There aren’t many in the hot tub industry who can attribute their spa career to Rush Limbaugh, the now-deceased radio personality, but Chris Ogden can. In 1999, he was in between jobs, sending his resume out to any company that sparked his interest. “I would hear Rush Limbaugh talking about Hot Spring Spas, and I thought, ‘Hey, hot tubs. That sounds pretty cool.’ Long story short, Watkins Manufacturing was looking for a regional sales manager in my area.” Turns out that position had already been filled, but there was a local retailer about to open a store near where Ogden lived and the Watkins national sales manager recommended he check it out. “I’d never worked retail in my life,” Ogden says. “Next thing I know, I was there 16 years selling hot tubs.”
Ogden moved on from that operation, but in 2015 helped start and runs Time Machine Hot Tubs in Longview, Texas, and Time Machine Spas in Tyler, Texas. More recently, he has expanded the business into Oklahoma, delivering and servicing spas in the booming resort area of Broken Bow. Ogden started the business with its owner, and his friend of 45 years, Clark Maloney.
“I’m lucky that I have coworkers who have become friends,” Ogden says. Now Ogden’s fiancé, Pene, also works for the company. “We’re one big happy family selling hot tubs,” he adds.
Ogden is funny and gregarious, with a Texas drawl made for telling stories — but it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. COVID hit hard, Ogden even spent several days in the hospital with the virus himself. The mental strain, he says, may have been the worst of it.
“When [COVID] started, I couldn’t sleep,” Ogden says. “I was a nervous wreck — Pene thought I was going to drop dead from a stroke. We sold one hot tub in March of 2020. I thought everything we’ve worked for and built up [was] going away. And then boom, in April sales went up 900%. People were buying hot tubs like crazy.”
The product shortage, long lead times and financial success that came next also helped give Ogden some perspective.
“Nobody stresses more over things than I do,” he says. “I’m happy go lucky, but inside, the hamsters and squirrels [are] chasing each other.” When the business first opened, Ogden felt like he couldn’t leave: “I was here seven days a week. That got old real quick. You don’t have time for a life outside of the store. Finally, when hot tubs were in such short supply, we started being closed Sunday and Monday, and that made a world of difference.”
With thousands of new cabins in development in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, there will be many hot tubs to sell and deliver in the next few years. Ogden isn’t counting on new sales to sustain the new location and long-term profits, but on the service the second-home and Airbnb sectors require.
“People don’t want to have to fool with water care, washing filters and wiping down covers and all that,” he says. “So we’re gonna do it, and we’re gonna charge ’em for it. And most everybody I’ve talked to, they’re more than happy to pay it.”
Even though he may be a worrier, Ogden ultimately believes COVID has changed the hot tub business for the better: “We’re to a point now where people see the value that a hot tub brings to their life. We have great products. I think people are starting to resonate with them now, because of what we’ve been through with COVID.”
Photography by Maddie Vickers