After 42 years, Springfield dive shop owners are selling their business
SPRINGFIELD – Rick and Kim Sass regularly travel to exotic locations around the world where they swim with sharks, stingrays and other aquatic animals.
But the married couple have always been rooted in the Battle Creek area.
In fact, a literal anchor sits outside their dive business, Sub Aquatic Sports and Service, at 347 N. Helmer Road, where customers are greeted by their one-year-old poodle mix.
After 42 years at the helm of the retail business specializing in diving equipment, courses and travel, the Sasses stepped back from day-to-day operations earlier this year to play an advisory role to the new owner of the dive shop, Diventures Inc.
Around 2018, Kim and I started quietly saying to each other, “Let’s say 40 and over,” Rick said. “Forty years at the head of the company is good. Then March 2020 came along and everyone knows the story there… Luckily one of our sales reps mentioned our name to Dean Hollis who buys a bunch of well run dive shops across the country .
In January, the couple sold the business to Hollis, founder of Diventures Inc. The Nebraska-based company was launched in 2009 and now has 12 locations across the country with the addition of Sub Aquatic Sports and Service, which now gives it a footprint in Michigan. . Les Sasses remained through the store’s transition until his official retirement on June 30.
“What appealed to us most about them was the travel aspect,” Hollis said. “What that tells me is that they have developed a very loyal customer base. We are customer obsessed. When I see a travel program, you want to see someone is willing to spend a lot of money hard-earned and vacationing with you, turning friends into customers and customers into friends, and building a great, sustainable business… Customers love them, I want them to be as involved as they want, as long as they want.”
The Sasses continue to lead groups on a number of trips, some of which have been delayed due to travel restrictions amid the pandemic. Although they run dives all over the world, they say some of the best diving can be done in Michigan.
“This month we’re taking groups wreck diving in (the Strait of) Mackinac one weekend, Port Sanilac another weekend, Whitefish Point the following weekend,” said Kim Sass. “We have 11,000 inland lakes and the Great Lakes, and because the water is so cold, wrecks are preserved from saltwater dives.
“I would say it’s retirement, we’re working. But it’s terribly fun to work,” she added.
The business started when Rick Sass worked at a sporting goods store in Kalamazoo. He was leading a group on a trip to Micronesia when he was approached by a doctor to start his own business specializing in travel and scuba diving.
Sub Aquatic Sports and Service had humble beginnings, launching from the front porch of Rick Sass’ home in the Urbandale area in 1980. It soon bought out the investor.
At the time, Kim Sass was working in the respiratory unit of a since-closed Albion hospital when a friend suggested she try scuba diving. She met her future husband while on a group dive at Gull Lake in Richland.
“He was wearing a bright orange drysuit and I was like, ‘Who would wear that in public?'” Kim Sass recalled. “Probably two months later, I had one too. I started diving, and he convinced me to work for him for a summer… I left the hospital and had never had the l intended to stay there for 38 years, but I did. I love traveling and it’s a great job.”
The couple built the current store in Springfield in 1989, where they sell and rent scuba gear, fill air tanks and offer courses for scuba diving certification. They also carried out recovery work.
Diventures’ business model includes retail, education and travel, while additionally offering a number of learn-to-swim programs for children and adults. Hollis said the company typically needs about 2 acres of land to build a full facility to install its own pool, and the Sub Aquatic Sports and Service location currently only sits on about 1 acre.
Due to space constraints, Hollis said Diventures is exploring potential locations in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo areas.
No longer filling air tanks, dealing with expense reports or supply chain issues, the Sasses say they are excited about the next chapter in their lives, which includes a lot more traveling and diving.
“I can say I’ve been to Grand Cayman (Bahamas) 60 times, and every time you go you’ll see something different,” said Rick Sass. “If you’re observant, you’ll never tire of it because there’s always something new to see. It’s great work.”
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley