Growing by Going Global

5 success stories prove that small, local companies can flourish nationally and internationally

(page 2 of 3)

     Dave Erdman’s PRTech launched the first Japanese-language
     iPad app about Hawaii.
     Photo: David Croxford

Riding waves of innovation

Four days after the introduction of Apple’s iPad, PRTech LLC president and founder Dave Erdman was headed to Asia armed with a Korean- and Chinese-language video on Ala Moana Center that his programmers had reconfigured for the digital device.

Erdman’s iPad show-and-tell was a hit at meetings in Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai, where travel agents and reporters clamored just to touch the device.

“Nobody who I met on my trip had seen one. That shows how we try to make sure we are looking at what is next and how to utilize that technology,” he says. “You’ve got to keep up to date on consumer, marketing and technology trends to be in the game of global marketing.”

Less than two months later – and only four days after iPad’s May 28 launch in Japan – PRTech offered the first Japanese-language application about Hawaii, The app offers trip-planning tips, Hawaii news, maps, reviews, traveler interviews and a photo gallery.

“We got to take advantage of the frenzy and excitement in Japan over the iPad ... In the first 14 days after launch, we had over 4,000 downloads of the app,” Erdman says.

As the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2010 “Exporter of the Year” for the Hawaii/Pacific Region, PRTech was recognized for pioneering multilingual online marketing and technology platforms that help hotels and other travel-related businesses capture a greater share of the Asian market.

PRTech’s marquee product, MyRez 2.0, is a Web-based reservations booking system that solved the problem of how to allow Japanese travelers to make arrangements online in their native language while employing English on the “back end” of the system where their requests are processed.

Erdman says PRTech also was first in the travel industry to employ Twitter in Japan and Korea, and created YouTube videos to teach others how to use it.

The marketing executive has extensive firsthand knowledge of the travel industry and Asian markets: He founded PacRim Marketing Group in 1990, has lived and worked in Japan, and also held positions at Hill & Knowlton/Communications-Pacific, Tropical Rent-A-Car, charter operator Suntrips and several major hotel chains.

PRTech was established in 2004 as a separate company under Act 221, which provided state tax incentives to high-tech firms. “PRTech developed out of the opportunity to connect with Asian travelers directly through a new medium – the Internet. The company was established because of technology changes and the opportunity to have a team dedicated and focused on multilingual technology in that market,” he says.

“Establishing it as a separate entity had business advantages. It was a specialized company with a focus on multilingual technology solutions, and it made hunting for talent easier because you could understand what the business model was.”

PRTech now employs 17 full-time marketing and technology specialists, a majority of them Japanese, Korean or Chinese nationals. Most work in Honolulu, but the company also has offices in Tokyo and on the U.S. West Coast. // 945-2727


No plan, just gut feeling

     L&L’s Tokyo restaurant
     Photo Courtesy: Josie Akana

When word spread in early May that a winning $266 million Mega Millions lottery ticket had been sold at an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue outlet in Los Angeles, it was news to Eddie Flores Jr. that any of his Mainland franchises were peddling lottery tickets. Quickly recovering from his surprise, Flores capitalized by serving up a $3.99 “Super Mega Lotto Meal” promotion within the week.

“We’re going, we’re doing it,” he says of the decision.

That phrase could serve as the mantra for L&L Franchise Inc., parent company of L&L Drive-Inn and L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, which together comprise about 200 restaurants in 11 states, New Zealand, American Samoa and, most recently, Tokyo. Flores says “gut feeling” rather than extensive market research and cautious planning guided L&L’s expansion beyond Hawaii.

Flores and partner Johnson Kam purchased the L&L Drive-Inn on Liliha Street in Honolulu in 1976, and began franchising in Hawaii in 1988. A decade later, the entrepreneurs felt they had saturated the local market. “We were maxed out already from opening 40 new restaurants and were happy at that. Expanding to the Mainland was not in my mind,” Flores says.

But when they heard a former employee had opened a plate-lunch diner in the Mission District of San Francisco, the L&L owners investigated. “It was not a good location and not a good operation, and yet it was busy. We thought, ‘If this guy can do it without the know-how or financing, we should be able to do it better,’ ” Flores says.

After a name change to play up the Island connection, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue opened in 1999 in West Covina, Calif. There are now 104 operations in that state, twice as many as in Hawaii.

“We had absolutely no plan,” Flores says. “It was a shotgun approach. Everything I learned in school I didn’t apply. It was gut feeling.

“We saturated the market as fast as we could to get the good locations before the competition could. We survived the recession and a lot of the competition just died; they closed.”

Along the way, L&L developed a business plan based on a decentralized system of franchise ownership, with restaurants operating as separately incorporated profit centers. While offering no direct financing, L&L will guarantee loans or leases for franchisees.

A striking characteristic of the restaurant chain is that immigrant families own many outlets. “We are set up for immigrant mom-and-pop operations, and we’ve found the chance of success is almost double than when you hire a manager to run your business,” he says.

The L&L Island-themed menu and decor is largely intact from outlet to outlet, but there is room for tinkering, such as lottery ticket sales in Los Angeles, a sushi bar in Manhattan’s financial district, and brown rice and green salads in health-conscious San Francisco.

“(The New York franchisee) was barely surviving and asked us if he could do other things. ‘Be my guest – anything to make it work.’ That would never happen at McDonald’s. Anything they can do to make a living, I give my blessing,” Flores says.

“It wasn’t systematic. There was no market research. It’s crazy, but we know our concept works,” he says. // 951-9888

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