Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Diving Service Membership? Hmmm.....

I guess it was bound to happen. A company called Pier 88 is offering a $99/yr membership that covers underwater services like prop disentanglement, hull inspection and propeller removal services. See their web site here:

If you go to the "About Us" page you will find both a SeaTow and a BOAT/US logo at the bottom of the page. Each logo links to the respective company's web page. While not explicitly stated, the presence these logos suggest (at least in my mind) some kind of affiliation between Pier 88 and the towing networks. Indeed, their entire web site seems to use words like network and affiliate a lot. However, when you click on to the "locations" page, all you get is a tiny map with itty-bitty dive flags surrounding the coast of the USA.

UPDATE: The network logos were gone within 48hrs of my first post. Wow, somebody is reading RRR.

I admit that I suffer from a generally suspicious nature, so my first reaction is to point out all negatives and get all contrairian. But the more I thought about this, the less inclined I was to just discard it right off the bat. A few random thoughts:
  • Its always good to see the promulgation of the service-to-private-prepaid-members business model.
  • Its nice to see someone else re-reinforce the idea that our kind of work costs money, and that purchasing a pre-paid service contract is a good idea.
  • Do the divers provide proof of insurance to Pier 88? Does Pier 88 carry some kind of liability insurance?
  • Do the divers have to provide their own transportation to the disabled boat?
  • Does Pier 88 impose a time limit or depth limit on their divers?
  • Does anybody care that they display the aforementioned logos on their web site?
  • Now that somebody has actually marketed this idea, can we afford NOT to?
They claim "2500 members and growing" - that's a quarter million bucks per year in memberships. I wondered how much they pay the divers so, I emailed them and asked that question. I received a very polite and prompt reply that they pay whatever the diver's standard rates are. No imposed contractual discount rate and all that crap, just an honest "yeah, we pay the bill."

This an opportunity for our networks to create a similar, competing product, just as we have with the Trailer Assist concept, which competes with other over-the-road products. What a great way to increase the membership income! Couldn't SeaTow and BOAT/US offer "incidental diver service" for an extra $99/yr on top of the premium memberships to cover up to one hour of disentanglment, lost item retrieval, damage inspection - that kind of thing?

Oh, I hear all the objections out there: We're not all divers; we don't all have access to divers; the diver rates vary too much; we don't want the liability; I don't want my captains diving; I worked hard to build a relationship with my local diver and don't want to compete with him....blah blah blah. The objections are mostly logistical and can be overcome. A simple disclaimer of dive service may not be available in all locations would pretty much cover the bases. If, on the very rare chance that some member's problem can't be solved due to the lack of a diver, how hard is it to just offer him a refund of that extra $99?

On the other hand, who is the most logical industry to provide prop disentanglments and similar low risk diver services? Not only do we get those calls first, but we have years of experience overcoming objections and logistical hurdles like liability, price points, training. We have a huge customer base, a fleet of boats and many, many divers already among us. Just from a resource point of view, this makes way more sense than offering an on-the-road trailer towing service.

If the national networks could sell 30,000 or 40,000 of their members on the extra diver coverage, that would add $3-4 million to their coffers. Man, I could cut a bunch of lobster pot line for that kind of money.