As of tomorrow -- July 1, 2016 -- Seattle-area hot tub retail institution Olympic Hot Tubs is under new ownership.
Alice Cunningham and Blair Osborn, the husband-and-wife team who founded the 38-year-old company, have sold it to longtime employee and former vice president Don Riling.
“Life is full of great adventures, and we’re about to embark on new ones,” said Cunningham and Osborn in a message to company staff.
The couple will remain with the company in limited capacities for the next few months to aid in the transition.
Riling, who has been with Olympic for 21 years, started as a salesperson, and progressed to sales manager, then operations manager and, finally, vice president. He has been highly involved in running the firm for several years.
“He was just the absolute natural and best choice,” Cunningham said. “We felt most comfortable selling to Don because, well, we trained him so he has the same philosophy of business that we do. We expect a seamless transition.”
Cunningham said she and Osborn had been courted by some interested prospects from outside the industry, but saw more benefit in passing the company to somebody who had worked in it from the bottom up. “The important thing if you want continuity is you’ve got to have someone who you brought in, who’s extremely dedicated, who’s willing to learn the business from the bottom up,” she said.
Riling comes with 34 years of retail experience. Before joining Olympic, he held various positions for smaller companies, as well as larger corporations such as Nordstrom and Disney.
While he does have some projects in mind for the future, things will remain largely the same for the time being. “When something like this occurs, I think one of the best things you can do is continue things as is and not necessarily upset the apple cart and make a lot of drastic or significant changes right away,” he said.
The sale represents retirement for Cunningham and Osborn, who have no plans to pursue other industry interests, Cunningham said.
The couple decided the timing was right for the couple and the company, she said. “We don’t want to be carried out feet first,” she joked. “At some point, you have to say you’ve done enough.
“And our business is going so well. We have the strongest team we ever had. So it’s always go out on a high when you have a choice.”
Credited by the local press with introducing hot tubs to the Seattle area, Cunningham and Osborn started out by selling the groovy wood version in 1977. They began with a small, hidden store that barely could accommodate three model tubs. When it became apparent the wood-tub trend was on its downslope, they needed a change. Courted by a young Watkins Manufacturing, they switched products – and their business model. Instead of the one-off, custom-made wood tubs fabricated by a local company, they now were selling a line of mass produced tubs delivered from California, along with chemicals, accessories and other related goods. They sold 17 portable spas that first year.
Cunningham and Osborn changed properties, eventually expanding to its current five stores and one service/outlet center serving the Seattle area. In 2015, the outfit sold approximately 850 hot tubs.
Olympic Hot Tub has won several awards over the years. Cunningham was named Washington State Small Business Person of the Year in 2002, by the Small Business Administration. In 2006, she was named one of Puget Sound Business Journal’s Women of Influence.
It also was named Hot Springs Worldwide Dealer of the Year three times – in 1992, 2005 and 2014. Most recently, Watkins inducted Olympic Hot Tub into its Ring of Honor and named a new marketing award after Cunningham.