There may be some aspects to living and running a business in Alaska that are quite a bit different than what you’d find in the lower 48, like waiting an extra two weeks for your products to arrive by barge, but it seems that some things were universal across the hot tub industry over the last two years.
“Everything just got busy,” says Bobby Carlson, owner of Alaska Stove & Spa in Anchorage, Alaska.
“It got crazy busy,” adds Christy Carlson, Bobby’s wife, who also works in the business in sales and accounting.
Bobby, or Robert Carlson III, is the third-generation owner of Alaska Stove & Spa. His grandfather, Robert Carlson I, started the business in 1967 as one of the first companies to sell wood stoves in the area. Right out of high school, Bobby’s father, Robert Carlson II, started working in the business — eventually taking over for Robert I. Bobby, however, didn’t see the family business as his clear path.
“I had no plans to become part of the business,” Bobby says. “But over the years, I eventually gravitated right back.”
Bobby and Christy had spent some time out of Alaska but found the grass wasn’t necessarily greener, Christy says. “It was around 2010 when we started evaluating our lives and kids and futures, and decided to come back up and help out with the company,” Christy says.
They moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where Christy grew up, to run the Alaska Stove & Spa location there. And here is where you find not just an Alaska quirk, but something unique even to Fairbanks: While there are many EPA-approved wood stoves, Fairbanks has even more restrictions as to what can be sold and installed. Bobby and Christy ran the Fairbanks location during a period when there were change-out programs so people could switch out old, noncompliant wood stoves with approved ones. Then they closed the Fairbanks shop and went to Anchorage to focus solely on the main location. “Thankfully we did, because there would hardly be any stoves that we’d be able to sell there now,” Christy says. “And [Fairbanks] is so far away. It’s hard to manage 400 miles away.”
Back in Anchorage, the couple set their sights on finding a new location. They had a large facility in an industrial area, which was perfect for their contractor customers — but as more and more of their business turned consumer-facing, they needed a location and showroom that would entice them. It took them years to find the right place. “We had a vision,” Christy says, and they weren’t going to buy a new location unless it fit that vision.
Even though it took a while, the timing couldn’t have been better. When COVID hit, they hadn’t found the right spot yet, so they had their nest egg for the new location to fall back on if they needed to. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case — so when the right building did come along in June 2020, they had the funds to jump on it.
“One of the great things we had going for us was that we were planning to have both locations open for about a year,” Bobby says. “So, we brought in inventory to fill both stores. But we never did have two stores operating at the same time.” It was a blessing in disguise, he adds, because all that extra inventory was needed to run the main store.
Slowly and steadily, Bobby says he has been knocking things off his business to-do list, with the hopes that he can free up some more of his time. “We’ve always been really efficient,” Bobby says. “That’s something my dad passed on to me about efficiency and keeping your eye on the ball, and that’s contributed to our success. But I’m kind of a workaholic, and certainly the goal is get some more free time. That’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.”