Cline Group was founded by William H Cline, III in 1990 as an international marketing consultancy, with many areas of expertise.According to company president William Cline, ”Cline Group is unique – we have had the pleasure and experience of working with a very diverse group of clients ranging from foreign governments to small start-ups. We are set apart as our entire focus is on producing work that generates business – not awards.”
Cline Group is unique – no other company in the world specializes in marketing diving products and services. The company has been fortunate to represent in various projects, some of the world’s leading companies, governments and destinations.” Past and current clients include
*The Government of Bonaire
*The Bahamas Government
*The Barbados Tourism Authority
*Broward County, FL/Greater Ft. Lauderdale Visitors and Convention Bureau
*Others for dive-specific marketing, advertising and research
Other private-sector clients include:
*Peter Hughes Diving Company
*Stuart Cove’s Dive The Bahamas
*Neptune’s Watersports at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
*Neal Watson’s Undersea Adventures
*Divers Alert Network (DAN)
*Rodale Press, former owner of Scuba Diving Magazine
*World Publications, owner of Sport Diver Magazine
*Specialized Publications, owner of Dive Training Magazine
*Bob Soto’s in Cayman
*Dive Provo in Turks & Caicos
*Sand Dollar Dive Resort in Bonaire
*The Cayman Islands Watersports, Hotel and Restaurant Associations
*DEMA, the diving industry trade association
Cline Group is highly respected in the specialized sports marketing field, for a vast array of marketing projects, including producing The Scuba Tour, a national traveling scuba pool and pavilion that primarily exhibits at non-diving, large-attended outdoor events.
Services offered by Cline Group include;
*consumer & B2B marketing
*strategic tourism planning
*consumer and industry research
*internet strategic services including analytics, design and email marketing
William Cline/Cline Group is the only diving industry entity to be recognized as a diving expert by:
*The Wall Street Journal
*Numerous newspapers including the Orange County Register (CA)
*Diving press includes interviews/articles in Dive Report
*Rodale’s Scuba Diving
*PADI’s Undersea Journal
*Skin Diver (not in publication) magazines plus many others
William Cline, founder and president, is a diving veteran, and currently holds the highest training distinction and certification in the world – a PADI Course Director Designation (#27109), have served as Vice-Chairman of the DEMA Board (Diving Industry Association and Show) and currently working on his MBA. William is a pilot and lives on a small airport in a suburb of Dallas, TX, with his family.
About William Cline: Reprinted from an interview with William Cline, by Scuba Diving Magazine, Industry Professional Profiles (originally 5/2006):
1.) You are considered a diving industry specialist. How and when did you first become involved in the dive industry?
Everyone in this business has a story. It’s fascinating to hear about how people got to where they are… I have one too…
I actually started diving when I was 12 years old. Like many in my generation, my family gathered around the TV to watch Jacques Yves Cousteau. No one else in my family or really, anyone I knew was a diver, but I was fascinated. One day my Dad and I were driving by a dive shop on Yorba Linda Blvd, in Placentia, CA. The shop was called the Aqua Lung Center, a concept store by U.S. Divers. The sign in the window read ‘Learn to Scuba for $89!’ – Still remember vividly. My father signed me up and I was probably the worst diver ever. It took me about 2 years to get certified and I had all kinds of problems… Of course, the training in 1976 was a bit different than today. I did eventually get my certification, and was hooked. So hooked that with my father’s help I talked my way into a part-time job at 14 with the dive shop’s owner, Don Himes. Working after school, lugging tanks, cleaning the shop, etc., my pay was $1 per hour applied towards dive gear (at full retail mind you). So the shop owner got nearly free labor, and I had a job working in the scuba business.
That’s really how it started. I found out years later, that my father, Bill Cline Sr. had actually approached the shop owner Don, and offered to pay him the $1 per hour if he would hire me… So I guess he got paid to have me work there… Pretty funny story, because Don eventually hired me officially on my 16th birthday. His present to me was my own set of keys to the store. His words were “Congratulations on turning 16, you are now the store manager, and here are the keys. You can legally lock up for me now, I’m going home early.”
From that start in retailing in Southern California, I learned branding lessons and the global impact of reach. I remember customers have heated arguments about which dive gear was better; U.S. Diver vs. ScubaPro. I learned about dive travel as we sold dive trips (a.k.a. camping) to Baja Mexico, dive charters to the Channel Islands (CA), and dreamed about far off places like ‘Bonaire’ and ‘Truk Lagoon.’ I experienced, firsthand, the basics of dive training, as I was the store’s official ‘divemaster’ having the job of setting the ‘down line’ through the surf. If I could make it out past the waves without drowning, so could the customers.
I learned the basics of retailing: One day as I was cleaning out the store room and came across several boxes of dive fins that were caked with dust. Don commented when I brought them to him… “Oh Yeah, had those since we opened 5 years ago, guess we should put them on sale.”
It was an education in what to do, and what not to do at an early age. That was 1980. Fast forward to 1988, eight years later. I left The Aqua Lung Center, went to college, and ended up at another dive shop on the other side of the country in Ft. Lauderdale, a little place called Pro Dive. I was hired by the late Greg Mackay to replace the shop’s only dive instructor (she had been bent and couldn’t dive again). Greg told me he wanted to grow his business and had some “big plans!” In Greg’s immortal words “stick with me, this place is going to be huge – you can help us [he and his wife Lauren] do this…”
When I left as a Course Director, Pro Dive had a staff of over 20. I was privileged to help re-write the entire PADI Instructor training program under the direction of Dr. Alex Brylske. It was at Pro Dive that I learned about international dive marketing as one of my responsibilities was creating, marketing and conducting the first multi-lingual instructor training programs in Bonaire, Cayman, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil. They even named a reef after me in Ft. Lauderdale; Willie’s Way.
I left Pro Dive and moved to Dallas to set up a small advertising and marketing communications company with my brother-in-law, a software programmer. So leaving the dive industry behind, my wife, Patty, and I moved away from the water to start the agency. I thought at the time, that although I enjoyed it, I was done with diving. But diving wasn’t done with me. Throughout my days at Pro Dive, I met many resort owners, and one of them, Sand Dollar in Bonaire, became my first ‘client’ for dive marketing. They hired me to do a brochure. That was truly the real start of my agency.
I only dabbled in diving at first but had a big break at the DEMA show in 1990. I was introduced to a woman from a company I would get to know well; Rodale Press. She had come to the show to learn about and collect information on the dive market. I actually tried to refer her to DEMA and their PR firm but neither had the time to talk to the Rodale’s representative. A bit embarrassed, I offered my card and said I would send her what little dive industry data I had at the time.
Long story short, I was hired as an agency/consultancy to launch Scuba Diving magazine by the executives at Rodale Press. Terms were we had work in secret, because they did not want the competition to catch wind of the launch before they were ready. I helped to broker the purchase of California Diver magazine, negotiated deals with PADI and DAN, provided strategic consulting, research, marketing and design services to Rodale for the start-up phase of the publication. It was invigorating work, and exciting times. Skin Diver was the 90lb Gorilla, and dominated the market in 1991. Scuba Diving launched in 1992 and was heralded as “the most successful launch of a new title by Rodale Press in the company’s history.”
From the successful launch of Scuba Diving, I really became known as a dive marketing expert. Another early call came from a group of guys, John Englander, Neal Watson and Stuart Cove. They were reviewing The Bahamas Dive account, and asked me to review. That was almost 25 years ago, I won the account, and many more since then.
Diving has been a passion. I have a passion and love for the sport, but I really have a passion to help create a better industry. I think that is what drives all that I do in diving.
2.) What changes have you seen in the industry over the past 25(?) years?
For perspective, in 1991, the “Internet” was the lining in a bathing suit.
In 1991, dive magazines and the local dive store was about the only way divers received information about the world of diving – there was no world wide web as we know it today. What has changed in 25 years? In one sense, everything, yet still the principles of taking care of the customer have not changed. Perhaps really the major change is the way in which we communicate with divers today.
25 years ago, dive travel was experiencing a boom. We had an incredible lopsided supply and demand economy. There were a similar number of active divers, but only about 1/2 to 1/3 of the competition for dive resorts and liveaboards. Almost no one in the Red Sea and SE Asia was marketing in the USA.
As a result, resorts and tropical dive operators relied on magazine advertising and retailers to communicate their existence. Specialized travel agents or wholesalers were about the only way to book these locales, few booked direct with resorts. In 1990, the Gold Book (an essential listing of all resorts) listed 600 resorts in the Caribbean Basin. Of these maybe 250 tops offered diving in conjunction with an operator. Now nearly 1,103 resorts and well over 60% to 70% offer or sell some form of dive activity.
A customer in 1990 that wanted to buy gear or take a dive trip only had a few options; pick up a dive magazine on the newsstand, if they could find one, or go to a local dive shop. In 1991, estimates indicate there were about 2,100 dive stores in the U.S. No one really knows as no one kept accurate records. But recent research indicates that the number of dive stores has not drastically fluctuated much in the last 25 years (1,600 most current count).
Dive retailing, like all aspects of modern life, has seen drastic changes in a mere 25 years. The dive ‘shop’ went from essential to optional for the local diving community – and the jury is still out on what long-term effect this will have on our industry.
We went from typewriters to Blogs. From the weekly Undersea World of Jacque’s Cousteau to thousands of hours of scuba programming, such as Shark Week and entire satellite channels devoted to water and diving.
Fantastic things are possible, as compared to 1991. We can now take a virtual tour of a dive resort in Bonaire, download dive videos for our phones and iPods in The Bahamas, or see a ‘live’ underwater webcam in Thailand. A diver can book a trip and communicate with any resort, no matter how remote, in a matter of seconds. Inversely a diver can poll, encourage, discourage, disparage and endorse any dive retailer, product, resort or other diver in seconds to a millions of other divers – worldwide and instantly.
Those are a few of the biggest changes I see.
3.) Talk to us a little about the research you do for the dive industry.
I never set out to be the industry’s statistician. It was the ‘mother of necessity.’ In successful marketing, one has to know the marketplace, it’s products and it’s customers. We as an industry do not have those basic dashboards or radar screens to see where we have been and where we should be going. I set out in 1990 to change that. I started consumer, retailer and resort studies. Since then, my company has surveyed in excess of 20,000 companies, consumers and individuals – all in the diving business. Most of this is private research, where a company hires my company to look at their marketshare, their customers, or investigate a possible product or service. However, I have, from time-to-time, released studies for the industry as a whole.
The first large scale study of this kind was in 1994 when I attempted to define the USA dive industry, in terms of equipment, service and travel sales. I theorized the size of the industry, it’s participation and dollars. That study to this day is still quoted in terms for how large the industry is, dollar-wise. DEMA, SMGA and NSGA have all used these figures as benchmarks for our industry.
About every three to four years, I have released a public industry study. From looking at trade shows, to consumer travel habits, these surveys are usually released to the public for free. If we know who we are and who our customers are, we, as an industry, can better service the customer’s needs and therefore grow.
The latest installment of my public research was started two years ago, the quarterly Cline Dive Industry Survey. I have just concluded and sent the most recent issue, a 2006 year-end study of the dive industry. This survey is the only freely distributed on-going research that not only asks performance, but gauges future confidence for the coming quarters.
I love doing research, whether it’s groundbreaking dive liveaboard focus groups in an exotic locale, or just a retail survey, I enjoy finding out more about our industry and it’s customers.
4.) Aside from being a dive industry specialist, your main source of income is your advertising and marketing agency for diving clients. Who are some of your top clients right now and what do you do for them?
I have been very fortunate to represent many of the most notable companies in our industry. Highlights and key past and current clients include:
- Management & Operational Responsibility for the Launch of Scuba Diving Magazine in 1991 (Client: Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA)
- Created and Operated The Scuba Tour, a Traveling Exhibition reaching millions of consumers in hundreds of venue. Started in 1999 (Sold to DEMA in 2002)
- Agency of Record for The Government of Bonaire (1992 to 2000) and Creator of the Successful “Bonaire: The Natural Choice” Branding Campaign
- Agency of Record for The Government of Barbados (1998 to 2001) and Creator of Barbados’ “Dive Into Our History” Campaign Resulting in a 300% Marketshare Gain in just 24 Months.
- Agency of Record for The Government of Bahamas (1991 to present) and Creator of multiple successful branding campaigns resulting in a 15 year growth rate of over 10% per annum. Worldwide branding responsibilities include the Americas, Asia and portions of Europe.
- Responsible and Producer of Multiple Branding campaigns for clients in such diverse markets as Shanghai, China; Berlin, Germany; London, U.K.; United States; Colombia; Belize; Ecuador; Venezuela, Brazil and many Caribbean Islands.
- Neal Watson’s Undersea Adventures: Strategic, Web and Design Services.
- Peter Hughes Dive Liveabaords: Research and Strategic Consulting
- Stuart Coves: Management and Strategic Consulting
- Most of the Major U.S. Manufacturers Purchased Cline Research at one time or another
5.) Anything you’d like to add? Any great dive stories?
This industry is great, in that there is no rule book. One can make their own rules and with that pioneer sprit, can come great rewards. Unfortunately all too often, without a rule book, many businesses fail. My passion is helping this industry become something greater than it is, and from where I sit, we need research, good solid customer service training, strategic future-minded thinking, and documentation. Very, very little exists for a dive retailer to start their business, and almost nothing exists for dive resorts or resort-based dive operations. This dive travel area is one of which I have a passion to help, and working with some very progressive clients, have created some very exciting new programs to help this aspect of the industry grow.
A Dive Story?
My most memorable dive moment was last Spring on Peter Hughes’s Galapagos dive liveaboard Sky Dancer. I was diving with Stuart Cove and John Englander on one of the lesser popular sites, towards the end of the week. The entire dive was surreal, as we just moved from one school of fish to another, dove with hammerhead sharks, dolphins, sea lions, Tuna, turtles, Giant Mantas and dozens of schools of fish – all on one dive. It was a truly an amazing experience, as the fish were so thick, the light from the sun was blocked out and we literally ran into the reef. It was a highlight of my diving life.