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A Kinder Kahala

Mall managers create a shopping atmosphere that tugs at the heartstrings, not the purse strings.

Kahala Center Co.

Shopping was the last thing on people’s minds immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. How could anyone indulge in crass materialism and lavish spending when thousands of people, including several in Hawaii, had lost their loved ones?

Ronald A. Yoda general manager, Kahala Center

The executives at Kahala Center Co. (the operators of Kahala Mall) witnessed that shift in local consumers’ attitudes. Luxury items and haute coutre – once valid reasons to spend Saturdays at the mall – were replaced by simplicity and family values. Suddenly, kin was in.

To bring back shoppers, mall managers launched a retail strategy that tugged at the heartstrings, not purse strings. “What we’ve tried to do is create an environment of comfort, a pleasant environment,” says Ronald A. Yoda, general manager for Kahala Center Co., which employs 70. The retail strategy wasn’t anything elaborate: weekly entertainment in the center court, heartwarming television commercials, a tweak in the mall’s décor, heightened security.

It was enough to put the company on track. Kahala Mall ended 2001 with gross annual sales of $15.1 million. Yoda says he was pleasantly surprised by the quick turnaround. “Last year started out strong, and then it got weak again,” he recalls. “It was a late Christmas, too.” The holiday season, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, generates at least 20 percent of the mall’s gross annual sales. Shoppers last year based their Christmas spending on the economy’s performance.

“Our customers are impacted by the stock market,” Yoda says, adding that the typical Kahala Mall shopper is a resident of Hawaii Kai, Kahala, Kaimuki and other neighborhoods in east Oahu. “When there is chaos in the stock market, they’re psychologically affected,” he adds.

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Hawaii Business,August