‘Masters of Retail Success in Maui’ share their stories

Lanai-based owner Alberta De Jetley of Lana‘i Today talks story with the audience during the seventh annual “Masters of Retail Success in Maui” on April 2 in Wailuku.

About 60 local business owners and entrepreneurs attended Maui Business Brainstormers’ “Masters of Retail Success in Maui” on April 2 in the Nahele Banquet Room at the Kahili Golf Course. The featured business owners talked story about their roads to success and the challenges of running a business from island to island across Maui County, then answered questions from the audience:

• Gary Chow of Hana Feast Catering & Events kicked off the evening with his stories of determination to earn a living and support his family in Hana despite the challenges of the remote location. The key to success is simple, he said: “Fulfill the expectations of your customers.” And he looked out for his community in addition to his customers — for example, feeding homeless from his food truck. 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 Lana’i Today, traced the course of her career in journalism and publishing, despite sponsors who doubted the abilities of women in business. She acknowledged the value of ongoing education such as seminars with MEDB and MBB. With many projects and many roles both on Lanai and on Maui, De Jetley says she has learned to “think globally” and to delegate some tasks.

• Building on earlier themes, Russell DeCoite and Lynn DeCoite of L&R Farms described the hard work of their four-generation Molokai sweet potato farming business, quoting their kupuna who would say, “In working, one learns,” and, “Little work, little gain.” Russell also grinned as he mentioned that his father-in-law told him, “If you make a mistake, don’t make it twice.” Key to their success, they said, was identifying a core product with a niche market and incorporating family values into their business plan.

• 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, such as joining 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.

In the Q&A session with the audience emceed by John Hau’oli Tomoso and John Kahu Kapaku, the guest speakers answered questions about sustainability, about the challenges of operating a business on an island, and about their hardest decisions. Some key advice ranged from “incorporate local products” to “partner locally” to “don’t be afraid to go outside the box” of traditional thinking.

Collaboration, sponsorship and support for the event was provided by RJK LLC, Valley Isle Excursions, Pulama Lana’i, and HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union.

For more information about MBB, visit www.mauibusinessbrainstormers.org.