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Meet Chris Sweeney of Fins Up Scuba

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Sweeney.

Chris, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started SCUBA diving in 2002 because my wife (and business partner) Nichole wanted to learn to dive so she could dive with sharks. I did some research and found out it was a “buddy sport” and so I signed up with her to be a good husband. I never imagined then that our life would be changed forever by a two weekend class.

I have a background in retail management. I started in convenience stores then worked in big box retail. I learned a lot about people (both employees and customers) through day to day interactions with literally thousands of people but was never really happy and it always felt like work. In 2004, while working on my Divemaster certification one of the owners of the shop (we will call him BB) I was training with needed help with a backlog of service and asked if I was interested in a part time job as a service technician. I figured that I was hanging around the shop anyway and this would help pay for my family’s dive habit. I went to several manufacturer repair seminars over the next few months and had a pretty steady stream of repair work. So my first job in the dive industry was actually as a repair tech. In 2006 I completed my Open Water Scuba Instructor and started working as a dive instructor for the Shop that had trained to dive me just a few years before. Nichole was a Divemaster at the time and she would assist me with classes. We taught 48 weekends my first year as an instructor. In 2007 I had just completed my IDC Staff Instructor Class (to be able to help train instructors) and BB came to me and asked if I would consider taking the job of shop manager for their business. They were having strong initial sales but needed someone to focus on customer care and repeat business. This sounded like the opportunity I had been looking for. Take my high volume retail experience and apply it to small business. No corporate red tape and free reign to do what had to be done for customer care and retention. By January 2008 the store was doing so well BB asked me to become a partner. In 2011 I was accepted to the CDTC (Course Director Training Course). This is a huge deal to instructors. Only about 40 people are accepted to each CDTC. I completed the CDTC in June 2011. Unfortunately the economy had been taking its toll on the partnership and I decided to sell my part of the business. I loved the work I was doing, just not where I was doing it any more.

In 2012, a friend that had worked with asked if I would take a meeting with one of his friends. He wanted to open shop of his own but needed someone with experience and connections to get started. What I thought would be a consulting job turned into a partnership. This was a tremendous and exciting opportunity. To start a business from the ground up. Name, logo, product lines, staff, etc… Everything from scratch. The excitement wore away quickly however when the investors had expected unrealistic returns from the new business and “the board” decided that the answer was to make the business as corporate and big box as they thought they could. This unfortunately did not work with my philosophy of employees and customers first. I left that partnership in 2014 (after hiring and training my replacement). I still had a passion for the work, again just not the place.

In 2015, Nichole and I decided to open Fins Up Scuba. Our Place, Our Money, and Our Way! I took to heart what worked and what didn’t from years in retail and years in the scuba business. Our plan is very simple. Treat people (staff and customers) better than they expect to be treated and be honest! By treating our staff like a team everyone helps each other. In turn it has made a better experience for the customers and keeps them coming back. I do have to say that I does matter that we really do care and we keep our team small so it is easy to focus on what is important.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not been a smooth road. Along the way to now we had the housing collapse which really hurt spending and I was sure several times that the next month we wouldn’t be able to pay the lease. Partner issues too many to name. Trouble with funding (investors and banks). Once I even had a customer throw a small tank at me (luckily it was heavier than he was strong). Even in opening Fins Up Scuba there were lots of times we weren’t sure we would have enough money to survive the first year. Our first air compressor blew up after 14 months (Think $13k with a 12 month warranty). Yet I am still happy to be here and I love this business.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Fins Up Scuba – what should we know?
Fins Up Scuba specializes in small class scuba training from Open Water through Dive Instructor and personally lead dive travel. We are known for catering to our customers. Whether dive training, dive travel, or equipment service, our job is to make sure you get to enjoy your leisure time!! Lake Pleasant or Rangiroa, we want you to have the best experience possible!

As a company we are so proud of the reaction we receive from our customers. In the world of online shopping and self-checkouts, we were not sure if there was still a place for personal service. Fortunately, scuba is one of the times the cheaper is almost never better. A friend of mine often post on his store Facebook page that “No one runs $99 scuba classes because they care about the students!” Service cost money and we are grateful that our customers understand.

I think what sets us apart from everyone else is the attention we give to customers. It takes time to fit people into the right equipment for them to help them enjoy the sport I love so much. A poor fitting mask could ruin their entire experience and some people would never try again. We of course aren’t perfect but we try to treat everything as life or death. After all, we aren’t fish so breathing underwater doesn’t come natural for everyone!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I believe the characteristic that is most important to my success is passion! I love to dive, I love to teach, and I love the ocean. My wife and I are both passionate about sharks and shark conservation. We teach this to others by taking them on dive trips and letting them dive with sharks. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to give someone an experience that broadens their world and opens their eyes. It helps fuel the passion and keep me going!

Pricing:

  • Open Water Class, Pool, and Certification is $369. This could change your life. Please call or email for more details.
  • Advanced Open Water is $179. The next step! Please call or email for more details.
  • Instructor Development Course is $2200. Start a new career! Please call or email for more details.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Images by Chris and Nichole Sweeney except Christmas Picture by Jessica Van Rossem

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