Hawaiian Storm Heads Toward Japan

Quiet Storm Records is growing its export market there

September, 2002

A Windward-based music producer and distributor has quietly been making big gains with its mix of Hawaiian, Jawaiian and Reggae music in far-off Japan and has its sights set on other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. With such impressive export growth, Kaneohe’s Quiet Storm Records won the 2001 Governor’s New Exporter of the Year Award.

John and Debra Iervolino started Quiet Storm Records in 1992, with Debra as the sole owner of the company and John on contract as director of artists and repertoire. Over the past decade, the company has gained recognition for its multivolume compilations, such as “Island Roots” and “Roots Music.”

John Iervolino says 2001 gross sales for the company were $1 million, with 2002 projected sales of $1.2 million. The percentage of Japan sales, its main export market, is growing. The Japan market accounted for about 22 percent of Quiet Storm’s 2001 sales and Iervolino says that percentage should grow to about 25 percent this year, outpacing Mainland sales.

City Bank Vice President for the Special Assets Department Paul Lemcke nominated the company for the 2001 New Exporter award. “The company was growing its catalog with pretty good success. They had been selling a little bit in Japan, but with the release of ‘Pure Hawaiian,’ there was increased Japanese interest, so Quiet Storm began to pursue that market,” Lemcke says. “The combination of Japan’s interest in things Hawaiian, the Hawaiian music on the album and the CD cover photo by Kim Taylor Reece made for a winning combination for export.”

Quiet Storm entered Japan’s music market seven years ago when John cold-called a Tower Records employee there. Today, Quiet Storm works with an independent Japan-based importer, whom Iervolino declines to name, but describes as, “a Japanese version of me,” and allows that the importer is a native Japanese who majored in Chicano studies in Los Angeles. “He’s very weird, but he’s very progressive,” says Iervolino with a smile.

This year, Iervolino incorporated Quiet Storm Distribution, and separated the distribution function from the record production company. He moved the distribution business out of his Ahuimanu home and into an office and warehouse on Kahuhipa Street in Kaneohe. It was a move brought about by necessity, as Quiet Storm Distribution now has more products than Quiet Storm Record’s music. The company recently signed to distribute local artist Kim Taylor Reece’s books and also distributes DVDs. “It’s not good ethics to commingle funds,” observes Iervolino about the reason for the companies’ separation.

“This is a real miracle, to be honest with you,” Iervolino says, gesturing to the new Kahuhipa Street offices. “We’ve grown and taken ground and everyone that owes us money has gone bankrupt and shrunk. Not everyone, but about 60 percent of them, maybe 70 percent.” In fact, Iervolino says Quiet Storm Records is owed a total of about $250,000 from distributors, retailers or direct accounts and two record labels that it had distributed. He counts national distributor K-Tel Records and local distributor Olinda Road among those past-due accounts that have gone belly-up.

Quiet Storm Records has gone high tech to meet some of the export and distribution challenges. A revamped Web site www.QSRTOGO.com went live in February and was advertised in a national publication in August. The revamped Web site for Quiet Storm Records accepts 10 different credit cards and can process 16 different foreign currencies. Since its launch, online sales have increased nine-fold, from $100 a month to $900. Iervolino says ruefully, “That’s going to be the bullet that will either make me or kill me, because the retailers are going to scream treason, betrayal. But I don’t have a choice.”

While Quiet Storm is on track to have its biggest export year yet, the company’s biggest challenge is in-state. Its sales of Hawaiian music in Hawaii have declined by about 40 percent in the last couple of years. Says Iervolino: “The biggest problem that we face now is declining sales in our own back yard. People are burning our stuff and swapping it for free, by putting it up on the Internet.”

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch