Saturday, January 16, 2010

Scuba shop takes clients DOWN UNDER.(Brief Article). USA,

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RALEIGH -- Dave Farrar has built a name for himself in the scuba diving industry, but currently he is determined to make sure 4-year-olds know how to swim.

After 13 years in an old print shop in north Raleigh, Farrar has plans to build a new location that will quadruple his Gypsy Divers scuba shop and add a pool for scuba training as well as lessons.

He's had the designs in his mind for nearly the same amount of time he's had the shop, but he wanted to wait until he had the money to build his dream aquatic center.

"I refused to compromise on what I wanted," he says. Gypsy Divers sells and rents gear, organizes trips, gives lessons and certification training. Scuba certification starts at $375.

For a man who didn't take his first dive until he was 30 years old, Farrar has earned national recognition and respect from his peers. Chief executives of equipment companies fly across the country to attend Farrar's Christmas parties with his customers.

"Dave Farrar is an unknown treasure in the dive industry," says John Wall, owner of The Dive Shop in Fairfax, Va. "He is very highly respected, and not just a local dive shop operator. Many people use him as a sounding board."

Gypsy Divers evolved out of dive trips Farrar and his wife, Margie Rhodes, organized for friends in 1982. In 1984 they formed a dive club while they both still worked full time, Farrar as a home builder and Rhodes as a social worker.

By 1987, stress caught up with Rhodes and on a dive trip to the Bahamas, it took her until the end of the trip to unwind. A career change was needed.

The shop opened in 1987 with three full-time employees with Farrar helping out on the weekends. The shop planned two trips a year. Farrar remembers taking about 300 dives that year.

Today, the shop has seven employees, coordinates 12 to 16 scuba trips a year, and Farrar is down to about 100 dives each year. Three years ago, Rhodes retired and left the shop in her husband's hands.

"When we started it we had all, the experience in diving, but knew nothing about retail," says Farrar. "We had a lot of learning to do."

But a Saturday morning phone call in 1988 gave them the break they needed. The morning disc jockey on a popular FM station, WRDU, took lessons. He had so much fun he talked about it on air -- free publicity that reaped benefits for Farrar.

"That gave us instant recognition. I had no concept of that kind of media until I got a first hand look at it," he says.

This year Gypsy Divers will break $1 million in sales, reflecting more than 20 percent growth a year since 1996 -- a success he attributes to his customers, or family, as he refers to them.

"I tell my staff, 'Don't worry about making the sale, make the customer,'" he says.

It's close-knit diving family and a wall of baby pictures proves it. Many are children of parents who met while diving.

Several years ago, a customer told Farrar he needed a Web site and produced a disk with the site ready to upload. Later, another customer realized the site was out dated and provided another Web site on another disk. Finally a third customer provided the current Web site and taught Farrar how to update it himself.

Today, Farrar keeps the business running, but backs off teaching scuba, realizing at 52 he doesn't have the same enthusiasm and empathy as his instructors.

He's also preoccupied with his future 12,600-square-foot shop. He bought the lot on Bastion Lane last December and plans to begin grading before the end of the year. A June 1 opening is set for next year.

Farrar's current location will close on Whitaker Mill Road, giving way to the new dive shop and pool that will be outfitted with a room where parents can plug in laptops and a workout room for them while they wait for their children having swimming lessons. He plans to rent the pool to swim teams.

He is eagerly awaiting birthday parties he is sure to host and he has several scuba-oriented games planned. He also looks forward to implementing a Scuba Rangers program for 8-to 12-year-olds focused on the pool and citizenship, which is a big part of his business.

Several years ago Farrar had planned a trip to the Caribbean island of Bonaire when Hurricane Lenny struck, leveling the local dive shop, which had helped coordinate the trip. Instead of canceling, Farrar and his customers filled suitcases with equipment and supplies to help the shop.

"We are so privileged to be successful in the community, I want to give back to that community," he says.


Business focus: Scuba equipment, training and travel

Founded: 1987

Owner: Dave Farrar, 52

Employees: 7

Location: Whitaker Mill Road, Raleigh

Tip: "Don't worry about making the sale, make the customer."

Source Citation
Strickland, Amanda. "Scuba shop takes clients DOWN UNDER." The Business Journal - Serving the Triangle's Business Communities [Raleigh, NC] 16.10 (2000): 15. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Jan. 2010. .

Gale Document Number:A67002647

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