PrestaShop Lessons Learned – Scuba Lessons, Inc.

by Curt Donohue on July 11, 2011

Scuba Lessons, Inc. Logo

PrestaShop Lessons Learned is an ongoing series of interviews with PrestaShop store owners.  The goal of these interviews is to provide examples of how real stores are handling various parts of their business and to discuss what works and what doesn't.

Tina O'Connell

Tina O'Connell - Owner of Scuba Lessons, Inc.

In this episode, we interviewed Tina O'Connell of Scuba Lessons, Inc.  O'Connell's firm provides scuba diving lessons, equipment, and accessories primarily in Florida but also sells their retail equipment and accessories throughout the United States.


Tell us about your PrestaShop store.  For instance, what do you sell and why did you choose that?  How long have you been in business?  Where is your business based?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

We sell scuba lessons, scuba diving equipment and accessories.  I have owned Scuba Lessons, Inc. since 2003.  We are based in Kissimmee, FL, however, we sell equipment and accessories nationally and will do scuba training throughout all of Florida.  We have 7 instructors who teach in Destin, Miami, Tampa, Ft. Myers, Melborne, Orlando and Kissimmee – Florida.

We started in the scuba industry because of our need to pay for our highly addictive hobby.  Scuba and the exploration of the 71% of the world that is underwater is a peaceful and exciting lifestyle.  The Scuba school and retail store allows us to share love that with others.


What software did you evaluate before you decided on PrestaShop?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

I checked out OS Commerce, Magento, CubeCart, CORESense, 3DCart, Shopify, LiteCommerce and NetSuite.  I have done a few stores with Netsuite for clients but it is not user friendly and the others are not nearly robust enough to get good SEO rankings and meet the needs of my clients.  So, Prestashop won for software function, scalability, ease of use, and the wonderful customization options.  The fact that it is so easy to install helped convince me too.


What version of PrestaShop did you start with and what are you using now?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

I can't remember exactly which version I started with.  It was such a long time ago.  It seems like it was version 1.0 or something like that.  I am using version right now.  I plan to beta test 1.5 as soon as it is available.


What do you use for a theme?  Default?  Free?  Premium (paid)?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

I usually make a copy of the default PrestaShop theme and edit the heck out of it.  Most of my edits include modifying the CSS, adding a few modules, and taking away others.  That gives me the look I am going for, most of the time.

As a non-coding designer, getting brave enough to edit beyond that is sometimes necessary.  I have done it, but I am always cautious to make a back up copy before I tinker around.


Tell us about the modules you use.  How many?  What are they?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

I love the Horizontal Menu (JBX menu) by Julien Breux.  The only problem is it will not work with all PrestaShop versions and, if it doesn’t, it will crash the store.  If it does work, it is an awesome top menu bar which adds a nice feel.

Scuba Diving in a Cave

My favorite module, however, is Carousel v2.1.1 by Nethercott Constructions.  I like it because you can use it to bring the eye where you want it, showcase categories or products, and do a moving sales pitch in the middle of your store.  That is exactly what I do with it.

I like Ajax Sliding Categories v3.3.2, which is also by Nethercott Constructions.  Unfortunately, the Horizontal Menu (JBX menu) and Nethercott's module have different versions of JQuery, so they conflict.  Only one can be used unless you rewrite the script for the other to use the different version of JQuery.  It gets tricky depending on which version of PrestaShop your using as to which one you should switch the JQuery on.

I recently added Skype to my store using a custom script install method I found online which was really cool but there is also a free Skype module for it to be added to the header, if you prefer.  I found one on the forum that I liked.  I also use all the Google tools like Advanced Site Map and Googlebase which lets me export my products to Google Shopping and get serious ranking points.

I like modules like wContent by Wozia which provides for me some HTML freedom and Flash 3D Creator is a great module to add flash content for free.  I try not to do much flash because it does not equate to ranking on search engines at all but it is flashy and clients love it.


Where did you register your domain name?  Are you satisfied with them?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

I usually register my domain name(s) as a package deal with my hosting company.

With the three hosts that we have used or are currently using (,, and, the domain name is included in the cost of the hosting package.  I do not purchase domain names separately from the hosting package anymore.

Also, in the past, I used GoDaddy but found them to be a little too big to get quality service.


Who hosts your PrestaShop store(s)?  Are you happy with their service?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.

Previously, I used only but now they limit the size of the site to only 25meg, which is not big enough for an ecommerce site.  Then, I converted to  That worked out well until I had a horrible customer service nightmare trying to do a simple request.  I was treated so badly that it was in-excusable.

Because of that experience, I switched to, which turned out to be the smartest move I have made yet.  As big as they are, service is not lost with them. I find very personal, never rude, quick to answer and quick to resolve.  Over and over they keep me smiling.

Scuba Diving Fun!

They have gone way above and beyond many times to help me figure out problems that are programming issues within Prestashop or modules, which is unrelated to their server.  And, they have done this repeatedly without one complaint.  Other hosts would not bother helping you to resolve non-server or non-hosting issues.

In fact, whenever I get stumped I open a ticket or pop up a chat with tech support and just ask.  They always seem so knowledgeable and really are quick.  Even if they don't have the solution, they provide some good advice and always point me in the right direction.  They cost slightly more per year, about $7 in total, but the service has saved me HOURS and HOURS of labor so they are well worth the extra couple of bucks, in my opinion.

I use pretty exclusively now.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THEM!!!!  They have the best service of any company I have dealt with in this century.  They have competitive pricing and unlimited everything!  And, they don’t shut you down or force a VPS (Virtual Private Server) on you when you accidentally hog a bit too much CPU temporarily during product imports.


What forms of payment do you accept and why did you choose those?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

We accept Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, Diners, and Discover.  I chose them because I use Square for my credit card processing.  My own brother in law, who works for a Merchant services company in Miami, cannot beat Square’s rate of 3.2% per transaction and those are the cards they accept.

The cool thing is that I can see my transactions or even process a charge right from my cell phone for no extra charge.  I even have a tiny little card swiper that plugs right into the headphone outlet on my phone so I can swipe a card and charge it.  It shows images of the products purchased right on the credit card receipt and emails my clients a receipt.

Great little program, very robust and cheapest service out there for credit card processing that I have found.  The website for them is

Square now has an entirely new FREE software for anyone with an i Pad that is basically a register software for checkout.  You can download it then enter your products and images and pricing and the person has the items and images listed on their emailed receipt.

They even have a new program where they just give you their name and you can charge the customer's Square account once they register with you as a favorite spot.  So, if you’re a jogger getting coffee at the same spot, you no longer need a wallet.  You can use Square’s wallet.

I not only use them for my merchant account, I use them around town to buy stuff too.  Where I am well known, like local dive shops, I just have them tack it to my account automatically with nothing more than a nod and a smile.


How do you process your orders?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Most everything is automated in Prestashop.  Once a customer is charged for the order, it triggers an email to the vendor to fill the order and one to us.  We fill anything we stock ourselves in-house (from our little garage).  Everything else gets filled and drop shipped directly from the vendors.

Once the vendor ships, they email a tracking number.  Or, they have back office access (some) and will put in the tracking number themselves.  Once shipped, we will change the status.  We follow up daily.

Any vendor response delay will cause us to immediately contact the vendor and, if needed, cancel contracts with them.  We are strict on timeline with our vendor and do not allow them to slack at ALL!

As for the money, we have that automated too.  Once the order is complete, I get a response from Square letting me know the charge went through and it is in my account within 24 hours.


Do you have employees?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Yes, Scuba Lessons, Inc. has 7 instructors, including myself as well as a General Operations Manager.  He helps me load products and manages the online stores and the business including vendors, scheduling students, ordering stock and other office duties. We also have 4 dive masters.  Only myself and my Operations Manager Dan work on the online store.


How do you deal with your accounting?  What software do you use?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

We use freeware accounting software called GNUCash.  I love this product for several reasons.  First, it is free.  Second, it is robust and does everything I need.  Lastly, it syncs with my Bank's online checking download system so I don’t have to do data entry for AR/AP general entries.


Do you find taxes easy to handle in PrestaShop?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

At first it was a mess, but the newer versions make it very simple.  I think they add one step too many because they have the tax rule, then the tax segment but overall it works like it should and one can figure it out.

That extra step is there for a reason, those with tax in different counties at different rates or other countries need that extra step.  So, like everything else in Prestashop, it is clean efficient and well thought through.

Learning it the first time is not easy but once you have it down it is very user friendly and seems so much more simple.  Having nice videos like what offers makes learning about taxes so much easier for a new user.


How do you handle inventory and product sourcing?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

I was a buyer for Tupperware for about three years.  During that time, I made many contacts from China and domestic sourcing.  I kept my contacts and when I started my business, I used them and got some start up products.

I mostly focused on vendors that will drop ship and maintain inventory for me so I don’t have to worry about it.  However, for specialty items or for items that vendors will not stock for us, we do stock inventory and only buy the MOQ (Minimum order quantity).  As we get down to about five units left, we just restock the minimum.

If the item moves fast, then we increase our orders and just watch the product sales closely to determine quantities for re-orders.  We set up spreadsheets for forecasting and managing inventory that are pretty automated.

My Operations manager used to be a district manager for Shell Oil and Texaco and has a plethora of knowledge on inventory control.  He has developed our cost analysis for pricing and our forecasting spreadsheets for managing inventory so our system is very customized including programming to automatically trigger emails to us or the vendors. The spreadsheet also syncs to our SQL database for importing inventory levels.

For a brand new business I would recommend heading to the Microsoft Office templates page and looking for sales forecasting templates in excel.  It is a good start.  Or you can get a starter copy of the more detailed spreadsheet mentioned above for about $45 here:

We also stock some items I source at really low prices, and buy in volume.  For instance, things like small scuba charms, maps, or fish ID cards that can be easily stored in our home office.  I subscribe to importers newsletters and even will shop E-Bay for bulk items I can purchase a low costs in volume and sell off at a small profit.

The glory of our method is we low overhead so we can be ultra competitive with our pricing strategy.


How do you handle shipping?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

We have a USPS and UPS account set up.  We use the USPS Click-N-Ship service with a custom programmed interface we created to grab the data from Prestashop and drop it into the USPS Click-N-Ship label creation fields.

It's the same type of interface with UPS online, so it creates the label and we don’t have to re-type.  I am not a programmer so I traded scuba training for a local programmer to create this for me.  I am not sure how it was done and he does not know how to create modules or I would be happy to zip it and share it.

The shipping company we use is based on the zip code and shipping selection the customer made during checkout.  If the choice is overnight and the customer is in Florida, we still send UPS ground as it is 1 day in Florida.

In Florida, we will also use USPS 1st class mail instead of Priority for anything under 13 oz. since there is only a 1 day delivery difference and it is so much less expensive.   Most of our customer base is our students, which means most of our customers live in Florida.

Our national and international sales volume is low, but we do some.  For those sales, we use UPS every time.  We always have better success when shipping internationally by using UPS rather than FedEx.


Do you offer free shipping?  If so, under what circumstances

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Never, it is a loss lead option I choose not to use.

I don’t think anyone really changes their mind to buy at the shipping level when you are honest and only charge actual costs.  It is when you tack on handling and jack up shipping for profit that you end up with abandoned shopping carts at the shipping point in the checkout process.


How do you handle customer service?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Customer service is our top priority.  We call every customer back within 2 hours (maximum).  We make it a priority to give them what they want to solve their issue, whatever it takes.  I have lost money to make people happy only to have them come back and spend $1,000.00.  Spending money to solve a customer complaint or issue has always been a good choice and I have typically been rewarded for this behavior shortly after resolving the customer's issue.


How do you market your business?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Groupon was my first big kick start to really see some volume.  There were no up front costs and they had me swamped at the first launch.  I have not stopped since then.   I do Living Social promotions and Big Deal too.  I am just about to launch a program with too.  They all work.

I also use Google Adwords and work very hard on SEO strategy.  I do ads in my PTA newsletters for kids bubble maker birthday parties and Junior open water diver summer camps.

I am the only instructor for the City pools in both Kissimmee, FL and St. Cloud, FL.  So, I am listed in both city's directories and get business from that.  I also have two meet-up groups, which we use to plan scuba club events.  That gives us a lot of referral business.

We do email blasts to opt in subscribers and I will advertise in a magazine when things get slow from time to time.  The rest is word of mouth which is my biggest source of revenue.  My students love our instructors and keep telling their friends.


How do you implement SEO?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

You only get out what you put in.  Much of my SEO strategy is using all the fields in product data entry into the back office of Prestashop.

Meta-title, meta-description, meta-keywords, and friendly URLs are all carefully entered to include complete names, product numbers, and important details like model numbers, make, size, or gender details.  The goal is to include as much detail as possible so that search engines can find the products easier.  I think this is critical.

I also use tags and tag clouds.  Some say they don’t do anything for you but the big SEO companies say it is critical to Google’s new algorithm for SEO strategy.

I think friendly URLs are necessary so we use them as part of our SEO strategy.  We are very careful on title choices to maximize our chances of being seen in a search.  If an item like a scuba lesson has a general name we will expand it to “Scuba Diving Training Lessons- NAUI or PADI Certification Class,” for example, to maximize the keywords that it can be found under.

We take the same approach with descriptions.  We take allot of time entering product descriptions with key words directing the way but sounding natural.  Be sure to include header tags (H1, H2 and H3 tags) and have keywords in each one.  The keywords should match the title keywords to the header tags.  Again, I believe it is critical to give lots of detail and sound natural.

Lastly, we provide a few key services.  We provide video’s on cleaning equipment, a map of dive sites (this gets me over 1,000 hits per day), service manual links, and we sponsor a training group for instructors and divemasters looking to become instructors for training technique sharing.  These have all become great niches that bring in serious traffic and referral business!


Do you have a blog for your site(s)?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Yes, we do have a blog on BlogSpot and put up the important announcements.  But honestly, we have not really used it to its potential.  Back links from blogs are great for SEO ranking.  We just have not had the time to get to it.


Do you use pay-per click advertising?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Just Google AdWords, and we don’t spend more than $5 a month.  I am probably going to drop this since there have been only 3 clients who have actually purchase from that source.


Do you use the PrestaShop newsletter module?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Yes, we use it to gather the emails then we use MailChimp to send out the emails.  MailChimp is a great free emailing software (free for up to 5000 emails a month).  It manages subscribers/unsubscribers for you and keeps you CANNSPAM compliant.

It also has a nice copy and paste template you can drop into your website to allow people to subscribe to your newsletter outside of prestashop.   There is a new MailChimp module but the last three times I tried it, my system crashed and I had to delete it to get my store back up.  I would hold off on that for a while.


Do you use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

YES, constantly.  We have 4 Facebook accounts and each of our instructors are required to push Facebook to each student.  The way we do this is we take video and images of the dives and host them on Facebook and require our divers to friend us on Facebook to download or to see their images and video of them diving under water.

Our students find this irresistible.  Therefore, our students always friend us.  Once they are a friend they are on your friend list and you can email them anytime.  We can then use Facebook to invite all the Facebook friends (our former customers and their friends) to events.

We use the event feature of FaceBook as not just as an event planner for a day of diving or a special class, but also to sell a scuba mask.  We accomplish this by inviting them to the online store or inviting them to a FREE scuba club event where we can market to them.   Here's an example:  We host a free “understanding your gear” class and then sell wet suits after the class.

We have over 4,000 friends so it is a great resource.  We announce class start dates and special new products and all kinds of promotions using Facebook and Twitter.  We use Facebook the most.  Our friends use it the most to forward to their friends so it is a great option for word of mouth advertising.

We upload videos to our YouTube channel and encourage people to subscribe to it.  We tweet specials, events, classes, or services every two hours and spend 15 minutes each week following new people to build our Twitter list.  We have over 1,200 followers now.


What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Our first major promotion with Groupon.  We got really slammed and I made the HUGE mistake of bringing in a new trainer, that I had not previously worked with, simply out of desperation.

I interviewed him, called his references, and thought I was fine.  It turned out he was unbelievably unprofessional and a horrid trainer.  He really gave us a bad name with the few clients we let him teach.

We corrected it quickly.  Thank God for our follow up policy to call every student and see how their class went.  We fired him, reported him to NAUI and PADI and then we ended up salvaging those customers by giving them free re-training and scuba masks.

The second mistake I made was offering to help a competitor who acted like he wanted a partnership.  I helped him with his website and started a club for him.  I taught a few classes for him with the promise I would be his exclusive instructor and get his vendor rates on some products in trade for my work.

When it came time to do my first big order based on a club member low price promotion, which would have saved me $5,000, I found out he had quietly sold the business to a horrid person who would not honor the deal I had with him.  I had orders that I could not fulfill at a profit and lost a ton of money having to get the orders filled at my much higher rate.  I was so upset.


What are the biggest successes you’ve experienced?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Groupon was HUGE for us.  I did not expect it but all 7 instructors and I were on the phone for 6 days non stop from one citywide promotion they did and we were slammed with classes all summer from just one promotion.

Although there was not much profit on the promoted item, which was called “Adventure Discovery Scuba Dive for $99,” we did not loose any money on the promotion even if the students did not buy any other services.

However, almost every student who did the “Adventure Discovery Scuba Dive for $99” with us through the Groupon promotion turned into open water students and purchased the full class.

We offered a $50 coupon off the class if they bought it at the end of their discovery dive.  We brought book packs and were one short every time so we could say “1st come, 1st get” and it worked really well.  It was wonderful!


What is the best advice you can give to other PrestaShop shop owners?

Scuba Lessons, Inc.:

Tinker.  Don’t be afraid to click and tinker around the back office.  Explore everything.  Try ever module.  Just be sure to check each action after you initiate it to make sure it does not “break” your shop.  You can always uncheck the box or just delete the module folder if it causes a mess in your shop, in most cases.  I think you learn best by tinkering.  Before you tinker, however, be sure to do back-ups not just of your database but also of your entire site.

Next, there are many free modules out there.  Whenever I am just about to spend money, I hunt just a bit more and always seem to find a free version of what I'm looking for.  So, look hard before buying.

When you do buy modules, if they don’t work, hold the programmer(s) responsible.  Have them support the work by fixing it or helping you get it corrected.   This helps the entire PrestaShop community.

Last but not least, use the Prestashop Forum.  List your difficulties and if you find a solution be sure to put the complete details so someone else with the same problem can use that solution and mark it [SOLVED]!

Scuba Lessons, Inc. White Mermaid Logo

Curt Donohue

Curt Donohue is a PrestaShop enthusiast and the creator of as well as PrestaShop 1.4 Tutorials.

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Ed DeMarco April 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm

In the Scuba article, even though it is a couple of years old, you mention using Square. We use paypal for on line purchases for our Prestashop store and Square for our sales that are not on line. How do you place those orders paid through Square off site into your Prestashop site online?

Meguelito February 8, 2012 at 6:57 am

Thank you for this article!! Very good marketing tips!

Curt Donohue February 8, 2012 at 7:09 am

You’re very welcome.

Scuba Lessons, Inc. was a great interview. Tina is very knowledgeable and I appreciate all that she shared. I hope to do more interviews with store owners like this in the future.

I just need more store owners who are willing to be interviewed:)

Urban Drummer August 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Love the honest info…helped us a lot thank you! Good luck

Curt Donohue August 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Glad you liked it. Tina was a wealth of information. I looking forward to doing many more of these interviews.

Nando July 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Very good. Very detailed indeed.

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