DeeperBlue.com’s Chat With DEMA Executive Director Tom Ingram

Diving Equipment & Marketing Association Executive Director Tom Ingram was gracious enough to take some time out of his hectic schedule during DEMA Show 2014 to chat with DeeperBlue.com about the show itself as well as where he sees the organization going in the future.

For DeeperBlue.com‘s interview with Ingram about DEMA Show 2014, click here.

As for the organization’s future, Ingram said: “What we’re doing is looking beyond 2020 now, and so we’re trying to look at collaborating for the future so that’s really what this is all about, trying to have a shared vision for the future,” what he called 2020+.”

“The concept is, in the past, what we’ve done is we’ve had an opportunity to brainstorm, receive this input form all these folks that were kind enough to spend a couple of hours with us, and really go through this really interesting process of just coming up with ideas of things that they would like to see change,” Ingram said. DEMA’s board of directors “has used that information” and “implemented programs like the health insurance access and that kind of stuff, as a result of those very specific sessions.”

DEMA recently went through a process with an outside consultant to help the organization determine what its next strategic direction should be, according to Ingram.

“We really looked at ourselves hard, internally and from the outside, we brought in . . . close to 30 members of the industry and we sat them all down and we talked with them on the phone and we brought them in face to face,” he said, adding: “This was in March and April carrying on through May of this year . . . we spent two days together in April in San Diego where DEMA is headquartered with these folks . . . and we had some great input from them and we’re going to build on that.”

During those meetings — whether they were over the phone or in person — Ingram said: “What we did at that time was we decided that we wanted to explore what are the — we call them orthodoxies, what are the deep-seated beliefs that exist in the diving industry — right or wrong — and are they causing us to have obstacles . . . in our own path, and stopping us from being successful?”

One “orthodoxy,” as Ingram called it, that came out of those discussions is: “The DEMA board is a bunch of good ol’ boys.”

“We hear that one all the time,” he said, adding: “So if everybody thought that, then the result very often is, “Well, I’m not gonna run for the DEMA board, or volunteer for the DEMA organization because it’s just a bunch of good ol’ boys and nothings gonna happen anyway,’ that’s an orthodoxy. It’s also not true, but it’s something that people think, so we want to hear that from people, we want to understand why they think that but we also want to figure out a way to flip it around so that people understand that that’s not really the case at all.”

Another “orthodoxy” from the industry side is that divers drop out at a rate of 80 percent after the first year, according to Ingram: “That’s also not true, but that’s what a lot of people believe and so if you truly believe that, do you really put the effort into training somebody for the long haul? And I think that people don’t, necessarily, so that’s the kind of thing that we want to undo, we want to see it put out on the table and laid bare, and see if we can’t figure out some ways to change that and discuss it properly.”

When asked how exactly such orthodoxies could be undone, Ingram replied: “Well, I think it’s an educational process, obviously that’s part of it, part of it is having those people in that room championing the concept that, ‘Hey, we’re trying to address that issue, and if it’s true in your store, how do we fix it in your store?’ Its certainly not true nationwide, but it’s out there as a concept; I even heard somebody say it to me yesterday on the show floor: ‘Ohh, 80 percent of them are dropping out after the first year anyway, so what difference does it make, and it’s all their fault, and somebody else’s fault,’ that’s the kind of thing that we want to try to undo as best we can.”

Another orthodoxy that came up during the April meeting in San Diego was, “‘Oh, the retailer is the weak link, and nobody’s really making an effort to become educated, etc etc etc,'” Ingram said, adding: “We’ve all heard it. Again, not true, but that’s the concept that’s out there, that’s the obstacle in our path, that deep-seated belief, so in order to help up get around that, one of the things that we did as an organization was to form a Retailer Resource and Support Committee, so we got 10 people, they’re all retailers, they’re all around the country, they’re all non-denominational, so they’re every training organization, they all have different manufacturers involved with them, and they met yesterday for breakfast for the first time” at DEMA Show.

“We’ve been on the phone with each other for a while now, but we’ve had a chance now to sort of lay out our work plans so that we can start to take the next steps,” Ingram continued.

One next step will be a conference call to be held this coming January where “every retailer in the country” will be invited to participate, he added. The Retailer Resource and Support Committee will pose three questions for participants in the call to discuss.

“It’ll be a chance for everybody to give use their input on those three topics that come out of the discussions from that retailer resource and support committee,” he said.

When asked where he hopes the association will be by the time DEMA Show 2015 rolls around in Orlando, Ingram said: “I’ll give you an example of one of the things that this retailer committee is going to do, and I think this will be a big change for the better for us: I’ve asked them to be the resource group for our seminars that we’re doing that DEMA sponsors at the trade show, so at this time next year, I would expect that the topics that are there are the burning topics for retailers, stuff that they have either not seen before, or maybe there’s some basic information that they need, which is a lot of what we do here now, but clearly some advanced topics for those people who’ve been around for a long time, so I see it as an opportunity for the education to change dramatically a year from now, from what we’ve been doing the past couple of years. It’s all been good, but I want it to be more focused on what the real needs are and also go beyond just the basics.

“So that’s at least one outcome a year from now,” Ingram continued. “I think what we’ll also see is hopefully that DEMA’s very willing to open the doors, to listen to the conversation, that getting people involved and collaborating with each other is ultimately for me the goal of all of this, so that we’re all the true meaning of an association, which is really what we should be doing. We don’t have huge amounts of resources; the one strength that we have is bringing people together because we do that here every year, so let’s extend that and do that in other ways and open the conversation.”

Many thanks again to Tom Ingram for sitting down with DeeperBlue.com, and the talented folks at Adams PR for setting up the interview.

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John Liang

John Liang is the News Editor at DeeperBlue.com. He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.

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