Sept. 1, 2005 – Some savvy marketing skills and the willingness to work a little harder and stay open a little later can overcome the challenges of the up-and-down St. Croix economy.
Just ask Ed and Molly Buckley, who opened up St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures in 1998 and have expanded twice since then. They now have 22 employees, and Ed says he expects things to get even better.
The husband-and-wife team Molly is the general manager and Ed is operations manager expects to stay on St. Croix for quite a while. Molly moved to St. Croix from Atlanta in 1991, and Ed from Louisiana in 1985. Over the years they have been involved with the certification of thousands of divers, but Ed's first student appears to be his dearest Molly.
He says, "They say you aren't supposed to date your students. See what happens. You marry them."
Both were working for airlines in the early '90s. When Sun Airlines went out of business, they both were already in love with St. Croix and the diving experiences it offers. Instead of leaving the island and looking for jobs with another airline, they went to work for V.I. Divers, then the oldest dive shop on St. Croix.
Ed says, "However, ultimately, it was our plan to open our own dive shop." When they opened the shop on Strand Street in Christiansted, the store was tiny, but they expanded in 2001 and again in 2004. Molly says, "By far, we have the best selection of scuba and snorkeling gear on St. Croix."
The pair admits that running a business on St. Croix is not always easy. However, Molly added, "When a customer comes back from a dive and says 'That was phenomenal,' that makes it all worthwhile."
Often one hears the complaint on St. Croix that people here don't know what service is. Molly and Ed will hear nothing of that. They pride themselves on providing service. As Ed says, "Rinsing off all their gear, having it ready for them, and having that drink of water ready to hand them when they come up from the dive, we do that."
Service doesn't come free and Ed explains, "We don't mind saying we are probably the highest priced dive shop on the island. We might lose some customers because we cost $5 more than another shop, but that is OK."
He said that when he and Molly went on their first vacation in 10 years, they went to Nevis and did a dive there and the service from the dive shop was excellent. "We appreciated that. That is how we like to dive."
But Bluewater Adventures' success might be owed more than just to good service. Ed has brought his experience as a vice president at an airlines into play here. Their Web site at Bluewater Adventures is one of the most sophisticated of any business on St. Croix.
Bluewater Adventures also keeps evening hours and Sunday hours. When tourists are taking that walk in downtown Christiansted before dinner, about the only place open is Bluewater Adventures. They stop in and Molly says, "They begin talking to one of us about diving. We tell them about our love for it and suddenly we have a customer."
Bluewater Adventures offers courses for everyone from the novice to the pro. The next area of expansion may be the purchase of a second dive boat. Right, now business is 60 percent retail and 40 percent dive operations. Before the purchase of the second boat, though, Ed says he wants to be sure that business is up to stay. He says, "This year was a really good year."
Although they feel St. Croix is the premiere diving spot in the Caribbean, the couple finds it somewhat frustrating that little is done to market the island as such. Ed says, "We have the Wall, we have the longest reef in the Caribbean. We have the second longest barrier reef."
He sees part of the problem in the Tourism Department being completely run by political appointees. He and Molly both pointed to other islands where tourism authorities gave some control to the private sector and were much more successful at marketing their islands.
Ed and Molly do their own marketing. Ed attends seven or eight trade shows a year in the United States, promoting their business on St. Croix. He gives away Cruzan Rum, but contestants have to go to Bluewater Adventures' Web site in order to determine if they won a bottle.
Ed is secretary for DIVERSe Virgins, the diving association on St. Croix. Molly serves on an advisory board for an international resort divers association. Ed is vice president of the St. Croix Chamber.
Ed and Molly do go on vacations where they don't go diving, however their getaways are still dive-related. In order to learn more about the latest dive equipment, the couple did go to Las Vegas for the dive industry's trade show.
For more information about Ultimate Bluewater Adventures, call 773-5994.
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