From the time Joe Dorsey opened the Divers Den in 1958, the small Parkville dive shop had almost always published a newsletter -- a kind of greeting that customers came to expect to see every few months.
But just a few years ago, the newsletter was reduced to a list of items on sale. There were no hints about local diving sites, no tips on cooking fresh-caught fish.
Customers were not impressed. Declining sales were the evidence.
As a result, Divers Den recently returned to its original concept -- but in a much different form. Titled Dive News, the four-page black-and-white newsletter tells customers about scheduled trips, safety issues, diving techniques and sport diving in general.
Jim McCallister, manager of the Divers Den, said the changeover has paid off.
"We got letters from regular customers who had stopped being regular customers, saying, "Glad to see the changes, glad to see something new and exciting happening in the store,'" he said.
Mr. McCallister said Dive News recently won awards from the Dive Equipment Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools for its informational content.
"A lot of newsletters are purely sales-oriented, with 'We have wet suits at this price, regulators at that price,'" Mr. McCallister explained. "We use very little of that in Dive News. That's what fliers are for.
"We don't want the newsletter to look like an advertising gimmick. We want to keep people interested in the shop.
"Our regular customers like to be apprised of what's happening," he said.
"We promote our classes, dive travel, special activities, like our underwater pumpkin-carving contest. And in each newsletter there is some mention of an upcoming trip."
Divers Den's newsletter has changed over the years, not only in its content but also in how it is produced.
"Joe [Dorsey] used to crank it out with a mimeograph machine in the back," Mr. McCallister said. "Now it's typeset and laser-printed."
He acknowledged that the newsletter is not published as frequently as it should be. "It's been hit-or-miss. Right now it comes out every other month. We need to do it monthly," a goal he said Divers Den will reach next year.
Because of the time lost in the printing process, Mr. McCallister said, Mr. Dorsey recently invested in computer equipment, software and a new laser printer, as well as training in desktop publishing. Next year he and the staff will be able to lay out and laser-print the newsletter on the premises.
"The newsletter is probably our best advertising medium," Mr. McCallister said. "It keeps our name in front of people."
"We have a mailing list of 4,500 to 5,000 names," he said, "and we know a couple of newsletters are going to do a good job" of promoting Divers Den.
"It's a memory jogger," Jim McCallister added. "The newsletter more than pays for itself, just in the renewed interest of our existing customers."