From The Mag

Competing Against the Evil Empire

Written by James La Barrie

Online Reprint

Originally printed in issue #53 (April 2014) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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The great irony of being a DZO is the disparity between what an up jumper experiences and what a DZO experiences on the same day; while jumpers have the time of their lives, DZOs observe things through a different lens, noticing every costly movement with an elevated blood pressure. For example, as jumpers excitedly chat about how many points they just turned, the DZO may observe an instructor chat with a student while dragging a drogue across the runway. No one is more aware of the immense cost of everything. Trying to keep expenses low, battling the uncontrollable whims of Mother Nature and the continuous mechanical needs of an airplane can make the DZO’s job a tad stressful.

Despite all the ups and downs and many challenges a DZO faces to keep a drop zone growing, there is probably no frustration larger than losing market share to a competitor that doesn’t exist. Adding insult to injury is the fact that this ghost competitor is renowned for delivering horrendous customer service, dramatically overcharging and giving inaccurate information to their unassuming customers.

By now, nearly everyone has heard of SkyRide, Adventure Outdoors or their many cousins operating under different names with magical 800 numbers that all feed into the same call center. In preparation for writing this piece, I gave our friends at “Skydive Charlotte” a call to see what our customers are buying into. I spoke to a decent sounding guy who had a great special for me since I was a “first-time jumper.” Turns out a tandem skydive is normally priced at $329 but because I was a first-timer, he’d save me about $50 and get me in for only $280.

I was told that I’d be jumping from somewhere between 10- and 14-thousand feet and I’d be paired with a jumper who had no less than 1,000 jumps to his credit. When I inquired about the safety of the operation as it was clearly not “Skydive Charlotte,” I was told that the safety record was impeccable and that there were only “three fatalities in the U.S. during 2013, out of about a million jumps made.” He said there was a website dedicated to tracking these statistics. When I asked him what site that was, he suddenly couldn’t remember and said he’d have to Google it. Before I could press him, he quickly segued asking if I’d like to book for the day I had requested.

So, How Bad Is It Really?

Your local drop zone isn’t just competing against one fake drop zone—it’s competing against more than 10! Let’s examine the Carolinas market, a year-round skydiving state without many actual drop zones, but with tons of competition against Darth Vader and his boys who answer phones at a call center in Georgia.

PD New Beginning

With a quick Google search, I was able to identify 14 drop-zone websites that filter back to Adventure Outdoors or Spot Reservations.

DZ NAME Domain Who Answered
Look at the competition! Skydive Carolina (, the actual drop zone catering to these markets) is up against a lot of competition!
Skydive Charlotte Adventure Outdoors
Skydiving Charlotte Adventure Outdoors
Skydiving Charlotte Adventure Outdoors
Skydive Charlotte Adventure Outdoors
Charlotte Skydiving Adventure Outdoors
Skydiving Over Charlotte Adventure Outdoors
South Carolina Skydiving Adventure Outdoors
Skydive Columbia Adventure Outdoors
Skydive Georgetown Adventure Outdoors
Skydive South Carolina Adventure Outdoors
Greenville Skydive Adventure Outdoors
Skydiving Greenville Adventure Outdoors
Skydive Spartanburg Adventure Outdoors
Thrilliant/Charlotte Spot Reservations

What Are We Going to Do About It?

We’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled and we have to change our game if we’re to compete with the dark side.

  1. Defensive Domain Buying Strategy If you’re a DZO, shell out some cash to GoDaddy, because you need to start owning as many domains as possible to shore up your marketplace. This is an unfortunate strategy, but a necessary one to protect your turf.
  2. Initiate Word-of-mouth Marketing Word-of-mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing and there is an actual strategy to implement it by intelligently leveraging review sites and social media.
  3. Kill Them With Kindness The evil empire’s weakness is their lack of ability to deliver great service. They can’t deliver great service because the operation is built on a charade. Be sure your service outshines theirs, especially on how your personnel answer the phone. Allow your service and phone skills to exceed customer expectations. After your customers have spoken with them and you, the choice should be obvious, price notwithstanding. Furthermore, a word-of-mouth marketing plan cannot work without great service.
  4. Look Professional Too many drop zones are missing the ball with website design. As an industry, we offer the single most exciting adventure life has to offer and our websites should reflect this energy. Examine (an evil-empire site) for a moment. This is a well-designed site that leaves a good first impression and gives the appearance of a solid operation. Opinions of where to jump will be made on this first impression, even if the cost of the jump is higher. Your website is an investment every bit as important as the acquisition of your tandem rigs—your business won’t thrive without either, so do it right.
  5. Pay Attention to SEO Search engine optimization seems to be shrouded in mystery and most DZOs feel the need to “throw money at it” because that’s what many marketing companies tell them to do. Google algorithms have changed to try and make search authentic—so be authentic. Appearing in search-engine rankings takes effort and it’s better done without shortcuts. Produce regular content on your blog, utilize social media (be sure to implement Google+), partner with local companies to link back to each other’s sites, utilize the press by submitting press releases and have great design on your website! If you want to beat the dark side, all of this stuff is necessary!
  6. Stop Accepting Evil Empire Certificates If you’re a drop zone owner accepting bookings from these dudes, stop for a moment and think. You’re actually competing against yourself … and losing! The reason drop zones accept these certificates is because it is a steady revenue stream, but at some point drop zone operators need to see the madness and truly cutaway. Think how angry your customers are when they realize they could have saved a ton of money if they just called you directly instead of dealing with Darth. No one likes to be ripped off, so why are we letting customers get ripped off? In the world of social media, your credibility will eventually be called into question and the short term gain from partnering with the EE will not sustain you for long term success. Do the right thing.

In the chart above, many of the domains were purchased in 2003 and will continue to be renewed well into the future. These boys plan to stay awhile and if we’re to compete and take back our market share, we have to be savvier than they’ve been and take the necessary steps to pull ourselves forward.

May the marketing forces be with you.

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