10/17/2017 7:00:00 AM | Business Success

Small Business Now Story: Sue Rogers of Oregon Hot Tub

Being a small business is a big deal. But it's the everyday decisions - solving problems, clearing hurdles and seizing opportunities - that truly tell their stories. These are Now Stories.

Sue Rogers knows hot tubs. She's the owner of Oregon Hot Tub, rated the #1 spa dealer in North America for the past three years. Rogers also owns a service/repair/moving company AllSpa. Here are the everyday decisions that helped her weather a recession and evolve her business, and what she's doing right now.

How did you start your business?

I had worked in the hot tub and spa industry for over a decade, and the timing was right with where I was in my career and how old my kids were, so I jumped at the chance to buy the business.

What has been the roughest time for the business and how did you get through?

I took over the business and took out a Small Business Administration loan through Umpqua in 2008. Six weeks later, the worst recession in 100 years hit … and we sell a luxury product!

We had to get really lean but, thankfully, I knew the industry. We found low-hanging revenue opportunities. We made sure we understood our assets and the equipment we had. We looked at our customer list and focused on what our customers needed. Instead of buying new, maybe they would spend money to repair or upgrade their existing hot tub. (Later on, this would lead to the idea of expanding into AllSpa.)

We let some people go, which was extremely tough. Then we cross-trained the remaining staff on water care, so they could help customers over the phone.

Everyone in the company had to become a customer service expert. This is the foundation of our success even once the recession eased. To this day, our customer is the focus of everything we do. Training our staff to anticipate our customer's needs created many sales opportunities. For example, an old, ripped hot tub cover cannot insulate properly and drives up your electric bill, so it was easy to sell new covers to existing customers and build our relationship in the process.

Umpqua was also a fantastic partner, too. Besides the SBA loan they worked with me on a line of credit to help with cash flow and make sure I could pay the next bill. We put hot tubs in an Umpqua store as part of their Local Spotlight program. My store manager, Annette, and loan officer, Mitzi, connected me to other business owners. They hosted a Chamber of Commerce event in the lobby of their store when our hot tubs were there. They connected me with an HR firm we still use. Annette and Mitzi even helped me redo my personal mortgage and get ahead on my SBA loan, all because we were working together.

And what are you doing right now?

Two big things. We recently expanded our existing warehouse another 4,000 square feet, allowing us to have a dedicated space to refurbish hot tubs. We believe everyone should own a hot tub, so in addition to financing, we are committed to offering top-quality pre-owned spas. Our second big endeavor has been installing a VoIP phone system, so all our stores, from Vancouver to Portland to Bend, are connected on one system. Our customers will always get a human being, which I deeply believe in. It also includes virtual meetings, so we can do video conferences and training sessions. Besides tying us together it will help keep my people out of traffic and improve their quality of life.