2011 SBA Hawaii Award Winners

10 companies and individuals are honored as small-business leaders in Hawaii by U.S. Small Business Administration

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     Photo: David Croxford

Small Business Persons of the Year

Brian Bowers, president, and Dexter Kubota, VP, Bowers + Kubota Consulting Inc.

With clients all over Hawaii, Bowers and Kubota are men on the go because they make time for their clients.
In 2010, Bowers + Kubota’s gross revenues were $20 million, up from $15 million the year before. The Waipahu-based architectural and engineering company’s secret to success – particularly in a weak economy – is superior customer service, Bowers says.

“The best client is an existing client,” says Bowers, whose company specializes in construction and project management, and design and planning services.

Joanne Arizumi, a senior VP at First Hawaiian Bank, says Bowers and Kubota value not only their clients but also their employees.

“They are always asking for feedback from their employees and customers. They want to know how their service was,” says Arizumi, who nominated the company for the award.

Among the company’s recent projects is Ewa Makai Middle School, which opened in January 2011. Bowers + Kubota provided construction management for the school, which was the first entire public-school campus in Hawaii to achieve certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

Bowers says his architectural and engineering company’s secret to success – particularly in a weak economy – is superior service.

     Photo: Courtesy HPM Building Supply ltd.

Entrepreneurial Success Award

Robert M. Fujimoto, chairman, HPM Building Supply Ltd.

In the 90 years it has been operating, tsunamis destroyed HPM’s Hilo headquarters in both 1946 and 1960, and Navy Seabees took control of its inventory and employees during World War II. Recently, big-box competitors have presented a new challenge.

Nonetheless, HPM continues to thrive. “The company is successful because of its ability to adapt and persevere,” says Art Taniguchi, senior vice president and regional manager of Bank of Hawaii, who nominated Fujimoto and HPM.

Fujimoto attributes the company’s success to local values, dedicated employees and loyal customers. “We’ve developed strong relationships over the years,” says Fujimoto, who manages HPM’s charitable foundation and, at 83, still goes to the office daily. Robert’s grandfather, Kametaro Fujimoto, and his business partner, Sanzo Kawasaki, founded the company in 1921.

In 1977, HPM was one of the first companies in the state to offer an employee stock-ownership plan. It became 100-percent employee-owned in 2006. Today, Robert’s son, Michael, is president, overseeing the company’s Big Island, Maui and Kauai operations.

“The company is successful because of its ability to adapt and persevere.”

     Photo: Courtesy Daniel Wright

Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Daniel T. Wright, owner, Tambor

Kauai native Daniel Wright was only 20 when he decided to start an acai business based on what he had seen in Brazil: Highly nutritious palm berries from the Amazon flood plains were being sold from trucks and eaten as part of a healthy, beach lifestyle.

Wright started Tambor Acai in 2006 and began receiving shipments of the product in late 2007. Tambor (“drum” in Portuguese) specializes in premium, sustainably harvested acai, often used in fruit bowls and smoothies. Wright started at farmers markets on Kauai and now has distributors on Oahu and the Big Island, and in California and Australia.

“Things are coming along,” says Wright, who turned 25 this year.
He links his entrepreneurial spirit to his personality and his experience working a variety of jobs, including bus boy, tour guide and landscaper.

“I never really felt that I wanted to be an employee,” he says.

His family has helped make Tambor possible. “Doing events, money ... they are always there to help me.”

In her nomination letter, Eliza Kobayashi, business service representative at Bank of Hawaii in Lihue, described how Wright obtained an SBA loan in January 2007 and then worked through nearly a year of delays to secure reliable suppliers that met SBA standards. During that time, Wright stayed focused, designing promotional materials and a basic website, Kobayashi explains.

“Daniel enjoys his business and believes in his product. This is what gives this young businessperson the determination to keep going.”

“I never really felt that I wanted to be an employee.”

     Photo: David Croxford

Family-Owned Business of the Year

KoAloha Ukulele, Alan Okami, VP

There are four members of the Okami family working at KoAloha Ukulele in Kalihi. But the feeling of family extends well beyond those four.

“At KoAloha, you come in as a friend, you leave as family,” says Alan Okami. Relationships are valued, and KoAloha is one of few manufacturers that welcomes direct contact with customers. “It’s part of our nature.”
When the economy is weak, sales stay strong. Growth has exceeded 14 percent per year since 2008, Okami says. This year – the company’s 16th – he expects to surpass $1 million in revenue.

KoAloha’s nominator, Malcolm Lau, a senior vice president at Bank of Hawaii, cites the Okami family’s strength as key to the company’s success.

“KoAloha was able to successfully reinvent itself from a plastics and acrylic-goods manufacturing business to a full-scale, handcrafted-ukulele business,” says Lau, who nominated KoAloha. Among the company’s original products was an acrylic Spam musubi maker, invented by KoAloha founder and musician Alvin Okami.

How did they get from musubi molds to ukulele ranging in price from $500 to $4,000? “They did it by leveraging their talents within their family,” Lau says, “... and by taking a long-term outlook in their strategic thinking.”

“At KoAloha, you come in as a friend, you leave as family.”

     Photo: Courtesy Maui Babe Inc.

Small Business Exporter of the Year

Joseph Rossi, president & owner, Maui Babe Inc.

Sun worshippers across the globe are discovering that Maui Babe’s tanning lotions turn skin golden brown, thanks to a propriety blend of kukui and macadamia nuts, aloe and Kona coffee.

The company, with annual revenue of $2.2 million, ships its lotions to the U.S. Mainland, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and expanded this year to 250 stores in Germany.

“This is quite an accomplishment, from a small retail stand on the side of South Kihei Road where (Rossi) initially started selling products,” says Rossi’s nominator, Jon Fujimoto, business banking officer for Bank of Hawaii.

Rossi credits simplicity for his company’s success. “It’s back to basics,” says Rossi, who founded Maui Babe 14 years ago. “Rather than making 15 items where quality control gets lost, we concentrate on four excellent products.”

Those four products are: browning lotion, after-sun care, sun block and a salon-formula lotion. “I knew I made a profit when our competitor called to ask, ‘How come you’re outselling
us?’ ” Rossi says.

“It’s back to basics.”

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