Big Island Candies
Allan Ikawa is in the business of giving, or the practice of omiyage (Japanese for “gift giving”), which is heavily ingrained in Hawaiian culture. It’s a concept that inspired him to create Big Island Candies, a gourmet confections company based in Hilo, Hawaii, that focuses on making high-quality, innovative indulgences that can be given as gifts. As an expression of gratitude toward the eventual recipient, Allan is dedicated to making sure his creations look good, taste good, and bring happiness to others. Allan and his wife Irma started Big Island Candies in 1977, and by 1999 they had graduated from a mail order catalog system to their first website. After that, the focus turned to attracting customers digitally. “That’s really why we turned to Google Ads. We needed help promoting and figuring out what to do. Google just opened us up to a whole new world,” said Sherrie Holi, president/COO of Big Island Candies.
“The real focus on Google Ads began a few years ago,” said Sherrie. That’s when the Big Island Candies team enlisted the help of marketer Daryl Johnson. “Our goal has always been to make sure that during peak holiday times, we have absolutely every channel open and available to secure orders. We’ve done display, remarketing, and search, and we’ve had a good amount of success with all of it,” said Daryl. Last year, approximately 30% of the company’s holiday sales were generated by Google Ads — a number Sherrie is looking to increase in 2019. “The internet, and more specifically Google Ads, allows us additional opportunities to share our quality products with the world,” she said. Big Island Candies also uses Google Analytics as the primary tool for evaluating the performance of its website and Google My Business to help its Business Profile stand out on Google Search and Maps.
Today, Big Island Candies has two locations and employs 125 people, though that number can climb to a staff of 300 during peak seasons around the holidays. Future plans include adding to the Big Island Candies team and reaching more customers online. “We’re looking at getting into new markets, creating a more interactive retail experience, and definitely increasing our online sales,” said Allan. The company’s gift-giving culture will also continue to be integral to its success. “We’ve been able to start the Big Island Candies Foundation. We host an event through the foundation each year, we raise money for charitable organizations, and we award academic scholarships to deserving junior golfers in the community,” said Allan. “We’re here because the community supports us, so, in turn, we make it a year-round commitment to giving back and supporting them.”
Honolulu Cookie Company
If you’re looking for an authentic taste of aloha, look no further than the Honolulu Cookie Company. Founded in Honolulu in 1998, the family-owned business bakes their premium shortbread cookies fresh daily, serving up over a dozen varieties of the iconic pineapple-shaped treats. “When you see and taste our cookies, you’re reminded of Hawaii,” says General Manager Ryan Sung. “You want to take them home with you and share them with friends.” With quality ingredients and tropical flavors, fans all over the world have fallen in love with these delicious tastes of the islands.
To connect their sweet operation to the rest of the globe, Honolulu Cookie Company turns to the power of the Internet. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, accounted for 60 percent of all their e-commerce revenue generated through digital advertising in 2017, and they look to grow that number in 2018. “We use AdWords to make sure visitors planning a trip to Hawaii also plan a visit to our stores,” explains Brandon Suyeoka, Director of Marketing. “We want them to remember that Honolulu Cookie Company is here. We want them to see us everywhere.” They also use Google Analytics to fine-tune their marketing efforts based on where their web traffic is coming from, and they create online videos to share the aloha spirit with the world. “People are visual creatures. You can see us in a broader context online,” Brandon says.
With business growing steadily every year, the future smells sweet for Honolulu Cookie Company. They operate 17 retail stores on Oahu, Maui, Guam, and in Las Vegas, and distribute their premium shortbread cookies internationally through their wholesale partners. “We are still far from our ceiling. This company can grow much bigger and do much more,” Ryan predicts. Even with aspirations of expanding around the globe, Honolulu Cookie Company never forgets their home. They support Honolulu arts and education programs, and organize charity fundraisers for local youth advocates. “It’s about giving and sharing the aloha,” Ryan says. That’s a sweet Hawaiian lesson the whole world can enjoy.
Before she started manufacturing bikinis in her spare bedroom, Taryn Rodighiero had never sewn before. “I’d never even sewn a button,” she says, “but I just decided this is what I was going to do.” For years, she’d been dissatisfied with the swimwear available to active women like herself, so in 2010 she set out to design style-forward bikinis that are “made to stay on in the waves.” A believer in taking leaps of faith, Taryn recalls, “I basically invested my life savings and bought five commercial sewing machines, put them all in our spare bedroom, and locked myself in for eight months to figure out each and every machine.” Her bikinis are now manufactured on Kauai and worn on beaches all over the world.
Taryn reaches most of her customers, whether on neighboring Hawaiian islands or far-off Australia, through the Internet, with roughly 80 percent of her sales happening on the KaiKini website. She values the targeting capabilities offered by AdWords, Google’s advertising program. “You can really be specific on who you show your ads to. With products like mine, I need that,” she explains. AdWords also helps “keep KaiKini fresh in the mind of our buyers” through retargeting ads. “For a business that generally takes a new buyer six visits to the site before a purchase is made, those reminders are crucial,” she says. Today, KaiKini’s marketing budget goes entirely to digital platforms, with AdWords returning nearly two dollars in profit for every ad dollar spent. Taryn depends on Google Analytics to keep track of these online campaigns. “Analytics is the tool we use to check everything else. It’s the one we trust,” she shares. "It provides us with marketing insights that we otherwise wouldn’t have."
With 20 percent annual growth, Taryn has moved business operations from her house to a bona fide warehouse. She is now focused on new ways to build that growth while maintaining her brand’s authenticity. She keeps design and production under close watch, to ensure quality, and is proud to be creating fashion-industry jobs, which are rare on Kauai. Her seamstresses tend to be “young, creative women who are willing to work,” she says, “and excited to be part of something that’s making an impact beyond the island.”
City Mill Company, Ltd.
Chinese immigrant Chung Kun Ai founded City Mill as a lumber-importing and rice-milling business in Honolulu in 1899. Despite troubles and setbacks over the decades, the enterprise grew and expanded into other areas, including pineapple, laundry, fishing, tobacco, and oil drilling. City Mill eventually became Hawaii’s leading supplier of wholesale materials to the building industry, and opened their first retail outlet in the 1950s. Among the oldest family-owned businesses in Hawaii, they are now a thriving home-center business with eight stores across Oahu. “We have a lot of big box competition,” says Carol Ai May, Vice President and granddaughter of the founder. “We watch our competition very closely.”
Hawaii’s unique business environment, far from the mainland, means that shipping is prohibitively expensive. So City Mill doesn’t currently offer e-commerce and depends on in-person store visits for sales. Google My Business is vital for providing store information such as store hours, photos, and directions to their Oahu customers. Google Analytics helps City Mill understand what customers do on their website, so the business can deliver information that matches what people are looking for, especially to those searching with smartphones or other mobile devices. “As the retail industry and customer expectations evolve, we need to stay relevant and updated, and be attractive to the younger customer,” Carol says. They also have a YouTube channel that features various DIY videos to educate and engage with customers.
City Mill has been a mainstay of the local economy for over a century. They’ve been named one of the best places to work nine times by Hawaii Business magazine. Carol expects they will continue to grow and become more digitally focused. Over the decades, many employees stayed with the company until retirement, while others have moved on to influence or start other Oahu businesses. “This company has been a training ground for many businesses in Hawaii,” Carol marvels. She and other family members see themselves as stewards for their generation and company. “Our business is a problem-solving business,” she adds. “And I think we've set the right tools in place to go forward.”