Scuba sells: Tupelo business carves out niche in landlocked region

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal


TUPELO – Hitting the beach this summer or looking to go open-water diving somewhere? Swimming Pools of Tupelo wants to get you prepared with snorkeling and scuba gear.
The business started carrying scuba gear three years ago, and sales manager Greg Bryant said the store successfully has carved out a niche. Plus, it offers certification classes, with two scheduled every month during the summer.
Vacationers destined for Florida beaches make up the majority of his customers.
“We’ve got time to spend with them and make sure everything fits them,” Bryant said. “Most resorts, they rush them. We want to make sure everything fits, not just looks pretty.”
It’s about $150 a week to rent an entire set of scuba gear from the shop. The store also rents oxygen tanks and other items separately for divers who have their own gear.
The store carries a variety of sizes so customers can try on everything in the store. The proper fit is important for safety, but Bryant said he usually has to coax customers into letting him help them with the skintight suits in the dressing rooms.
“A lot of them will not come out,” he said. “They just say it fits.”
It’s especially a problem with female divers, he said.
“You don’t want it too loose or too tight.”
Has anyone gotten stuck in a suit?
“No, but they put them on backwards a lot because the zipper’s in the back but they put it in the front,” he said.
Bryant’s typical customers are males in their 30s and 40s. He said they shop differently than his female customers.
“Women are really picky with colors,” he said. “They want to match mask, fins and snorkel. In scuba, it doesn’t matter. Most men stay with basic black.”
The rescue divers buy the bright orange suits with the reflectors so they can be seen easily.
“The brighter the better,” Bryant said.
Accessories are the biggest seller, he said. The walls are lined with special paints for rental gear, waterproof boxes, underwater cameras, tangle-free straps for masks and defogging solution.
Divers have to be 10 years old to take the open-water diving certification, but Swimming Pools does have kid-size wet suits and life jackets.
Bryant – a 15-year-employee at Swimming Pools – said the business started selling scuba gear three years ago because no other business was offering it in the region. Customers had to drive to Memphis or buy gear online.
Previously, Scuba South had a shop on West Main Street but it closed. Swimming Pools bought some of that business’ supplies and started building its scuba merchandise.
Bryant checks prices online to make sure Swimming Pools either matches or is cheaper than online sources.
He attributes the certification course as the major driver for sales and rentals. The course includes three textbook classes at the store and then pool training at the city pool. Then, the students have to do open-water work. The class travels to a quarry in Alabama or to the Gulf Coast for that training.
Other students choose to do the majority of the work in Tupelo and then do their open-water dive for certification when they go on vacation.
Bryant doesn’t dive, but he’d like to.
“I started my certification, but never finished it,” he said. “I have to go back. … Breathing underwater is crazy. It takes a while to get use to.”
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com