Meet Larry Dague from

April 30, 2008 by Scuba Herald 

Larry Dague knew it would be a challenge to open a scuba-gear shop in landlocked North Texas. He decided to use in-store Webcams, online forums and other Internet strategies to reach customers and develop close bonds with them. His $6 million ScubaToys is now one of the largest such retailers in the country. A college dropout and former musician has made North Texas the unlikely home of one of the largest independent scuba dive shops in the United States.

Operating from a 10,000-square-foot store along Interstate 35E in Carrollton, ScubaToys pulled in more than $5 million in revenue last year and is forecasting $6 million this year, says founder and president Larry Dague.

Most of his customers aren’t landlocked Dallasites, but diving enthusiasts around the world have tapped into ScubaToys’ innovative Web site. Dague uses streaming video from in-store Webcams and the latest electronic commerce software, along with the store’s popular online forum, to generate 80% of his sales.

“We’re one of the single largest dive shops in the country,” he says, “which is crazy considering we’re 600 miles from any water you’d want to get in.”

It all began with a quest to build top-notch customer service, something Dague says was missing at many dive shops when he took up the sport decades ago. The entrepreneur launched a small store in 1996 with a $5,000 investment under the name 2Dive4, and expanded several times until he opened the ScubaToys location in 2002 in Carrollton. Things really began taking off after he put the gear online.

His foray into technology began somewhat randomly. One day, he says, a few customers were buying a lot of high-end diving equipment, which prompted Dague to ask them what they did for a living. They told him they were engineers for Cisco Systems Corp., which specializes in computer networking.

Dague asked a few questions, and soon his eyes were being opened to the wonders of e-commerce. It wasn’t long before the virtual side of ScubaToys surpassed the brick-and-mortar version. But it has driven traffic at his retail store, too.

“We’ve really become a destination location,” Dague said. “People travel hundreds of miles to shop here, but that’s because they first see the products online.”

ScubaToys’ success has come during lean times in the diving industry. There has been no growth in the $1 billion a year equipment sales industry for the past three years, said Dan Emke, president and COO of the company that operates the large Oceanic and Aeris dive brands.

Likewise, the number of certified divers also has been flat for the past few years, Emke said.

“Larry was one of the very first dealers to embrace the Internet,” Emke said. “And now he’s one of the top 10 dealers in the country — chain stores included. There are others using the Web, but nobody has made quite the impression of ScubaToys.”

Online customers especially like the Webcams. If they have a question about a product, they can call the store and get a demonstration in real time over the Internet. They can also watch scuba-diving lessons via the Webcams installed around the heated indoor pool.

The Web site also helps build community. It includes space for divers to upload their favorite photos and videos, and an online forum for discussion about diving-related topics. In operation for 18 months, the forum now has more than 4,300 members who have made some 150,000 posts.

“These people are enthusiastic and hungry for information,” Dague said, “especially about gear and brands. They want to know what they’re buying. And they should.

“When you’re 100 feet below the surface, it’s a bad time to have buyer’s remorse.”

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