Hawaii's Best Small Businesses 2013
Hawaii Business and the federal Small Business Administration honor 32 small businesses and small-business champions in Hawaii
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Young Entrepreneur of the Year
SG Group Inc., dba Pho Factory
Sponsor: James Chong, American Savings Bank
By Stacy Yuen
Billy and Krystal Giang.
Photo: Mark Arbeit
Billy Giang is on the fast track.
He graduated from the University of California at San Diego in three and a half years, then got his real estate license, married his high school sweetheart, had two children and became the owner of a thriving restaurant business. And he’s only 25.
“I’ve always done things differently,” says Giang. “Ever since college, I’ve approached things systematically. But I wasn’t always on the right track.”
He admits he was a “troublemaker” up until eighth grade, but things just “clicked” when he started high school. He turned things around and graduated from Saint Louis School with a 4.1 GPA.
He says he’s not sure why that happened, but thinks it may be because a strong work ethic was instilled in him at a young age.
Giang’s parents fled Vietnam in 1985 with literally nothing. “Our family lived in two studio apartments in Waikiki. Fifteen of us were in one and there were nine in the other one,” he says. “I grew up that way. I had to work since I was in the fourth grade.”
As teenagers, Billy and his future wife, Krystal, who is from Japan, met through a student exchange program. They are partners in life and business, juggling duties at Pho Factory while raising a family.
They decided their eatery needed to stand out from other Vietnamese restaurants. Giang’s parents, who are now successful business owners, provided the financial boost for Billy and Krystal to turn Saigon Garden into Pho Factory.
“We hired The Harris Agency to establish branding and marketing,” says Giang. “We got a new name, new signage, new uniforms and a new logo. We needed to pull ourselves out of the ‘mom and pop’ arena with a name that’s easy for people to approach. That’s how we came up with Pho Factory.”
James Chong, assistant VP/business relationship manager at American Savings Bank, says he was immediately impressed by Giang’s work ethic and maturity.
“When I met Billy, in his early 20s, I knew he was different,” says Chong. “He approaches business by planning for the long term. I believe he’s going to be among the likes of Peter Kim and Eddie Flores.”
Although Giang says the ultimate goal is being Hawaii’s next franchise-restaurant success, he’s taking it slow.
“We’ve had people talk to us about investing or franchising, but we’re not ready for that,” says Giang. “We want to make sure everything’s under control before we take that step.”
Hanapaa Fishing Co.
Sterling Kaya, Owner
Sponsor: Larry Nagayama and Clarence Regalado, Hawaii National Bank
By Jolyn Okimoto Rosa
Mabel and Sterling Kaya.
Photo: Mark Arbeit
Hanapaa Fishing Co. has a great atmosphere. You can feel the aloha as employees provide good, old-fashioned customer service: There’s no pressure and they seem genuinely interested in helping you find what you’re looking for.
Customer Jason Hijirida says he likes Hanapaa because the staff is always willing to help.
“Just ask any of the workers there and they will help you with anything ranging from equipment recommendations, how to’s and, especially, fishing stories,” says Hijirida, 43, who works in sales at Toyota and goes deep-sea fishing in his spare time.
That comfortable, helpful attitude reflects the views of owner Sterling Kaya, whose father Fred, bought a fishing business, Peterson Fishing Supply, in 1993. Even in the early days, Sterling was managing the store.
“At the stores, we encourage the guys to help the customer, if (he or she) wants to talk story and get tips,” Sterling Kaya says. “It’s not about sales. ... It’s about helping customers build a relationship. We don’t discourage customers from hanging out.”
Hanapaa’s main store on Dillingham Boulevard carries fishing and diving supplies and some apparel. The Pearlridge store also has supplies, but more apparel. Sterling’s mother, Mabel, handles the day-to-day operations of the stores, and his wife, Traci, runs the Pearlridge store.
Sterling Kaya is also the publisher and editor of Hawaii Skin Diver Magazine, published quarterly, with an international distribution. He also co-produces a TV show called Hawaii Skin Diver.
Business has been “pretty steady” through the ups and downs of the economy, Kaya says. When things are booming, some customers say they don’t have time to fish, he says. On the flip side, a down economy might give them more spare time.
“We don’t benefit from a boom or get too killed by a down economy,” he says.
The business is solid because the stores’ merchandise is all paid for and the business has “tons of cash,” says Nagayama, assistant VP and branch manager of Hawaii National Bank’s airport branch. “That’s pretty amazing for a small company.
“And when you add in the fact that Hanapaa is doing a TV show and a magazine. ... They are not just running a store, they are at the forefront of an industry,” he says.
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