Oregon's Sue Rogers Talks About The Hot Tub Industry

photo of Steve Hammock, Steve Ruscigno, Sue Rogers, and David Doornick
Steve Hammock, President of Hot Spring Spas; and Steve Ruscigno, Sue Rogers and David Doornick of Oregon Hot Tub, Beaverton, Ore.

In February, Oregon Hot Tub was awarded the Locksin Thompson Dealer of the Year award by Hot Spring Spas. The company was selected from more than 700 dealers worldwide, and Sue Rogers, president of Oregon Hot Tub, couldn't be prouder.

Rogers, who had been general manager at Olympic Hot Tub Company in Seattle, purchased Oregon in the spring of 2008, just as the bottom was about to fall out of the market. How did she survive? "I had bet everything on this, and failure was simply not an option," she says. "And so, when failure is not an option you start to buckle down real quick and get clear about where your revenue is coming from, what you're spending your money on, who is producing the right results, who's got the right attitude. You've got to do that real quick."

Let's start with you buying the business in 2008. How did that come together?

At that time it was called Oregon Hot Spring Spa. It had been in business for about 30 years and had been started by a guy named Wilfried Mueller-Crispin. I started discussions to purchase the company from Wilfried in September or October of 2007, and we were able to get the deal finalized.

So I bought Oregon, and closed on it at the end of April 2008. I was very, very fortunate that the general manager, Steve Ruscigno, who was with Wilfried for eight years, decided to stay with me. He is truly the man who leads the company day in and day out. He's definitely the driver of what we've accomplished.

Then, about eight or 12 weeks after I bought the company they declared the second-worst recession in a hundred years. So we certainly had our work cut out for us. We had an incredible reputation, a great company, really great employees, and then the world just shifted underneath our feet. We had to make some hard decisions early, and had to control our costs immediately.

So we focused on controlling costs, we let some people go β€” we had 38 employees when I bought the company and we have 19 now, including me. We've done a lot of streamlining, and our employees have really stepped up and cross-trained. We've had a tremendous focus on our customer base β€” we're blessed with 23,000 existing customers, and I have to say that without them we wouldn't have made it these last four years. Wilfried, who carries a significant portion of the buyout, has been incredibly supportive. I've made every payment on time, and four years later we have no debt, other than that long-term debt. We're really quite proud of what we've done.

To have Watkins Manufacturing see what we're doing and recognize the work that our team has done and the work that Steve has done in leading the organization is really an honor. Hot Spring dealers, in my opinion, are really the best of the best. Really, it's a recognition for the whole team, which has gone out there and done a good job of taking care of our customers and promoting hot tubbing as a lifestyle choice. These last two years have been very difficult, but we've managed to make a profit, increase our sales and take care of our employees. We even managed to bring back some of our benefits that we had to streamline several years ago. It feels good, and we are looking forward to this year. My personal opinion is that it's going to continue to be hard, but hard is our new normal, and we feel like we've kind of figured things out.

The bottom line is that we've used smart business practices. You have to run your business off your income statement and your balance sheet, and you have to retain the best people that you can, and they need to give the best service to your customers that they can. Good business practices are always smart β€” I don't care what the economy is.

When I bought the company I didn't have a lot of long, multi-year relationships with the employees, so I was able to look at what was going on now, who was contributing, who had the skill sets to take us forward. Those are never easy decisions to make, but it certainly was easier to make them without the history there. Steve did have the history, but to his credit he was able to find his way down that path, as well. We made our decisions quickly and early. I was not under the illusion at any point that this wasn't going to be a long haul. I've never had a good year, I didn't have all those things that other folks in the industry had, I didn't have a war chest that I could ride for a few month. Like I said, failure was simply not an option.

I think a lot of other folks would have waited a year, or thought, 'Oh, I'll just get through this next summer.' I didn't even have that choice. I had to pay the bills this month, right now. I think that really helped us, and even to this day we focus on every single week. We don't sit around anymore and see if we can make our month. We're trying to win each and every week. That's really Steve's leadership. He's a big sports guy and he believes in running the fundamentals and practicing, practicing, practicing and being really good at what you do and measuring those results. That's what we do, and we do it week in and week out.

You mentioned earlier that you worked at Olympic. What did you learn from Alice Cunningham?

Alice and Blair, and Don Riling, are all dear friends of mine. Don and I go back probably 30 years now. Alice is an amazing marketer and Blair is just a laser when it comes to finances and cash flow and all those things. They've been very supportive and I very much appreciate my relationship with them. We're similar in size, we're similar in philosophy.

I learned a lot from them.

In a way you've got to be both Alice and Blair for your company.

In the last year and a half I've taken on all the accounting and all of the bookkeeping and all the accounts payable and all that. But when I was with Olympic I was the general manager and I reported to both Alice and Blair. I learned a lot about the hot tub industry, the history of the industry. Again, they're both just amazing. And Don is a really gifted leader, too. His ability to create events and push the needle on sales in truly amazing, and I learned a lot. And, when I was there, I brought a lot of my previous retail experience into their company. So together, I think we accomplished a lot.

Any final thoughts?

The health-and-wellness aspect of hot tubs is really an important thing to emphasize. I think it's going to make a big difference over the next few years.

Also, while we promote that to our customers, I think it's also important that we all take a step back and relax a little ourselves.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

Page 1 of 47
Next Page
Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide
Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library