Today’s guest post is from an unlikely source- a surfer who runs a diving excursion company.  I thought it was really compelling and hope you can take away some great insights.

If you aren’t connected to the surfing world, you probably still think of it as a sport for young slackers. How wrong this is…the simple combination of wind, sun, and water taught me a valuable lesson about creating my own “best customer.”

I’ve had the advantage of growing up in, near and around the ocean all my life. Surfing is just one of those things you do, as much as hiking or hunting would be in the landlocked states, and for the same reasons – to flush out the mental miasma that builds up during a hard-fought work week. There’s nothing like the immediacy of a wave, the quick judgment call, and the resolution that comes from either being dumped, all akimbo or riding a glorious (and envied) monster. I began to realize that my dedication to this sport reflected in my dedication to my job.

Creating Customers
Let me guess. When you think of surfing, you think of those beautiful pictures of a buff twenty-something enfolded in a twelve foot wave. Why, because that is how surfing has been sold. The pictures are dramatic, they grip the eye and the imagination. But honestly, how many in this demographic would pay to play? Not many.

What was needed was a way to rework the sport to reach new customers, customers with money and with different needs. When you can’t sell your product, remake your product into something that will sell. And just like the experts say, “Find out their needs.” The root need is entertainment and diversion. The way to sell to this need is to eliminate or reduce the barriers. So, what are the barriers? Almost all of them revolve around inconvenience.

Talk to people, not about surfing, but about just getting to the water and you’ll find stories of parking nightmares, crowds, worries about kids, and where/how to eat…the list seems endless. The way to create a customer in this situation is to provide all of the “stuff” as givens. So, we’ll pick you up at your hotel with our shuttle bus – the one with the surfboards in a rack on the roof. We’ll throw in hotdogs (veggie too) on a grill along with beach gear to use. And of course, we’ll include surf and boogie boards. We’ll market a day at the beach as much as surfing.

Location, Location, Location!
I know that once I get you out on the water and you finally manage to stand up on your board and catch your first wave (as insignificant a ripple as that may be) – I’ve got you hooked. But, I need to get you take that test drive. I need to reassure you that you won’t be embarrassed because of your weight, or age, or lack of balance. I need to meet you where you are and shape the experience to fit.

That means dumping the pictures of the hunk riding the two-story wave. Out with the athletes and in with older folks, children and the “extra large.” Replace custom surfboards with boogie boards where people can lay down and get a ski-doo tow. Show sunlight and a family on the beach. In other words, meet these folks where they are first, then move them to where you know they will want to be. In the same way having a bunny slope will move novices quickly to the lifts at a ski resort, you only have to give them a taste to get the most nervous out and falling, laughing, off of a long board.

I’ve also found that when you go for a group or a family, there will always be someone who just doesn’t buy into the picture you are painting. For surfing, this is the water-averse. They’d rather not get wet at all. No problem. For the sedentary, you need a beach lounge chair, something cool to drink, shade and the opportunity to read a good book while they listen to the shush-shush of the waves. These folks get a free pass – no surf lessons, no charge. They eat free too.

It’s almost a truism that if you don’t head off the naysayers in this way, their power to redirect a decision is greater than another’s interest is able to drive it towards your product.

As I’ve watched the surfing scene turn from a life-style into a day’s diversion, I’ve seen the real power of simply putting yourself in the shoes (or sandals) of the other person. As much as I worship the killer wave and the extreme ride, I find the same excitement in the faces of people who will probably not stand up on a long board that day – their smile of victory is just as authentic as mine as they seal-paddle their way out and boogie board gently back in.