Aquatic Adventures 15 Years

Aquatic Adventures: A Look Back After 15 Years

This month marks an important milestone in the history of Aquatic Adventures. This January is the 15th anniversary of our incorporation and the 15th anniversary of the day we opened our doors. Staying in operation for 15 years is no small feat for any business. Operating a dive center in the Midwest where the dive season really only lasts for 6 months is a monumental accomplishment. So when I was asked to write a blog about how Aquatic Adventures came to be what it is today, I could not turn down the opportunity.


Brian Hale, Sally Keppert, Jerry Otte

In December 1999, Sally Keppert, Brian Hale, and I put together a business plan while sitting around the kitchen table in my condo in Oak Creek. The plan called for starting a dive center in the Milwaukee area that excelled at customer service and focused on extending dive training to families. At the time, scuba diving in the Milwaukee area was heavily dominated by adult males, and we felt that a dive center that was family-friendly would set itself apart from the competition.

Our focus in the early years was on dive training. I had run a business called Learn to Dive that allowed me to teach scuba at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and that business was folded into Aquatic Adventures when we started up. We also purchased the assets of Hi-Lo Scuba. Hi-Lo Scuba was the first dive center founded in the State of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, tough economic times had put them out of business.

Hi-Lo Scuba had a very small retail location in Elm Grove that afforded us a classroom and place to store equipment. While the sales floor was very small, it allowed us to start selling masks, snorkels, and fins to our students. This helped to ensure that our students would stick with the sport beyond their certification dives, and it was the start of our retail business.

Elm Grove Classroom

Elm Grove Classroom

For our first three years, we operated out of the tiny store in Elm Grove. Our revenues in those days were dramatically slanted to dive training, but these humble quarters allowed us to establish processes and business practices that would benefit us later.

Then in 2003, our landlord believed that a larger business was going to rent out most of our mall. We were asked to move to smaller accommodations that were not going to work for us. So we began looking for another location. Eventually we found an opening in our current location. After about three months of construction and a challenging move, we found ourselves in Brookfield. We had a classroom that was part of our store, a spacious sales floor, room for our growing service business, and an easily accessible compressor room where customers and employees did not need to haul tanks up and down steps.

Brookfield did come with its own set of challenges. Within 2 months, our business tripled in size. Instead of getting 20 or 30 walk-in customers a year, we had 20 or 30 walk-in customers a month. Customers were signing up for classes and purchasing merchandize at a rate we were not prepared for. To accommodate this growth, we needed to invest in far more rental equipment for our classes, hire more instructors, and expand our retail inventory. Fortunately we persevered through these changes, though our growing pains were never as severe before or since.

Then came the really tough years in the dive industry. In 2005 and 2008, economic downturns wiped out many businesses, but they were particularly difficult years for dive centers. People did not have the kind of discretionary income that allowed them to take scuba courses or to invest in large amounts of scuba equipment. Dive Centers with significant debt did not survive, and even through 2014 we have seen more and more dive centers perish as a combination of economic challenges and online competition are more than they can endure.

Aquatic Adventures has survived all of these challenges for a number of reasons. We have had a core group of employees that believe in our mission and are dedicated to promoting and sharing the sport they love. We also have great customers who support local business and understand that diving is first and foremost local. And we have leaders who pay attention to changes in the economy and changes in the dive industry and are vigilant in looking for ways Aquatic Adventures can continue to survive.Staff Award

Today Aquatic Adventures is primarily a retail business with a strong online presence. Without this foundation, we could not afford our current facility or to employ as many people as we do. We are also a strong training facility dedicated to safety and to bringing diving to all people regardless of age, sex, race, or socio-economic standing.

I cannot say what the next 15 years will bring, but as long as we continue to have customers and employees who believe in us, I am sure the next 15 years will be as exciting as the last 15.

Thank you to everyone who has made Aquatic Adventures the greatest dive center. DIVE ON!

Aquatic Adventures Mission Statement

Posted In: Dive Leadership

About the Author Jerry Otte

Jerry Otte is the UW-Milwaukee Scuba Coordinator for Aquatic Adventures, Inc. Jerry has run the scuba program with the University since 1997 and has written the curriculum for several of the college credit scuba courses taught at the University. Jerry has certified more than 2000 divers and has been on more than 2500 dives. He is currently certified as a PADI Master Instructor, a rating he earned in 2001. He also holds Instructor ratings in deep technical diving and more than 20 specialties.

Comments (10)

  • Bradley Friend Says:

    From all of us at Milwaukee’s Ghost Ships Festival we’d like to congratulate Aquatic Adventures and their wonderful staff on 15 years in this challenging business. You have an unwaivering commitment to providing top notch service, customer support, unparalleled training and that wonderful Midwestern charm that so many have come to love about you. Congrats and thank you so much for your years of support to the show! He’s to you all!!

    February 24, 2016 8:22 pm
  • Josh Lang Says:

    Congratulations guys! There’s a myriad of reasons why I keep coming back, between the selection, the knowledge, the friendly staff, the classes, the amazing trips, etc etc. Many of which are the same reasons why when anyone asks me where they can learn I send them your way. Here’s to another 15!

    January 31, 2015 12:28 am
  • Kris Klenz Says:

    Congratulations Jerry and the whole Aquatic Adventures crew for providing 15 years of exemplary service and training! Mark and my experiences with Aquatic Adventures over the years have been truly valuable. Whether we need good advice in purchasing gear, are looking for a fun dive getaway or wanted to expand our experience/training as divers – Aquatic Adventures is always there for us. Nevermind the friendships we have formed as a result of sharing in this amazing sport/hobby. Thank you Jerry for sharing your passion for diving – our lives are better for it!

    January 29, 2015 10:15 pm
  • Gary Steven Says:

    An outstanding accomplishment! I actually did visit the Elm Grove store once, but didn’t start diving in earnest until my kids got certified in 2004. It has been critical to my evolution to Rescue Diver to have such a knowledgeable staff and well-stocked store as resources to learn. I thoroughly enjoy working with you to help those with allergies and asthma attain medical clearance to allow them to pursue their love of scuba. Perhaps most importantly, time constraints don’t permit me to pursue scuba or any of my other hobbies as much as I’d like, but I am always greeted in the store like I was just there yesterday – never with an attitude that I must be a wannabe because I don’t dive more often. I have enjoyed the local dives and other trips that I’ve done with Aquatic Adventures, and am content in the knowledge that the next time I’m ready to dive (and if I ever get around to starting my divemaster training), Aquatic Adventures will still be there to lead me on!

    January 29, 2015 4:23 am
    • Jerry Otte Says:

      Thanks, Gary. Always a pleasure to dive with you and your kids. We also appreciate your help in making sure those people healthy enough to enjoy diving have that opportunity. Summer is coming! See you underwater soon.

      January 29, 2015 8:37 pm
  • Maureen Peters Says:

    I never knew Aquatic Adventures when they were still in Elm Grove. I do, however, remember the night I was driving down Greenfield Ave, a newly certified divemaster, and saw the lit Scuba Flag on the building and told my husband that there was a Scuba Center close to our home. We stopped in the next night, and were astounded by how nice the shop was, how much product was stocked, but most importantly, how incredibly friendly the staff was. We chatted about scuba for over an hour, and I think I bought a dive hanger for my wetsuit.
    As it turns out, I hung out at the store so often, they offered me a job. I have been with Aquatic Adventures now for ten years, and it just keeps getting better and better. Happy Anniversary, Aquatic Adventures! I am so glad you were there for me when I needed you!

    January 28, 2015 11:58 pm
  • Lola Bockholt Says:

    Congrats on 15 years of business and thank you for continuing to promote excellence in service, training, and quality products offered by friendly and knowledgable AAI staff. It is always a joy to come to the store and always, always wonderful to continue my learning experiences in this wonderful sport! Nice blog, Jerry! Keep your bubbles rising for many many more years!

    January 28, 2015 11:50 pm