The Dive Shop Turns 50
From the MBQ Blog
On Saturday, July 23rd, The Dive Shop celebrated its 50th anniversary at its Yates store with tours, seminars, music, and more. As the story goes, Doug McNeese decided to open The Dive Shop while watching Sea Hunt with his son, Doug Jr.
So is the story true?
“Absolutely,” says Doug McNeese Jr. “We were on the couch together. It was Sunday afternoon.
“My father owned a jewelry store, a record store, and a toy store,” McNeese continues. “He said if he was going to work 24/7, it might as well be something fun, and he fell in love with the whole thing.”
The original Dive Shop opened in 1961 in a shopping center across the street from East High School. There are now locations in Little Rock; Marietta,
Georgia; Joplin, Missouri; and the Memphis store on Yates, which includes a 97,000-gallon saltwater pool.
At first, McNeese’s father continued doing watch repairs and trading diamonds “in case diving didn’t go anywhere.” He began manufacturing dive bags and recruited his son to cut patterns for the seamstresses. When McNeese got his driver's license, he was brought into the store to do retail work.
McNeese bought the store from his father in 1975, and while he says he made no big changes immediately, something his father had said stuck with him. “My dad’s wish was for The Dive Shop to be a $1 million business in Memphis, Tennessee.”
That $1 million goal was met in 1982. McNeese Sr. died the following year.
McNeese says the key to that part of The Dive Shop’s success was putting in a system that all employees could master, no matter their skill levels. But he notes that what really made it all work was getting clients to practice scuba diving. “We were [always] seeing this big grin when they realized they could actually do this.”
McNeese now lives in Colorado, and in addition to The Dive Shop, he runs a certification agency, Scuba Schools International, which has 2,800-plus dive centers in 110 countries. And, yes, he still dives. “I have grandbabies 9 years old. I can’t wait until next summer. They’re going to learn to dive.”
One last thing about Sea Hunt, the show that started it all. At some point, McNeese learned the actors filmed their scenes in water no deeper than 15 feet — a fact he finds amusing.
“I made an entire life out of diving,” he says, laughing. “That was a really great TV show.”