Retailers Showcase Success on Three Islands
The 7th annual event “Masters of Retail Success in Maui” featured the success stories of four local Maui County businesses across three islands. The event was held on Tuesday, April 2 at the Kahili Golf Course, Nāhele Banquet Room.
The 2019 lineup included four businesses all rooted in local culture and traditions, featuring:
- “Hāna Feast Catering & Events,” with Hāna-based owner and Chef Gary Chow;
- “Lānaʻi Today” with Lānaʻi-based owner Alberta De Jetley;
- “L & R Farms” with Moloka’i-based owners Russell DeCoite and Lynn DeCoite; and
- “Maui Soda & Ice Works” with Wailuku-based owners Michael Nobriga and Catherine Nobriga Kim.
The evening’s agenda was hosted by Maui Business Brainstormers organizer Lori Fisher and emcee’d by MBBers John Hau’oli Tomoso and David Kapaku.
About 60 local business owners and entrepreneurs attended MBB’s signature event for 2019. Featured speakers shared business tips and lessons learned. The featured owners “talked story” about their road to success and the challenges of running a business from island to island across Maui County.
Gary Chow of Hāna Feast Catering & Events kicked off the evening with his stories of determination to earn a living and support his family in Hāna despite the challenges of the remote location. He said there “did not really seem to be an opportunity but for me it was a blank slate to ‘go for it’.”
Emphasizing his father’s lesson that “where there’s a will there’s a way,” he detailed a myriad of enterprising jobs and businesses that have formed his career, from wedding photography to vending machines to preparing bento boxes. The key to success is simple, he said, just “fulfill the expectations of your customers.” Articulating a philosophy that became a recurring theme throughout the evening, he observed that “Aloha spirit is everywhere; if you run your business with that attitude, it will come back to you.”
Alberta De Jetley, publisher of Lānaʻi Today, traced the course of her career in journalism and publishing. She did so despite the constraints of a fully manual printing process in the early days; and despite some less-than-successful partnerships. She laughingly described her “cigar box method of accounting:” if the cigar box had money in it, business was good. She acknowledged the value of ongoing education including seminars, and also talked about the unplanned adventures along the way, such as visits to Kahoʻolawe, Kalaupapa, and Niʻihau. With many projects and many roles both on Lānaʻi and on Maui, Alberta says she has learned to “think globally” and to delegate some tasks, as she looks for the next generation who might help her continue providing news and a sense of aloha and community wherever she goes.
Building on earlier themes, Russell and Lynn DeCoite of L & R Farms described the hard work of their four-generation Moloka’i sweet potato farming business. Their kupuna who would say “in working, one learns” and “little work, little gain.” Russell smiled when he reflected on what his father-in-law told him: “if you make a mistake, don’t make it twice.” In addition to working hard, the DeCoites also worked smart. When local banks declined to fund their modernization and expansion, they used their own credit and applied for grants, eventually buying the necessary equipment and technology to automate many of their chores, such as the washing of potatoes. Key to their success, they said, was identifying a core product with a niche market and incorporating family values into their business plan.
Finally, Wailuku-based siblings Michael Nobriga and Catherine Nobriga Kim of Maui Soda & Ice Works showed a slide show of scenes from their 135-year old business, 99 years of which can be traced back to grandfather Manuel Nobriga. The business evolved from delivering ice to bottling the first coca-cola on Maui to the creation of Roselani Ice Cream. A key to success throughout the years was partnering to combine resources. This included partnering with vanilla bean farmers on the Big Island or with dairy farmers in the first Dairyman’s Ice Cream products and later Roselani Ice Cream. “Retail is partnership, and partnership is all about building relationships,” said Mike Nobriga. He emphasized the importance of investing and nurturing employees, and summarized the common theme of aloha spirit throughout the evening’s talks by saying “Love what you do, love what you sell and love who you sell it to.”
The Q&A session, hosted by emcees John Hau’oli Tomoso and David Kapaku featured guest speakers who answered questions about sustainability, the challenges of operating a business on an island, and their hardest decisions. Some key advice ranged from “incorporate local products” to “partner locally” to “don’t be afraid to go outside the box.”
Collaboration, sponsorship and support for the event was provided by RJK LLC, Valley Isle Excursions, Pūlama Lānaʻi, and HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union.
Maui Business Brainstormers is a non-profit volunteer organization which provides business educational events and opportunities at no cost and with no sales pitches.