Longtime owner and manager emboldened through adversity
Photography by Vanessa Weber
Double-digit growth every year since 2008: Oregon Hot Tub general manager Steve Ruscigno likes to say it, but knows he can’t predict next year, or the year after that. But having weathered two bricks to the head — 9/11 and the 2008 recession — the well-regarded Beaverton, Oregon, business has emerged with a firm grasp on what works for them and what doesn’t, and that has led to bold moves since SpaRetailer last profiled the store nine years ago.
Though we’ve often quoted Ruscigno and owner Sue Rogers in our pages in the interim, since our 2009 story on Oregon Hot Tubs, “we closed a store [in Salem, Oregon], opened two new stores, moved a couple stores, and newly remodeled the flagship store in Beaverton [pictured], modernizing the space with an open floor plan and a kitchen,” Ruscigno says. It also opened an entirely new set of stores, Jacuzzi Hot Tubs Portland.
Going back a bit: Ruscigno’s first day at Oregon was March 16, 2001. Rogers had been general manager of Olympic Hot Tub when Ruscigno was GM of Oregon, and “Sue and I pretty much started in the industry at the same time,” Ruscigno says. He came from operations in the Navy, and in warehouse and distribution operations. Rogers came from retail (think Disney stores in malls, Ruscigno says).
Rogers purchased Oregon in 2008, six weeks before the recession: “It’s really been Sue’s focus, drive and leadership that pulled us through the recession,” he says. In this largely unforeseen catastrophe, Rogers came up thinking fast: Ruscigno insists Rogers knew the recession was coming before it came — and immediately made financial moves that gave Oregon stability in the long term.
“We live and die by the economy,” Ruscigno says, “and Sue attacked it head on. She’s always been cutting edge, almost too smart for the industry.”
Ruscigno recalls that Rogers pinned signs up around the store that said, ‘We are at war, we will win.’
To this end, she and Ruscigno pivoted toward what Ruscigno calls “the low-hanging fruit” — the service side of the business. “During that time, a lot of the bottom-feeder dealers went away,” he says, “so there were a lot of orphan spas out there; lots of people bought spas from a home show or at Costco, and had no way to get them serviced. Or they would move and inherit a crummy hot tub. So we focused on getting in people’s backyards.”
Ruscigno worked for a legacy owner before Rogers and saw the contrast in that, he says. “Since 2001, the sun hasn’t shone much in this industry, but she has made sunshine,” he says. Sue always says, “It’s not your Daddy’s hot tub company.” It sure isn’t: About four years ago, Oregon Hot Tubs made another bold move, opening Jacuzzi Hot Tubs Portland.
“I know people won’t believe this, but there’s not a lot of crossover in the markets,” he continues. “We would tell our friends not to do it, but it made sense for our market. We researched it for five years, but I don’t know anyone else’s market.”
Rogers was “upfront with everybody,” Ruscigno says, “about what we were doing. It cost us a lot more money to do it this way because we did its own branding and website, out of respect for Hot Spring.”
He and Rogers wanted to offer a premium hot tub at a reasonable price, whereas most of its competition hung around at the $5,000 to $7,000 range, he says. “We were always fighting the Costcos and other lower-end hot tubs,” he recalls. “We didn’t have a good, strong competitor in our market at the high end.”
Ruscigno says the company “tracks leads meticulously” and found that Jacuzzi leads and Hot Spring leads were from different people. “So we didn’t just trade spa sales,” he says, “we actually just grew both by adding them as our own competitor.”
Oregon Hot Tub also added Hydropool swim spas a few years ago. It came out of the gate selling a dozen or so, and has doubled revenue every year for the last three years. “People still believe we do stuff on a whim, but we studied swim spas, as we do many things, for about five years,” he says.
It now sells swim spas in all of its locations now. “Hydropool has a very unique culture,” he says. Hydropool was just purchased by Jacuzzi; he’s “not sure” if that bodes well for Oregon Hot Tubs yet.