Soaking in success: Couple enjoys getting into hot water with their hot tub busines

After years of soaking in hot springs, they knew they had to spread their source of joy.

And that's exactly what Alice Cunningham and her husband, Blair Osborn, have been doing for 30 years: selling hot tubs to, among other clients, the folks of Queen Anne through their 1245 Dexter Ave. N. outlet.

Osborn and Cunningham each offer a different key to their business success, as well as their own.

"It's persistence and harmony," Osborn said, which may be two elements that helped their business to flourish while the couple continued to work together, a snag that many other businesses can't get past.

For Cunningham, it was "having a belief that we would succeed. The hardest part is getting started. The learning curve is straight up."


The learning curve was nothing but straight up for Cunningham and Osborn, both of whom had zero experience in business when they started the company in 1977.

At the time, Cunningham worked for a "bureaucracy" and Osborn was a professor at the University of Washington, but finding hot water much more enjoyable, the couple together chose a new career path.

Since they had been visiting any hot spring they could find since they met, choosing hot tubs as their product seemed obvious to them.

"We thought it was just terrific, and everybody should have one and everybody would love one if they only knew what it was," Cunningham said.

Cunningham also said the benefits of immersion continue to be expanded upon. "If you're immersed, the brain-wave activity is almost akin to meditation. The health benefits are just enormous," Cunningham explained.


But before there were studies - or even plastic tubs - in 1982, it was just Cunningham and Osborn trying to secure their business.

Not only did they start a new career; Cunningham and Osborn also had to sell the idea of hot tubs in general to the Northwest.

"When we started, we had to create a market. We started in the wood-tub business in 1977, and that was, at the time, considered a California phenomenon," Osborn said. "We had to set up manufacturers. It really was a bootstrap, starting from nothing and, additionally, neither one of us had any experience in business."

The lack of experience, however, didn't halt their plans. After figuring out how to manufacture the hot tubs, the two needed to market a product they had never actually sold.

So they took one of their wood tubs to various venues in Seattle, and they posed as models in the company's first marketing brochure.

Thirty years later, Olympic Hot Tub Co. has five branches, and Osborn said he thinks the market will allow for at least three or four more stores.

Additionally, their company is the No. 1 seller in the nation of Hot Spring Spas.


Osborn and Cunningham have met with many successes along the way - including winning the Small Business Award for Washington state - but perhaps their biggest success is that they are still working together, enjoying both the business and their marriage.

"We really started this business asking the question, 'Can men and women work together?' - mainly, can Blair and Alice work together?" Osborn said. "So we're 30 years down the road, and we've worked together the whole time. So it's working so far, and that's exciting."

But they aren't the only ones who get excited about the company.

"It's not like a washer and dryer," Cunningham explained. "This is something everybody gets really excited about. People come and tell us how much they love [their tub], and how much it's helped their health."

On top of the general excitement of owning a hot tub, Olympic customers "really do buy into the experience." New hot tub owners receive a rubber duck, and when they go on vacation - since they can't bring the hot tub with them - several owners haul the duck along and send pictures back to Cunningham and Osborn.

So their ducks have visited Prague and France and the pyramids in Egypt, to note just a few vacation snapshots.

Now that their ducks have begun jet-setting around the globe, Cunningham and Osborn figure that the business itself will continue to expand as well.

"The business is picking up so much now that it has a life of its own - with or without us," Osborn said.

"And that's very unusual, because many businesses don't survive when a founder leaves," Cunningham said. "But we feel it's so solid now, with the people that are here and the whole idea of the company.

"It can really expand from as far as we have taken it," she continued. "It's like seeing your child grow and do better than you."


Even though Osborn and Cunningham claim they are always looking for new opportunities, for now they only have a hot tub business.

But Cunningham also works closely with EarthCorps and her community in Madrona to maintain the neighborhood's native vegetation and remove invasive plants.

"Preservation is key," she said. "The green message has always been important to us, but we've seen over the years that it's more and more important. Our tubs are now so well made that the energy cost is nothing. We've also gotten rid of 99.9 percent of the chlorine, and our hot tubs operate for pennies a day."

Hot tubs have made significant progress toward using less energy, and preservation is clearly an element of the couple's business philosophy.

"Our company stands for integrity, social responsibility and fun," Osborn said.

In addition to the green message, Cunningham dedicates time as an eight-year member of the Washington Women's Foundation, which awards grants for the education of women in the field of philanthropy.

When the two aren't busy enjoying their self-sufficient business or helping the environment, they still spend as much time as they can soaking in hot springs across the country.

And, of course, they can always immerse themselves in their own hot tub when they get home.

For locations and hours, visit

Jessica Van Gilder is a University of Washington sophomore working in the News Lab in the Dept. of Communications. She can be reached by email at

[[In-content Ad]]