Spotlight on Business: Looking back on the pains and joys of making it in paradise

  • Mike Durand opened Quality Image Embroidery in July 2017.
  • Cheri Kull cuts material for a kit at Quilt Passions. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tiki Tan Salon owners Donna Cavalier and Brian Morris at their Kopiko Plaza location. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tiki Tan Salon owner Donna Cavalier, right, helps a customer with their skincare line. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Specialty vanilla is one of over 4,000 items stocked at Cocoa Outlet. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Farsheed Bonakdar stands in his Cocoa Outlet warehouse with over 4,000 items. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Taylor and Celeste Cline opened their popular Poi Dog Deli earlier this summer. (Photo by Karen Anderson/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Over the past year, this column has shone a spotlight on a range of local businesses and now that we are creeping ever closer to the end of the year (2019 is on the horizon, can you believe it!) it seems a particularly appropriate time to look back and see what, if anything, these businesses tell us about business life in West Hawaii.

We’ve looked at an embroidery business, a tanning salon, a quilt store, a deli, a bakery, a shopping center, a world-class sporting event, and a confectionery wholesaler. They sell things, experiences, services, ingredients, and they cover the entrepreneurial waterfront in the surprisingly vibrant commercial community that makes up West Hawaii.

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Along with their range of what one could call “widgets” — a generic term including pretty much anything an enterprise offers for sale — these enterprises come with a range of back stories. The owners or operators include those who have spent their working lives in a particular industry, as well as those who did a 180 degree turn into a new industry. They include those who took avocational pursuits and turned them into businesses; businesses with relatively small sales volumes to those with absolutely huge (no “relatively” about it) international sales; and established businesses that have been around for years and years as well as newcomers on the scene.

All these businesses have faced, if not adversity, at least challenges, in getting up and going and in sustaining enough uniqueness as individual brands to thrive.

Several of them share the curse and blessing of our location. We’re simply far away from the centers of commerce from which supplies, inventory, and financing are easier to obtain. These are challenges that they have all learned to cope with or overcome, and some have turned that challenge into part of their brand: Their particular widget shares in the mystique Hawaii holds in the minds of consumers.

They share some other Big Island challenges as well. These include surviving the overly extended permitting and renovation process that is such a joy for all of us here. Then there are the machinations of locating and leasing commercial space on the Big Island that somehow adds new layers of complexity above what one might expect in similar circumstances elsewhere.

Changing consumer patterns have affected some of our highlighted business concerns, so they have had to change with the times to stay competitive or to keep a brand edge that informs their products. And overarching everything is the life-happens aspect of ongoing existence anywhere.

So, the challenges are extensive and varied, some shared and some unique to these individual businesses. But the thing that all these spotlighted businesses hold in common is passion. Passion for what they do and passion for where they do it. They’ve all found a niche here, are exploiting it to the fullest, and are celebrating the community they do it in and their place in that community.

You can see that in their comments:

“Going from being a newcomer to being accepted as a part of the community and treated as an ‘uncle’ is a nice feeling. I truly try to make friends with my customers and make them feel like part of my ohana, and I love being welcomed as part of theirs.”

“It’s been amazing how many people have told us they truly value and appreciate what we’ve built here and what we have to offer. I hear all the time, ‘Thank you so much, we really needed this. Oh my God, I love you!”

“We live in a wonderful place but sometimes we lose sight of that. Our goal is to reflect and deepen the interest visitors and locals have in understanding this place in which we live.”

“We have the opportunity to work together as a community to make something possible that can’t be touched anywhere else in the world.”

So, business in West Hawaii: a remarkable range of possibilities and widgets coping with challenges both unique to our time and place and common across business everywhere; a passion for a personal vocational choice and the guts to pin one’s life on it; and celebration of a sense of place achievable nowhere else in the world.

One of the business owners expressed it best: “We’ve experienced both the joy and the pain of living out here in the middle of nowhere. The joy is that it’s the middle of nowhere; the pain is that it’s the middle of nowhere. But we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. No matter where they really come from, everyone here comes from a place of aloha.”

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Aloha to West Hawaii businesses and best wishes for continuing success in the new year.

Dennis Boyd is the director of the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center, funded in part through the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.