Matt Halpin and Patrick Fry—childhood friends who grew up together in rural Onalaska, Wash., and now live 10 blocks away from each other on the same Washougal street—can relate.
They started with a box of vintage magic tricks purchased for a couple of hundred dollars via a Facebook ad and now are running a thriving business renting backyard hot tubs to people around the Portland metro area, delivering personal spa tubs to your backyard for as little as a week and as long as a month.
Let’s back up.
Talk to Halpin and Fry for even five minutes and they’ll freely admit to always being on the lookout for their next side hustle. (In their day jobs, they are an operations manager and a warehouse manager, respectively.) Those magic tricks, from the 1920s-1950s, turned out to be Roadshow Antiques-style lucrative, and they sold them off, piece by piece, netting what they said were thousands of dollars in profit. They used the money to buy a piece of property, spruced it up via landscaping, flipped it—and then, looked around for their next investment.
As it happens, the two have a favorite podcast called—you guessed it—The Side Hustle. About a year ago, they heard an episode with a Long Island entrepreneur who had started a hot tub rental business, capitalizing on both people’s pandemic-fueled interest in backyard staycations and on the supply chain issues that had some people on a years-long waitlist for their own tubs.
Halpin and Fry checked the market, found that no one had beaten them to the concept in Portland, and figured they’d give it a go. They invested in two hot tubs—not collapsible inflatable ones, but more durable ones made out of a composite foam, covered with marine-quality vinyl with the same bubbly jets you’d find in a traditional hot tub. The tubs plug into normal electrical outlets, and need to be filled with garden hoses; after a few days of heating up, the temperatures reach a toasty 104 degrees.
“We figured, worst case, we’d have a couple of hot tubs,” Halpin says.
Their first customer put her hot tub rental onto her Instagram page, and the idea took off. Now the two have 13 hot tubs in constant circulation around Portland-area backyards, and they’re always on the lookout for more.
“The woman that we rented to first, she owns a business in Portland, and she has a lot of followers on Instagram,” Fry says. “And so she posted and then, you know, we started renting to people that worked at Nike and Adidas and word spread through that.”
Prices start at $300 for a tub big enough to fit two people for a week, and go up from there. Their largest spa tub is big enough for six people; renting it for a week costs $400. (Adding an atmospheric cedar surround bench and step will run you another $50.) To figure out pricing, Halpin and Fry say, they compared their prices with a similar Seattle start-up, “and just made sure we were way lower than their prices.”
They make all the deliveries themselves, and each spa tub is cleaned and sanitized before it goes to its next temporary backyard home. Demand was highest in the winter and around the holidays, the two say, but if you call and ask for a tub, chances are good you’ll be able to secure one.
Given their day jobs, the business will remain a side hustle for now. Still, they say, they’ve had fun driving all over Portland together to meet new customers during installation and breakdown. The bulk of their customers are women, they say.
“I’m not even joking when I say we’ve had a few where we will show up and the husband is like,’Wait, what is this?’ Fry says. “It can be...awkward.”