Former law enforcement officer dives into new business opportunities

Tyler Brewer isn't your typical small business owner.

This summer, Brewer found a drowning victim at El Dorado Reservoir in his role as Augusta's public safety director and member of its dive team. He's also the majority owner of Amber Waves Diving Company and Wichita CPR Training. And he teaches a few college business courses at Friends University and Southwestern College.

“As my kids grew up, I thought I'd like to have my own business to see if I could make a go of it, and put into practice those principles I've been teaching all those years,” he said.

Brewer earned a master’s in business administration early in his law enforcement career. He retired as a division commander with the Wichita police department in 1995, then worked as police chief in Jefferson City, Mo., and in human resources and marketing for an aviation company before taking the Augusta job in 2003.

He has been a scuba diving enthusiast since the 1970s. In addition to selling dive gear and accessories, Amber Waves offers classes for beginners to advanced divers. The 5-year-old business also maintains dive equipment and organizes trips to Florida and the Caribbean.

“We have many markets,” Brewer said.

One is staging summer camps on contract with the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson – astronauts train underwater to simulate gravity-free environments, Brewer said – and Greater Wichita YMCA. Another is training public safety divers for police and fire departments around the state.

“One of our bigger markets are the baby boomers who are empty nesters,” he said. “You know, 60 is the new 50. They have disposable income. They're interested in travel and fun and excitement, and scuba offers that to them.”

Dive classes start in the shop before heading to YMCA pools or Beaver Lake for open water training.

Brewer's business partner is Tim Follis, a member of the Augusta fire department who's a master scuba trainer.

Brewer said he's followed many of the practices he taught in business courses, such as developing a mission statement, charting a five-year plan and revisiting his goals every year to see if he's on track.

To counter a slide-off in business during the winter, Brewer last year started offering CPR, first aid and automated external defibrillator training.

“It was a good fit for us,” he said. “We are emphasizing that as much as we are the dive side of our business. We do a lot of training for day care providers. Under Lexi's Law (approved by the Kansas Legislature in 2010), they're required to be certified every so often.”

Last month, Amber Waves moved to 1,800-square-foot quarters in east Wichita, about twice as much space as it had in Augusta, bringing it closer to its customer base.

Brewer's son, Brian, runs the day-to-day operations, while his wife, Linda, helps in sales.

Brewer said he's incorporated some of his students' ideas into the operation, including the creation of a terrifying, fictitious creature called the Great White Wheat Shark that is used to help market the business.

“I think it totally benefits students having a practitioner who actually has a business teaching them,” Brewer said.