2011 SmallBiz Success Awards

February, 2011

Hawaii Business proudly recognizes the six winners and 12 finalists of our 2011 SmallBiz Success Awards. From a family-owned jewelry store on Kauai to an emerging residential solar company in Honolulu, all of this year’s nominees proved that success is possible, even in a slow economy.

We are inspired by your passion, innovation, generosity to the community and commitment to customer service, and we are honored to tell your stories.Here are the 2011 winners of the Hawaii Business SmallBiz Success Awards.

We extend a big mahalo to all the nominators and to this year’s judges:

Vance Roley, dean of the University of Hawaii’s Shidler College of Business, and Jane Sawyer, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Hawaii district office, for judging the Most Innovative and Best New Business categories;.

Dwight Kealoha, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, andRandall Francisco, president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, who oversaw the Family Business and Lifetime Achievement categories; and
Gwen Yamamoto Lau, president of the Hawaii Community Reinvestment Corp., and Lisa Maruyama, CEO of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, for selecting the winners of the Nonprofit and Community Service categories.

Hawaii Business thanks all those who nominated a small business. If you would like to nominate a company for the 2012 awards, please go tohawaiibusiness.com/smallbiz/nominations.

 

Community Service Award:
Hawaii Self Storage

Helping Students, Athletes and Many Others

In one commercial, Hawaii Self Storage mascots – cartoon safes – wear University of Hawaii helmets and perform the haka. But the company, with six locations and about 10,000 storage units, does far more than sponsor UH athletics.

About 20 percent of the company’s profits are donated toward scholarships, community and high school sports, and other nonprofit causes. “No other industry or company is doing that,” says president Daniel Ho.

When Hawaii Self Storage first opened in Salt Lake in 2001, the company began supporting the community’s youth athletic programs. Since then, its support has grown significantly: The company gives about $150,000 annually to support programs throughout Oahu, including athletic programs in the neighborhoods where Hawaii Self Storage does business, Ho says.

With its Lockers 4 Literacy program, for every storage locker rented, the company sets aside $2 to buy books for schools. The company selects several public schools, and donates books to first graders, Ho says, and adds that he spends “way more” than the money set aside for each rental.

This year, the company plans to distribute a book written by one of its employees which features the company’s Mr. Safety, Ho says. The book is called “Mr. Safety Saves the Day.”

Since 2005, Hawaii Self Storage has given nearly $250,000 in college scholarships to more than 60 Oahu public-school graduates. In 2010 alone, the company funded 12 scholarships of $4,000 each, Ho says.

The company also provides storage space to nonprofits in need. Organizations that have benefitted from free storage are The Contemporary Museum and Easter Seals. While its new facility is being built, Manoa Library has been storing its books and CDs at Hawaii Self Storage free of charge.

Ho credits the leadership of Hawaii Self Storage for creating a culture of giving. The company is owned by MW Group Ltd., headed by co-founder and principal Michael B. Wood, and CEO and principal Stephen B. Metter.
“We want to give back to the community,” Ho says. “They are the main reason we are successful.”

- Jolyn Okimoto Rosa

Hawaii Self Storage
Six locations on Oahu
836-1500
hawaiiselfstorage.com

 

Nonprofit Award:
Mediation Center of the Pacific

Resolving Disputes Without Courts or Violence

People tend to fight more often during recessions and economic slowdowns. Company layoffs and overworked employees, combined with tighter household budgets and uncertainty about the future, can create tension among family members, colleagues and friends.

The Mediation Center of the Pacific Inc. works to resolve that tension, so people do not resort to court – or worse, violence.

The center provides low-cost, dispute-resolution services for families, schools, government offices and businesses, and is the only one of its kind in the Pacific region. The center also trains military leaders in Guam, Japan and Korea.

Mediation cases run the gamut from child custody and temporary restraining orders, to rental disputes and workplace conflicts. The center’s average success rate for mediations is about 63 percent.

Low-income and underserved populations qualify for free services, which have increased 25 percent during the past three years, when Hawaii’s economy has taken a hit.

The center says it opened more than 1,370 mediation cases and served more than 5,800 people in the fiscal year ending July 1, 2010. Staff and board members anticipate more activity in the current fiscal year, because of the slow economic recovery.

That’s a positive thing, says Ruth Tschumy, past president and board member for the center. “Each time a dispute is settled peacefully in Hawaii, communities in Hawaii become healthier – when people talk it out rather than fight it out,” she says. “It’s important because it allows our community to settle disputes without resorting to violence or severing relationships.”

In addition to mediation services, the center holds three-day training workshops for managers, who learn to spot cultural differences, deal with difficult behavior and listen effectively, among other skills.

The center relies on 200 volunteers and four full-time employees to keep up with the community’s demand for mediation services and training. Fundraisers and gift campaigns brought in $849,476 in the past fiscal year.

The center’s largest fundraiser, Under the Mediation Moon, is April 30. “We’re excited to present our wine-tasting event paired with food and jazz music,” says Tracey Wiltgen, executive director for the center. “We also recognize individuals who have taken their mediation skills and mediation to new heights in Hawaii and beyond.”

- Catherine Cruz-George

The Mediation Center of the Pacific Inc.
245 N. Kukui St., Suite 206
Honolulu, HI 96817
521-6767
www.mediatehawaii.org

 

Family-Business Award:
Robert’s of Kauai & Robert’s Jewelry

Personal Service, Loyal Customers

As a child growing up on Kauai in the 1950s, Milton Ozaki’s first job at his family’s store was to wave to passersby who mistook closed doors for a closed business.

“It was the first retail operation on Kauai to install air-conditioning,” recalls Milton, president of Robert’s of Kauai and Robert’s Jewelry. “Customers thought we were closed because, prior to the aircon, the doors were always open.”

Milton’s father, Robert, founded the jewelry and clothing store in Hanapepe in 1946, after learning the ropes from his previous employer, a Czech shoe retailer. Over the next three decades, the Ozaki clan – Milton, parents Yukie and Robert, and sisters Joyce and Marion – worked hard to become leaders in Kauai fashion and jewelry.
Today, the family business boasts one of the state’s largest Hawaiian-heirloom jewelry selections. About 50 percent of customers are repeat timeshare visitors from the U.S. Mainland, while loyal locals comprise the other half.

In response to customers’ requests, the company recently began buying gold. Tuxedo rental is another new service that has kept the company afloat during tough economic times.

“I’ve always been impressed with the way Robert’s has weathered the storm and changing winds of retail,” says Connie Clausen, nominator and a business-relationships manager at American Savings Bank. “Stores like Robert’s, with their personalized service and fine products, are a welcome reminder of slower days of fun, youthful memories.”

From the 1980s to mid-1990s, the company employed as many as 28 in four locations, including the high-profile Kukui Grove Shopping Center. Today, eight employees work in two stores in Lihue and Hanapepe in buildings that the family owns.

“Being away from a busy window-shop environment was better for us, because we could give better customer service for people who sought us out versus walk-ins,” Milton says.

Gross annual sales were expected to surpass $1 million in 2010, thanks, in part, to gold purchases.

Although the invitation is open for Milton’s three children in Washington state to take over the family business, he has no plans to retire yet. “My dad worked till he was almost 88,” he says. “I’m 65 now, and if I were to retire now, I would be called a spoiled little kid.”

-Catherine Cruz-George

Robert’s of Kauai
3837 Hanapepe Road
Hanapepe, HI 96716
(808) 335-5332

 

Most Innovative:
3D Travel, Inc.

Always Something New

“I’m always trying something new,” says entrepreneur Craig Carapelho.

His latest innovation is the Las Vegas site for 3D Travel, Inc., following quickly on July’s launch of the Hawaii site. 3D Travel is his latest and most successful company. Others include Genera Graphics, a generational marketing firm, and his longest running, Team Vision, established 13 years ago as one of Hawaii’s first interactive marketing agencies.

As the world’s first interactive, online three-dimensional travel site, 3D Travel uses Google Earth to create unique virtual tours. For Hawaii, a visitor can “fly” to every island, and, through one-of-a-kind local photos, videos and content, peer into luxury hotels and their amenities, check out the storefronts of nearby shops and the offerings of restaurants, and see where the ocean, mountains and visitor attractions are in context.

“It’s a fabulous travel-planning tool that allows the user to plan and book their visit experience,” says Carapelho. 3D Travel builds on Google Earth’s bird’s-eye view and builds in its own proprietary, ground-level specifics, so visitors will know where the Honolulu Zoo or Prada Waikiki is in relation to their hotel – before they get there.

3D Travel did not experience the spark of imagination and make a great leap of business faith overnight. For three years after first seeing Google Earth, Carapelho mulled over the idea of 3D virtual tours. While running Team Vision full-time, he worked nights and weekends on building a new company, attracting investors and creating a business plan, while his technical team built a prototype – all with no startup funds and limited resources during the recent recession.

A multimillion-dollar investment from Ohana Holdings in 2010 made the idea happen, says Carapelho. A year before the website went live, 3D Travel had presold major hotel brands, including the Hyatt Regency, Starwood and Hilton in Hawaii. It also managed to secure major wholesale and media partners and, eventually, more investors. Las Vegas came on board just five months after the Hawaii launch with major contracts and more funding commitments. Carapelho has plans to launch 3D travel portals in 10 cities in the next 18 months.

“I’ve been the busiest I’ve ever been,” says Carapelho, looking tired from lack of sleep, but pleased with the successful Las Vegas launch. “I’m having fun and happy with where I’m at for now.”

-Gail Miyasaki

3D Travel, Inc.
841 Bishop Street, Suite 300
Honolulu, HI 96813
792-0042
www.3Dtravel.com

 

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Opportunities and Resources, inc.

Long Career Helping Those in Need

When Susanna Cheung, the privileged daughter of a wealthy Hong Kong family, came to Hawaii in 1961 on a whim, the only job she found was working with the developmentally disabled. “I had an immediate rapport with them to understand how frustrating their lives must be,” she says. “Like me, they were waiting to discover some direction and reason for living.”

Cheung, who’s been called a “firecracker” and “full of spunk,” says she decided she “wanted to help change the way these people can become productive and self-reliant.” Earning advanced degrees as a rehabilitation administrator and borrowing $6,000 in 1980 from her husband (still not repaid, she notes), she became an early pioneer in running a nonprofit supported by a for-profit enterprise. She is gifted with good instincts, compassion, boundless energy and the ability to convince others of her vision, and has used all of these qualities to serve people with special needs in Hawaii.

Opportunities and Resources Inc. (ORI), previously known as Opportunities for the Retarded, started with two employees and 30 clients. Today, it is a vast, $4 million social services and business enterprise, with 30 employees serving 100 clients. It offers programs, housing, training and employment opportunities for developmentally disabled and low-income people, seniors, at-risk youth and immigrants, among others.
Its 40-acre complex in Wahiawa includes:

• Helemano Plantation, a restaurant/retail enterprise providing vocational training and employment;
• Helemano Village, a 12-building housing complex;
• a wellness center for the elderly and disabled; and
• Camp Pineapple 808, a 13-cabin, disabled-accessible campground and facility that is available to outside groups.

Set in an expansive tropical garden setting, ORI reflects Cheung’s sustainable approach to helping others, with new industries in fish and shrimp farming, aquaponics (with the University of Hawaii), goats for grounds upkeep and future cheese production, lavender for oils and other fragrance products, fruit trees for retail products, and 2,000 olive trees.

“What Mrs. Cheung has created is … a living, breathing, productive community that cares for its most vulnerable, while at the same time providing quality lives for all the employees,” says Dr. John Magauran, president of Physicians Providers and medical director for ORI’s wellness center.

Cheung has enlisted the help and collaboration of government, private industry, foundations, other nonprofits and the military to create a “real world” living and work environment. She envisions ORI integrating more with the surrounding Wahiawa community, as seen in ORI’s new outdoor 1,000-seat Sir Gordon Wu Performance Arts Theater.

Cheung says her biggest joy is still a beaming client who, after a first day at a first job, says, “I work good.”

- Gail Miyasaki

Susanna CHeung
Founder, President and CEO of ORI
64-1510 Kamehameha Highway
Wahiawa, HI 96786
622-3929
www.helemano.org

 

Best new Business:
RevoluSun

Photovoltaic Power In Demand

Hawaii has the most expensive electricity in the country, and that’s one reason business at RevoluSun is booming.

Its clients harness the power of the sun with a solar photovoltaic, or PV, system. In doing so, they lower their electricity bills, while also benefitting from state and federal tax incentives. “We enable them to confidently do something they wanted to do anyway,” says principal Mark Duda.

RevoluSun has grown fast since it was founded in July 2009, despite its many competitors in the solar-energy field. The company’s main business is PV systems, but it also installs solar-water-heating systems and heat pumps, which heat water more efficiently than traditional solar heaters.

The company earned $1.85 million in revenue during its partial first year. Duda expected 2010 would end with more than $18 million in revenue and he credits the company’s 25 employees. “We’re lucky because there are a lot of people who want to work in the solar industry,” he says. “They have to want to work hard because there’s a lot to keep up with.”

The staff provides what the company believes is the best service, quality and value in the Islands. RevoluSun keeps in mind not just the function of each system, but also the beauty of its design.

Solar-photovoltaic systems cost from $15,000 to $70,000, depending on the size of the system. About two-thirds of the cost is covered by state and federal tax incentives.

The state support is key, Duda says. “Policy-wise, the government realizes how vulnerable we are to disruptions in power.”

So, how does solar power work? RevoluSun’s website explains the science this way:

“Photons in sunlight hit the solar panel and are absorbed by semiconducting materials, such as silicon. Electrons are knocked loose from their atoms, allowing them to flow through the material to produce electricity. An array of solar cells converts solar energy into a usable amount of direct current (DC) electricity.”

In order to demystify PV systems and solar power, the company offers frequent solar open houses and seminars. It also does community outreach and volunteer work, such as providing renewable-energy education to schools, including Aina Haina Elementary, Aiea Middle School and the Honolulu Waldorf School.

In December, the growing company moved its offices from downtown Honolulu to the top floor of the Pan Am Building.

Clients seek out RevoluSun, convinced that conventional energy sources are unsustainable, Duda explains. “Our business lets them take corrective action.”

-Jolyn Okimoto Rosa

Revolusun
1600 Kapiolani Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96814
748-8888
www.revolusun.com

 

Finalists

Profiles by Catherine Cruz George, Gail Miyasaki and Jolyn Okimoto Rosa

 

Community Service

Access Information Management Hawaii: Access Information Management Hawaii’s business is records management and securely shredding confidential documents. In 2009, the company donated $38,000 to the Hawaii Food Bank and other local organizations. In 2010, Access hosted 17 free Community Shred Events, helping 2,500 people destroy sensitive materials like old tax documents. The company allows flex time to employees for volunteering, like coaching youth sports.

Ukulele Hale: Ukulele Hale owner, instructor and musician Jody Kamisato founded an outreach program, Ukes on the Loose, in 2007, the same year he opened his Kaimuki studio. More than 1,000 people have participated in the volunteer-run, traveling ukulele school, including students at public and private schools, senior citizens and hospital patients. High schools partner with elementary schools, including Kaiser High and Waimanalo’s Pope Elementary. “We use music and ukulele to communicate,” says Kamisato, who himself learned ukulele in elementary school. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

 

Innovation

Hookele Health Navigators: With aging in place so important for Hawaii’s kupuna, partners Dew-Anne Langcaon and Bonnie Castonguay put high-tech together with healthcare – in the home. Launched in 2010 on Oahu, iHealth Home transforms home healthcare delivery, accessibility and peace of mind for seniors and their caregivers, while improving quality and reducing cost. A plan to go statewide in 2011 means that checking on tutu can be just a “click” away.

Rising Sun Solar & Electric: Partners Brad Albert and Matias Besasso, who have been believers since 2003, have helped make Hawaii the nation’s leader in solar energy. They are heavily involved in energy education and policy statewide. Rising Sun is Maui’s No. 1 solar-installation company and Hawaii’s sixth largest, with clients across the state, including the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, the Air Force, and other businesses and residents. “Customers choose us,” says Albert, “because we’re in the business of changing peoples’ minds.”

 

Lifetime Achievement

Becker Communications: In 1986, Ruthann Becker’s ambitious vision of public relations for her new agency meant effectively creating two-way communication between her clients and their audiences, a mutually beneficial relationship. Becker Communications, which celebrates 25 years this year, has consistently ranked among Hawaii’s top five agencies. By doing its work well, it has proven that Hawaii businesses can be marketed beyond media relations as part of a company’s all-important strategic planning.

Professional Image: When Helen Godwin took over her ailing brother-in-law’s printing and copying business in 1986, the former school administrator already knew about making due with little money; she soon discovered an innate business acumen, risk-taking skills and dedication to staff and customers. In 1987, she says she took a chance on an innovative Canon color copier, which became a “game-changer” that put her in the black. She hasn’t looked back since.

 

New Business

Cabinet and Stone Factory: The company is called the Cabinet and Stone Factory, but it does far more. President and CEO David S. Chang envisioned a “one-stop solution” to remodeling by offering all the services and products a customer would need, not just cabinets and counters. After opening in March 2009, Chang says, revenue for that year was nearly $1 million and hit about $2 million in 2010.

Work It Out: Work It Out helps people get active in the right – and right-fitting – gear. Owner Jeni Kaohelaulii says her custom fittings for shoes and sports bras set her apart. The merchandise at the store in Kapaa, Kauai, includes running, hiking, yoga and paddling wear for men and women, both visitors and locals. The store opened in May 2008, turned a profit that year and has had 10-percent revenue growth every year since.

 

Family Business

KoAloha Ukulele: In August, this company marked 15 years in business as one of the world’s top makers of high-quality, handcrafted ukulele. The company’s dozen employees – including four Okami family members – work in a Kalihi factory, where instruments are shipped to dealers in Europe, Asia and the U.S. Mainland. Founder Alvin Okami occasionally can be found in public, strumming an ukulele and singing at impromptu gatherings.

Valley Isle Gymnastics: VIG’s half-dozen staff members design and manage their own programs for children up to the age of 18. They employ creative business practices: For instance, families who cannot afford tuition negotiate barter agreements with VIG. Everyone stays informed via Facebook, e-mails and newsletters. Since its start in 2004, VIG has received numerous small-business awards for outstanding customer service and ethics.

 

Nonprofit 501(c)(3)

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Honolulu: Established in Hawaii in 1963 and staffed by 18, this charity pairs at-risk youth with adult role models in academic, behavioral and professional development. Economic woes in 2009 prompted board members to ax the group’s 2010 dinner and silent auction in favor of a new “Bowl for Kids’ Sake” event. The result: $290,000 was raised, up from $177,000.

Hoike Kauai Community Television: For more than 17 years, Hoike has cablecast educational and civic programs to more than 23,000 homes on Kauai. The company maintains four channels on Kauai’s cable system, works with youth groups on media-arts projects, and provides free production equipment and studio space for Kauai residents. Since 2000, Hoike has won national and regional honors for community-service programming and volunteerism.

Mental Health America of Hawaii: MHA-Hawaii relies on four employees and dozens of contractors and volunteers on Oahu and Maui to spread awareness about mental illnesses. Since 2004, foundation grants have increased from $15,000 to $197,500, and corporate gifts have grown from $10,000 to $41,600.

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