Welcome to the Web

KAHULUI – Jamie Sato never created a website for her 25-year-old local business, Party Paradise.

It’s because she’s “not technology savvy,” said the owner of the party supply store in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.

“I’m 52 (years old). I’m old school,” she said.

Sato is not alone among small businesses in Hawaii. According to Google, 68 percent of Hawaii’s small businesses do not have a website or online presence – though 97 percent of Internet users look online for local products and services.

“You are not going to find a lot of businesses in Hawaii (on the Internet). We are going to try and change that statistic,” said Whitney Lemon, a Google marketing manager.

Lemon led two workshops at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Wednesday in the Hawai’i Get Your Business Online event led by Google and hosted by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.

The aim of the free three-hour workshop – that brought Silicon Valley to Maui with Google logos, colors and paraphernalia throughout the room – was to help small businesses develop their own websites with the help of the iconic search engine, Google.

The workshop also offered other information on online marketing, including pointers on how to be highly visible on the Internet, how to track popular products and services people are searching for, and how to monitor how much traffic the website is generating.

In addition to its many free online programs and services, Google also pitched its paid advertising and backup storage programs.

Lemon, who resides in Iowa, told the packed room at the morning presentation that before getting to Maui, she searched the Internet for where to eat and read Maui restaurant reviews. Her habits are an example of how important an online presence is for a business, she said.

The online reviews led her to Mama’s Fish House in Kuau, Lemon said, adding that she wasn’t disappointed.

By using Google to develop a website, a tourist-oriented business can see if potential customers are searching for specific types of activities, whether they be snuba tours or whale watches, she said.

Bakeries can see what the hot search trends are for 2014. In the past, cupcakes were what people searched for, but currently, people are looking for the cronut, which is a mix between a doughnut and croissant.

“You can figure out what to stock your store or business (with),” Lemon said.

While some workshop participants were there to start up their websites, others already had websites and wanted to see how they could improve them and make them easily searchable and to pick up other Internet tips.

Megan Kanekoa, a manager at Wailuku Coffee Co., said she had no idea there was a way to monitor traffic on the company’s website. She found out at the workshop that there even is a mechanism to check how long someone looks at a website through Google programs.

The feedback she has received for her website has been brief and lacking the substance with which to improve the site.

“They said it was pretty, but that’s all friends and family. . . . But I didn’t know what (the website) was doing for us (business-wise).”

Lenny Hatori, co-owner of Gopher Water, went to the workshop to get help and advice for his current site, which is not working. If his website was up and running, it would be easier to show potential clients his water-purifying products and how they work, he said.

Currently, he is using old-fashioned fliers to describe the tankless and bottleless water cooler system. The cooler uses and dispenses tap water that is purified through various methods.

Hatori knows how important it is to have a presence on the Internet; he personally searches the Internet “for everything.”

A total of 58 percent of small businesses in the U.S. do not have a website, which puts Hawaii 10 percentage points higher than the average, said Emily Harris, a Google marketing manager from Mountain View, Calif. She would not characterize Hawaii as “lagging” but said there were some practical reasons why some small businesses may not have websites.

“I think part of it is because . . . getting online and getting a website can be a very daunting task. For business owners who don’t have access to the Internet, maybe they think it is irrelevant. But the reality is that every consumer is searching online.”

She added that many businesses on Maui are tourism-related, so it is definitely important to be on the Web.

“Me, being a tourist coming to Maui, I’m searching for everything on the Internet from where to buy sunscreen to where to have dinner tonight to where to get my cup of coffee the next morning. The only way I’m going to find out about those things is online. So it’s so important for a business to have an online presence,” Harris said.

Schatz was pleased with the turnout and told the participants at the morning workshop that even Google officials were surprised by the attendance. He said the morning workshop was so well-received that an afternoon session had to be scheduled. Both sessions were at capacity.

Google officials said that around 300 people were signed up to attend the workshops.

“This exceeded my expectations,” said Schatz, who invited Google to come to Maui for the workshop.

There was a similar workshop on Oahu last year. Maui’s workshop will be the only one in Hawaii this year, officials said.

Schatz told the participants that he got “chicken skin” when he walked in and saw them working on their websites on laptop computers.

“There is a strong desire to build Maui’s economy. And there is a strong desire for all of us to be more engaged with each other and the rest of the world and to build small businesses that are the backbone of the economy,” Schatz said.

The senator said that he recognized that many small businesses may face challenges in putting up an Internet site.

“You focus on your core competency. . . . You don’t necessarily have the time or the money to spend on getting online,” he said. “This is why this partnership with Google is so important, they are helping people get online and (so businesses can) go back to focus on what they can provide to people.”

Later in the day after the workshop, Sato said that she learned a lot and still was trying to digest all of the information.

She said she really needs a website because customers and potential customers are using the Internet to find her – and she has a different location. Some Internet sites show her at the Maui Mall.

She moved her store to Queen Ka’ahumanu Center in 2012.

Sato started working on her website at the workshop, and said she will continue to do so at home.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.