Last week I set out on the road to visit a number of PADI 5-star dive centres in the UK. The aim was to meet the people working in our industry face-to-face and to find places where our clients can learn to dive in style.
So at the crack of dawn last Thursday, off I set in my sister's borrowed (and extremely old) Ford KA for the first leg, armed with a box full of Dive in Style books and (thankfully) a satellite navigation system. Over the next 12 hours I visited five dive centres in Kent and Essex spending about four hours at the centres and eight hours driving.
Friday was much the same. A slightly later start was followed by another five dive centres in Surrey, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. A visit to the Dive Show in Birmingham via a night in Peterborough (which for some strange reason I thought was vaguely en route from Oxford to Birmingham… it isn't!) was the icing on the cake.
So what did I learn from this trip? First and foremost I found that there are a lot of passionate people out there running dive centres in the UK and trying to make a living in often tough circumstances. The rise of the online retailer has put a big dent in kit sales, and the recession has stopped people travelling and diving so much. Despite this, the people I met largely remain upbeat and are constantly looking for innovative ways to make their businesses a success.
I also found that the quality of dive centre operations is highly variable. The PADI 5-star rating doesn't necessarily mean that the dive centre is of the highest quality. That may be a little unfair to say as I did not see the dive training in action but it is my impression. The vast majority were great and I would have no problems sending clients there, but for some I would think twice.
All in all, it was a very successful trip. I got to meet some good people I hope to work with in the future and I saw a lot of the country in the most beautiful autumn colours. I think I would quite enjoy being a travelling salesman.
On the downside, I ate a lot of motorway food which is not good for my waistline (but quite fun).