masks you sell.

  • Higher-priced masks are frequently made from a better grade of silicone. This better-quality silicone will last longer and do a better job of retaining its soft, even fit.
  • Masks that cost more frequently reflect the cost of a higher level of engineering. They may be lighter, more streamlined and have less internal volume.
  • Better-quality masks frequently have thinner frames, resulting in a wider field of vision.

By the way, don’t forget to remind customers that, if they need glasses to drive, they need a prescription mask to dive. You may not realize that customers need corrective lenses if they are wearing contacts. It’s worth asking whether they do, as customers may prefer a prescription mask over wearing contact lenses in the water.

Don’t Forget Add-On Sales

The difference between good salespeople and great ones is their ability to make add-on sales. You store may only require that students purchase mask, snorkel, fins, boots and, possibly, gloves and a few other items, but there is a lot more that students should be buying to get the most from being a diver. These include:

De-Fog Sure, your instructors give this away like candy, but should they? Who will be giving out free de-fog when your students arrive at their destination, or make their first local dive without instructor supervision? Every diver needs to own and carry his or her own de-fog.

Improved Mask Strap Very few dive professionals rely solely on the strap that comes with their masks — with good reason. A neoprene foam mask strap or strap cover greatly improves the comfort and fit of any mask. Odds are, students will appreciate this fact even more than we do.

By the way, it may interest you to know that, while “Slap Strap” is a popular brand name, “The” Dive Shop owner John Wall has his staff refer to them as “comfort straps.” As John puts it, “Who wants to think about getting slapped by a strap?”

Equipment Bag Few things are more heartbreaking than seeing a student to whom you have just sold $300 or more worth of mask, snorkel and fins carrying those items to and from the pool in a cheap plastic bag, a flimsy duffle or — worse — loose in his or her arms. You know that it’s only a matter of time before equipment so ill treated will be lost or damaged.

If students spend as much as you want them to for mask, snorkel and fins, that investment is worth protecting. Whether it’s a heavy-duty mesh bag, a self-contained snorkeling bag or some other container, it’s good to get students in the habit of properly storing, transporting and caring for their equipment.

A mesh bag, in particular, is money well spent. The same bag students use during class to transport masks and fins can be used on future dive vacations to transport equipment from their hotel room to the dive boat and back.

Mask Box Most masks these days come in some sort of protective case. However, if they do not — or if the case they come with doesn’t look as though it will last that long — a padded mask case or heavier duty box is cheap insurance.

Wetsuit Yes, I know: You already provide wetsuits or shorties for the pool. But if your students are headed for warm water following certification (or for their certification dives), the suits they are likely to find there won’t be adequate. There isn’t a body of water in the world so warm that divers won’t benefit from wearing at least a full-length, 3mm jumpsuit. Even when warmth is not the issue, protection from sun, stings and abrasion is.

A personal, warm-water dive suit will make your students more comfortable in the pool, less self-conscious about their appearance and helps reinforce the importance of wearing adequate exposure protection under all conditions.

The Ultimate Add-On This is, of course, a complete equipment package (BC, regulator, computer, etc.). Understandably, some of us are reluctant to sell this to a person whom we’re not quite certain will have no difficulty becoming a diver. Nevertheless, you should make students aware that this is a step that some beginning divers do take — and that, as a consequence:

  • They learn to dive using the very same equipment with which they will go diving.
  • They never spend a dime on rental fees.
  • They never miss a dive because of the expense or inconvenience of renting equipment.
  • They never have a bad dive experience because quality dive equipment was not available.

Three More Techniques to Add to Your Bottom Line

Use Personal Examples One of our sales reps told me about a dive store manager who keeps his personal equipment close at hand — even on days he is not going to the pool or open water. He begins every mask/snorkel/fin presentation by pulling out a heavy-duty mesh bag and saying, “Here is what I take to the pool.”

Inside are his mask and snorkel, wetsuit boots and split fins, mask case, de-fog and his 3mm jumpsuit. (I did not ask whether he keeps his BC and regulator in there as well; what’s important is that these are all of the things an entry-level student should buy — not just the required items.)

The beauty of this approach is that it helps establish the fact students really need these items; they are not merely something the store sells to make money. It shows the caliber of equipment professionals use (remember how much students want to be just like you). It also helps identify the complete range of equipment you’ll be talking about in your presentation — not just those items on the “must have” list.

Don’t Save Add-Ons to the End A lot of salespeople wait until the customer has decided which mask, snorkel, fins and boots they want before bringing up add-on items such as equipment bags, de-fog, mask straps and wetsuits. The problem with doing so is that, by the time you reach this point in the presentation, customers may be thinking, “Okay, I’ve got all the required items — so just let me spend the least amount of money possible and get out of here.”

Instead, suggest add-on items at the point in the presentation where they make the most sense. For example:

  • Begin your presentation by saying, “You’re going to need something to put all your equipment in, so let’s start by selecting the right equipment bag.”
  • When your customers select a mask, make sure they get a neoprene strap and de-fog to go with it before going any further.
  • Wetsuit boots help keep your feet warm; wetsuits help keep your body warm. It makes sense to talk about them at the same time.

One store I know does not provide students with wetsuits for pool dives. Students can rent these, if they want; however, the vast majority elect to buy. This way they complete their pool dives using the same suit that will keep them warm in the Caribbean. (And, trust me, they’re a sharp-looking group to watch.)

Discover the Power of “This is What Most of Our Customers Choose” Odds are, most of us know what equipment is better for our beginning students then they do. In time, students will learn the importance of listening to what you say and valuing your opinion. Initially though, there may be some degree of skepticism on their part. Is what you are saying true — or are you just trying to line your pockets at their expense?

Over the years, I’ve listened as countless dive store owners, managers and employees have told customers “This is what we recommend.” For some reason, this has always struck me as arrogant — even though the advice may be perfectly valid. Your customers may think so as well.

A more credible endorsement may be, “This is our best-selling model,” or, “This is what most of our students choose.” Few students want to show up for class with equipment that is substantially lower in quality than what others are using. Use this fact to your advantage.

Remember: You may never get the opportunity to sell some customers more than mask, snorkel and fins. It makes sense to get the most from this sale and, done correctly, it helps plant the seeds for future sales.

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