Updated at 13:22,17-06-2024

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

Daniil DanikUDF.BY. Pictures are from Sasha Makurin’s personal archives and taken by the author

Belarus is landlocked. But it has people who love the undersea world. Sasha Makurin, diver and swimmer, started a new diving school “Three Bolts” in Minsk and plans to take advantage of Belarus’ famous lakes.

Breath in, breath out, breath in… Ears are blocked. The instructor puts the thumb and the forefinger unto the “OK” gesture – this is a question: “Everything is OK?” I show him the same sign, that all is fine. The dive goes on. This is not an extract from an adventure novel or a movie about Jacques Cousteau’s. This is a training class at “Three Bolts” diving club in Minsk led by Sasha Makurin, an amphibian businessman.

The club’s history starts from the day when Sasha’s mother brought her 3-year-old son to the first training of an experimental group of swimming for little kids. She hardly realized that would define Sasha’s fate.

It was 30 years ago. The first step into the undersea world didn’t lead Sasha to a fantastic sports career, but it gave him something else.

Since then Sasha went to a swimming school, did diving, and had several breaks and returns back into sports.

Sasha: You can fight a habit, but you can’t deal with such element as water, fighting it is useless. Sooner or later you will want to get into water again: to swim, dive and feel like flying.

From the first dive to PADI certificate

The youth love for swimming resulted in diving activities.

In 2012 Sasha took his family to Egypt. Sea, tours, and, of course, diving with an aqualung.

I came back to Minsk, to my office but all my thoughts were back in the sea. After one hour of work I spent two on surfing the Internet, looking at photos, watching videos on diving. I talked to Nastya, my wife, and she supported my idea to take up this extreme kind of sport.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?There were already diving schools in Minsk, but Sasha went to Moscow to study for an instructor.

Sasha received PADI instructor status. PADI is one of the world’s most popular diving schools. PADI graduates are united by common standards: qualification, approaches, and signs.

The first course, OWD (Open Water Diver), is basic. It is also one of the most important and difficult, and consists of 5 theoretic classes and at least 5 immerses in the pool. And the main part is diving in the open water (lake, river, sea, etc).

OWD is followed by AOWD (Advanced Open Water Diver) that includes 5 more immerses. Generally, there are 4 to 6 levels of divers’ class and lots of subcategories.

From hobby to business

After getting the certificate Sasha was not planning to make diving a serious business. He had an office job and many other spheres of responsibility: family, dog, chores – so he didn’t think of a business plan. The initial idea was creation of a club where people who like diving could gather and dive.

But work was work. It gave no satisfaction and all my thoughts were about buying new flippers or going somewhere to dive on the weekend.

Because of short beach season, diving is not that wide-spread in Belarus. However, modern technologies and their affordability allow to dive even in negative temperature under the ice. And “Three Bolts” successfully practices this. But to do so, besides equipment and special “dry” suit you need to have AOWD and DRY SUIT class above grade four.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

Ice Immersion

By the way the name “Three Bolts” is derived from the name of a diving dress fastened with three bolts. This dress is the main attribute of the club’s office.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

The diving dress that gave name to the club and the next generation of Belarusian divers

Nastya, Sasha’s wife, from the very start shared husband’s passion and became his main aid in the club. Sasha is in charge of general issues, while Nastya is responsible for accounting and advertising. Besides, she always takes part in classes, organizing the process and watching over from “the shore”. No one is allowed into the pool without an instructor, so Nastya finished swimming trainers’ courses in order to avoid problems with authorities and leaseholders.

First equalization

Divers use such term as “equalization”. A long time ago we all emerged from the sea world onto the land and centuries after a curious human got a desire to go back. But our body transformed! While immersing a person feels uncomfortable pressure in their ears. That’s why you need to make stops and equalize pressure in ears by creating compression.

And Sasha’s business also started with little stops and “equalization”.

The first difficulty we faced was renting “the water”. We had to go over all pools in the city. We refused from shallow pools (nobody want to dive at one-meter-depth), but deep pools designed for diving were hard to deal with.

Directors or other authorities would not let us rent their pools when knew we were divers. They even would not tell the reason why. Perhaps, they thought we’d bring stingrays, crabs and sharks with us…

After some time they managed to agree with two water facilities. As divers can’t have simultaneous classes with other swimming groups, the classes are usually held in the evenings, starting at around 21.30.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

In the pool

Usually I come home at midnight. Then I hang suits, vests and cylinders for drying and disinfect mouthpieces. I rarely finish before 1a.m. On the next it all repeats.

The second difficulty is advertising. Diving is not a widespread hobby, it’s not that affordable. That’s why there’s no use in routine outdoor advertising. It never hits the target audience. So “Three Bolts” started cooperation with online platforms that were selling discounts and coupons – the efficiency increased.

Do I get tired? Not much, though I can’t take children to school in the morning. I fall asleep. That’s why this is my wife’s sphere.

Sasha and Nastya have two kids. According to PADI rules, diving is allowed from the age of 8, so Vanya, the younger son, still has 3 years to watch father’s immerses from the shore. However, Masha who turned 8 is now studying the basics of diving.

Three types of clients: addicts, amateurs and “gifts’ men”

The first and the least numerous category of clients are addicts. They have come to the idea that they can’t live without diving and don’t mind learning. Normally, they achieve high-qualification levels and become instructors themselves. “Unfortunately, they are very few”, - says Sasha.

Amateurs turn diving in Belarus into a seasonal activity, by increasing demand in autumn after summer vacations and in spring, before vacations. This is not the worst category at all. They are very interesting, - admits Sasha. – They are not aspiring for professional heights, getting enough with lower levels of PADI qualification. They put feelings and impressions ahead of achievements”.

The third group of customers is the most unpredictable. It consists of people who have a little concept of diving, or sometimes, know nothing about it at all. Usually they are people who were given a coupon for diving as a gift. We call them “gifts’ men”.

Once, we had a girl who had almost drowned in a pool for three times (!!!) before. Her boyfriend had given her a coupon as a gift.

On the St. Valentine’s day “Three Bolts” had a special offer for couples. One guy made a proposal to his loved one on the bottom of the 6-metre-deep pool. She accepted it. The club’s job was to set everything up in a beautiful way. “I think we did it well – even female instructors, married for many years, were crying of happiness”, - Sasha shares his memories.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

Comparing Belarusian and Egyptian diving, Sasha says, the level of preparation is much higher here. The first course for OWD grade takes two and a half weeks in Belarus and only 3 days in Egypt.

What kind of quality can you expect? We are not planning to release dozens of certifies divers. We want to attract a person to this extreme sports, instill him with a desire to dive again and again, become a club member, come back for new courses and travel with us for different immerses.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?
Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

Competition. Diving sharks don’t eat each other

“Three Bolts” have no direct competitors, Sasha says: “Not because we are the only ones, but for the fact that each club, each instructor will find their own niche. There are many organizations and individual instructors out there in the market. Everyone has their sphere and audience, our interests do not overlap, we are friends”.

Deep dive into business, or How to promote diving in Belarus?

Diving in numbers

A single immerse in the pool costs 470,000 roubles (about 30 euros). If you buy a coupon at slivki.by, the price is 270,000 (about 17 euros). A group cannot exceed 8 persons. This is PADI’s strict rule. The age rule is also strict: only persons older than 8 are allowed to dive.

The club is open on weekdays: “We don’t work on weekends yet, - says Sasha. – Though we are thinking of starting Saturday classes, or even creating a weekend group. We’ve worked for a year. Besides theoretic and practical classes in the closed water, we take exams in open water. Those who can’t go to the Red Sea in winter are allowed to pass the exam in summer in Belarus”.

The pool rent (about 25-30 euros per day) and purchase of equipment and gears are the club’s main expenses.

We started with 2 sets of suits and gears, now we have more than 10. We have our own compressor for filling cylinders, suits, vests, gloves and socks. I can’t say the exact cost, for diving equipment is like cars: someone is happy with a VW, others are disappointed with a Bentley. The equipment that instructors and I use is more expensive, while trainees have cheaper gears. However, $1000 is the minimum price for the whole set.

The plans are to expand the business. To have two or three groups at the same time, hire more instructors and improve the infrastructure. “Three Bolts” want to create a group for kids and organize a sports camp for them in the wild, for example in the district of the Narach lake: “This is a great place for learning diving basics, - says Sasha. – But we are well aware of the situation in the country and in business in particular, so we don’t have unrealistic dreams. We are going to grow gradually, step by step”.

The crisis in the country affected “Three Bolts” at the start of spring. But it rather caused some changes than undermined the business: “Some clients are refusing from exam trips to Hurghada. On the other hand, fans of more expensive hobbies are now coming to us to cut down their costs”.

Before saying goodbye, Sasha offers us to leave all of our unease in the water. “An excellent way to get rid of pessimistic thoughts and bad mood is to dive into water. It helps, you should try!”