Sunday, November 1, 2015

Brand: Juan Carlos Aguilar -- The difference between a brand and a product. Why you want me to be your dive instructor. Private scuba diving lessons. Portland, OR.

You've heard people talk about "brands" and "products," but do you really know the difference between them? It's really quite simple and the easiest way to understand it is with this example: "Starbucks." Their brand is world famous. You can walk into any Starbucks and people are hanging out, working on their computers, having conversations even though it's usually pretty loud in there, and the best part... they spend lots of money on poor quality coffee and prepackaged food. If two coffee shops were side by side, the "fun" atmosphere will attract more customers because, well...  who wants to hang out at Denny's? I grew up drinking brewed coffee like the coffee shops, Denny's and Shari's makes. It's not too strong, you can get unlimited refills, and you only pay a dollar or two. I never would have imagined ever paying $4+ for a whipped up coffee infused concoction of ice, chocolate, and whipped cream. In fact, Starbucks is my favorite place to teach! Classroom settings are boring, students actually have fallen asleep in classrooms I've taught in, and as far as retention goes, often the student remembers very little from a classroom experience. No one ever falls asleep at Starbucks.

People don't go to Starbucks to savor fresh roasted gourmet coffee beans (sarcasm implied), they want the atmosphere. When the atmosphere is rich and inviting, it promotes positive associations and makes it easier to remember. I know that most of us had mediocre if not negative memories of the educational institutions we went to.  Who wants to relive that?

What does that have to do with me? I am the brand. When you think of scuba diving instruction, you should be thinking about the instructor that devotes his business to making scuba a lifestyle and something that is part of who you are. It should be fun, something you look forward to doing. As many are coming to find out, there aren't too many mom and pop shops left and that includes shops run by momma Jane and daddy Joe. Often, in order to keep the doors open, the local dive shop has to sell scuba diving equipment, and a lot of it. There is an old joke in the dive industry. How do you make a million dollars in scuba? Start with two! Equipment sales are the lifeblood of their businesses. Their doors aren't open to teach, it's to sell, and with internet sales taking a devastating piece of the pie, a large proportion of shops lose sales because of higher costs of running a brick and mortar.  Many dive shops owners tell me that there is very little profit in education. After paying the instructor, setting aside a little money for the lease or rent, equipment, supplies, advertising, utilities, and the like, if they are not in the hole, they'd be lucky to make $50.

I believe that everyone deserves to make a profit, but as a scuba diving instructor, I place value integrity, and service first. My goal is to create an atmosphere of camaraderie and relationships. After all, how long is a good dive and what do you do during your surface interval? Sadly, I've seen instructors in their cars talking on their cellphones and students on their own waiting for the next dive. They look spiritless and definitely don't look like they are having fun. I don't want to sell equipment and I don't my business to have to depend on it.

I also only teach a student or two at a time. This not only gives me an opportunity to build a report with them, they get to know who I am as a person. Report means that when they want to go diving, they call someone they can trust, someone they got to know, and someone they can share great scuba experiences with. Large class sizes also have the inherent possibility for some of the students to fall behind. Some may also not excel... The odds are more likely that half the class won't get all the attention from the instructor they wish they had. In education, this is called, "teaching for the lowest common denominator."

Juan Carlos Aguilar as the brand is selling the program over the phone, sight unseen and without a store front. It's delivering the educational systems to the students in person. It's also meeting them near their work or homes for my educational review and final exam AND on their schedule and when it's convenient for them. We carpool, and during certification dive weekends, it means that we share a large room, not only making lodging more affordable, but no one is left alone and spiritless.  We share food and stories, talk about the dive day and laugh! When it's time for continuing education, they think of JCA Elite Scuba.

The part of the brand that I feel the most strongly about is that I've found out that it's that I don't need the dive shop, rather the dive shop needs me. Often is the case that the student will spend more on equipment than education, but it is also likely that they will never return to the dive shop, never refer others there, and may even hop from shop to shop without ever becoming a regular customer. Often the student will start to buy used equipment or default to online sales. Ironically, only a few shops have won me over and I feel comfortable returning, recommending them, and bring students there. If I can't take the lead, be trusted to put my students into the right equipment at the right time, I could default to online sales and even equipment sales and rentals myself. Luckily, I don't have the interest in becoming a dive shop, having an inventory, having sales goals, and putting diving on the back burner.  Coincidentally, I've done more diving as an independent instructor than I ever did as an instructor working at a dive shop with a classroom full of students.

When you're ready to learn how to scuba dive, please don't think about it as something you have to just get through so that you can "go" diving. Think about giving me the opportunity to help shape you into becoming a great diver. Plan on doing a lot of work but being able to appreciate quality over quantity.

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