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7 Samurai

The new shirokiya has seven employee-owners.

The year 2001 was a record year of sorts for Shirokiya Inc. Although it posted one of the largest percentage drops in gross sales for a Top 250 company, plunging 31.6 percent from $50 million in 2000 to $34.2 million, it was a local victory. A group of employees succeeded in buying the store, which specializes in Japanese goods from Japan-based Tokyu Department Store Co. Two branches – the Maui and Pearlridge stores – were shed along the way, leaving the Ala Moana store, which opened in 1959, as the sole survivor.

Tadatoshi Suzuki - President, Shirokiya Inc.

“One of the main reasons for the drop in sales was the closing of our Pearlridge store in March (2001) and in May we closed our Maui store, leaving Ala Moana,” says President Tadatoshi Suzuki, who spoke with Hawaii Business through interpreter Walter Watanabe, Shirokiya store manager and a director.

It’s been a struggle for the seven employee-owners, but Suzuki says the retailer started turning a profit in April of this year. He expects sales to be up to $33 million this year with just the Ala Moana store.

Says Suzuki: “When you belong to a bigger company, a lot of times you have to show figures. You become a salaryman and you have to show figures to your main company all the time, but in this case right now (where Suzuki is an owner), it’s not how big the sales are, it’s the bottom line, the profit.”

Right now, the biggest issue on Suzuki’s mind is Shirokiya’s Ala Moana lease, which expires in 2003. Ala Moana’s owner, General Growth Properties (NYSE:GGP), recently acquired local retailer Victoria Ward Ltd. While Suzuki says General Growth has expressed a desire to keep Shirokiya at Ala Moana, there is a chance that the store’s square footage could change if it were relocated to another space. Suzuki says he needs enough square footage to do effective displays and merchandising.

“We have pride in what we do and what we have done for 43 years. Shirokiya has built itself from 1959 all the way to now. What we feel that we can give back to the people of Hawaii and to the tourists is we have a strong base, a good idea and we know exactly what we should do,” says Suzuki.

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