SPRINGFIELD — Rick and Kim Sass regularly travel to exotic locations around the world, where they swim with sharks, stingrays and other aquatic wildlife.
But the married couple has always been anchored in the Battle Creek area.
In fact, a literal anchor sits outside their scuba business, Sub Aquatic Sports and Service, 347 N. Helmer Road, where customers are greeted by their 1-year-old poodle mix.
After 42 years running a retailer specializing in scuba equipment, instruction and travel, the Sassners took a step back from day-to-day operations earlier this year to serve under the dive shop’s new owner, Diventures Inc.
Around 2018, Kim and I started quietly saying to each other. “Say 40 and we’re done,” Rick said. “Business has been good for forty years. Then came March 2020 and everyone knows the story there… Fortunately, one of our sales reps mentioned our name to Dean Hollis, who buys a number of dive shops that are doing well around the country.”
In January, the couple sold the business to Hollis, founder of Diventures Inc. The Nebraska-based company launched in 2009 and now has 12 locations nationwide, adding Sub Aquatic Sports and Service, which now gives it a footprint in Michigan. . Sassner stayed on during the store’s transitional management until officially retiring on June 30.
“What appealed to us most about them was the travel aspect,” Hollis said. “Which tells me they’ve developed a very loyal customer base. We are customer obsessed. When I see a travel program, you want to see someone willing to spend hard earned money and vacation with you, turning friends into clients and clients into friends and building a great sustainable business… Clients love them; I want them to be as involved as they want to be, as long as they want to be.”
Sass continues to lead groups on a number of trips, including some that have been postponed due to travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Although they will dive all over the world, they say the best diving can be done in Michigan.
“This month we’re taking groups to the shipwrecks (in the Straits of Mackinac) one weekend and Sunday, Port Sanilac another weekend and Whitefish Point the following weekend,” Kim Sass said. “We have 11,000 inland lakes and the Great Lakes, and because the water is so cold, shipwrecks are preserved compared to saltwater dives.
“I would say it’s retirement, we’re working. But it’s a lot of fun to work with,” he added.
The business started when Rick Sass was working at a Kalamazoo sporting goods store. He was leading a group on an excursion to Micronesia when he was approached by a doctor about starting his own business specializing in travel and diving.
Sub Aquatic Sports and Service had humble beginnings, starting in 1980 on the front porch of Rick Sass’s Urbandale home. He soon bought out the investor.
At the time, Kim Sass was working in the respiratory unit at Albion Hospital when a friend suggested she try scuba diving. She met her future husband on a group dive at Gull Lake in Richland.
“He was wearing a bright orange dry suit and I thought, “Who would wear that in public?” recalls Kim Sass. “Probably two months later I had one too. I started diving and he told me to work for him one summer… I left the hospital and never wanted to stay for 38 years, but I did. I love to travel and this is a great job.”
The couple built the current shop in Springfield in 1989, where they sell and rent scuba equipment, fill air tanks and offer scuba diving certification instruction. They also did some restoration work.
Diventures’ business model encompasses retail, education and travel, while offering a variety of learn-to-swim programs for children and adults. Hollis said a company typically requires about 2 acres of land to build a comprehensive facility to accommodate its own pool, and Sub Aquatic Sports and Service’s location currently sits on about 1 acre.
Due to space constraints, Hollis said Diventures is exploring possible locations in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo areas.
No longer filling air tanks, dealing with expense reports or supply chain issues, the Sass say they’re excited for 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 see something different,” Rick Sass said. “If you pay attention, you’ll never get tired of it because there’s always something new to see. It’s a great job.”
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley