Founders & Visionaries - May 2011
Six companies with visionaries at the helm.
(page 4 of 6)
The original Taniguchi Store.
Serving the Community for 95 Years and Counting
apanese immigrant Koichi Taniguchi had the simple purpose in 1916 of providing for his growing family and humbly serving the community by opening a modest 500-square-foot grocery and dry goods store in Hilo. Little did he imagine that 95 years later, his grandson, Barry, would oversee a Big Island family enterprise that includes a chain of six supermarkets, its own “Living in Paradise” television show, two successful private label product lines and a well-earned reputation for giving back to the community.
“Looking back, we were always guided by my grandfather’s business philosophy to support the community because the community supports us,” says Barry Taniguchi, KTA president and CEO.
More than a simple immigrant success story, KTA continues to be a work in progress that bridges traditional values with savvy business practices and attention to customer loyalty with innovative initiatives. Family members still work in the stores and its more than 750 associates know many customers by name. KTA was the first supermarket in the state to offer an in-store bakery (1977) and to fully install UPC barcode scanners (1979). Over the years, it has seen homegrown competitors close shop and has faced competition from Oahu supermarket chains and Mainland Big-Box chains.
Founders Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi.
Taniguchi believes a work ethic of customer service, perseverance, fiscal caution, thoughtful changes and, yes, luck, has shaped KTA’s ability to survive and thrive. Its first branch store in downtown Hilo survived the 1946 tsunami that destroyed its original Waiakea store. A surprise offer in 1959 to take over Amfac’s Kona store allowed KTA to expand to the West side.
Other decisions were tougher. Growing rapidly in the 1980s, with three stores opening in six years, the company endured Costco’s entrance into the local market and the burst of the Japanese economic bubble. “That’s when the company retrenched and spent the next decade diligently paying down our debt,” says Taniguchi.
In the late 1990s during the demise of the Big Island’s sugar industry, the late Tony Taniguchi, Barry’s uncle and predecessor, saw the need to redefine KTA’s role in the community’s economic transformation. The result was KTA’s first private label, the Mountain Apple Brand, which created a marketing venue for small farmers and producers to get their fledgling products on store shelves and get themselves established in business. KTA’s “1916,” its second private label named after its founding year, expands its food offerings with items manufactured outside Hawaii.
Barry Taniguchi, President and CEO
Reflecting on his family’s enterprise, Barry Taniguchi advises budding entrepreneurs to “Work Smart and Gambare! (Go for it).”
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