The Problem with Groupon Surf Lessons

What’s wrong with Groupon Surf Lessons?

Groupon Surf Lesson
Another bad Groupon surf lesson – Just phoning-it-in.

They suck. There, I said it. And this applies to surf lessons via LivingSocial, TravelZoo, Scoutmob, yada yada. Here’s why: Today I had the opportunity to watch one of our Huntington Beach surf school competitors – who do a ton of discount Groupon surf lessons – as they gave a budget surf lesson. What I witnessed was amusing and sad at the same time…

A group of about 8 people showed up in the parking lot, half of them too young to keep up with a group (and should’ve had private lessons). They were then put into cheap ill-fitting wetsuits and given boards that were too small.

When they got down to the water, I watched as most of the group sat on the beach waiting their turn, while the younger kids were taken out in very rough conditions, getting tossed around so much that I think people nearby could see me cringing.

After each “ride”, the instructor would then run back up the beach and take the next customer.

Note: If you’re repeatedly made to sit in the sand awaiting your turn, then perhaps your ‘two-hour lesson’ is actually closer to 45 minutes. That’s not a deal.

I’ll make an allowance for bad conditions; There’s nothing an instructor can do about Mother Nature. But ANY of our Banzai instructors could have done a better lesson in the given conditions. Instead, the students got pummeled and tossed and were put in dangerous situations with obviously inexperienced instructors.

The sad part is that most surfing newbee’s have no way of knowing the difference between a good or bad surf lesson – they have nothing to compare it to.

Before I go further, you need to understand how Groupon works from a business owners perspective. If a school normally offers a surf lesson for a hundred dollars, Groupon wants them to offer it for half-price, $50 dollars. BUT, Groupon takes half of that for THEIR end of the deal. That means that as a business owner, the school is now selling their product for 1/4 of the asking price, less credit card fees.

How could you expect to get a good surf lesson for $25?? That’s less than the cost of a rental. So the business cuts back on equipment and especially staffing; Big mistake. Even good instructors can’t succeed if the student to instructor ratio is 10/1. That’s almost criminal.

So, you’ll find that most *reputable surf schools won’t offer Groupon deals for these reasons. For some businesses (i.e. selling widgets) it might make sense with the (hopefully) return business. In the surf lesson business, the customer’s greatest value is in their very first lesson; Learning all the critically important basics. After that, most will scratch it off their bucket-list and never return, and certainly not at full price.

*When I say “reputable”, I mean a permitted surf school that operates legally and (at least in these parts) is sharing profit with the city or state government. In this way, the legitimate surf schools contribute to the upkeep of the beaches. Most bargain surf lessons are offered by “pirate/rogue” schools that operate illegally and lack the safety oversight, insurance, and instructor background checks. There is a list of legally permitted OC schools here.

So a smart customer might take the all-important first lesson at the full and fair price, and hope for a discount on the subsequent lessons, after they’ve learned the basics and established themselves as a regular customer. The Groupon business model, in this case, is backwards.

The crux of it is this: Staffing is everything. A good lesson comes from good people (and enough of them). If you’re bargain shopping, consider what kind of business you’re supporting, and the safety of your family.

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