Author Archives: brian

Spotlight: Five Exceptional Locally-Owned Business in Kona, Hawaii

buy locally

We all like to say that we support our local economy and want to keep our money in Hawaii. In principle, it makes sense to buy locally as the money spent at a local business tends to stay on the island and make for a more vibrant and dynamic local economy.

Here are five locally-owned businesses that you can easily patronize instead of the big box retailers or the off-island owned chains. I’d contend that the prices are about the same or less and the service is far superior.

Gas – One my favorite local gems is the Queen K Tesoro, located across from the harbor entrance. Owned by a local family that does a huge amount of good in the community by supporting local athletics and several non-profits, this is my go-to gas station. I like the E-free gas and the store is always stocked with great snacks and even a salad bar.

Propane – Alii Gas and Energy Systems is the easy choice for home propane. Pick up your BBQ propane at the local hardware store; you’ll want to call Alii Gas for residential large tank systems and off-grid power options. The service is awesome and the prices can’t be beat. Best of all, your money will stay on island as the business is locally owned and operated.

Office Supplies and Furniture – Kona Coast Office Supply is not one of our clients, but we rely on them for specialty paper, general office supplies and office furniture. Their selection for many items is often much better than the big box stores, and they deliver their furniture set up and ready to use. If you have ever bought inexpensive office furniture at a big box store and then spent hours assembling it, you know that a low initial cost will result in a big cost of your time to set it up.

Auto Repair / Mechanic – Other than a visit to the dentist, taking your car into the shop is typically a high anxiety activity. The costs can be high, and since the modern car engine is inaccessible to most people, we feel helpless when our cars need servicing. Raymond at Precision Auto has been my mechanic for years, in fact, since the day I met him. Honest, budget conscious and very detailed are  what I like about him and his staff. Another great alternative to a chain or off-island owned business.

Pest Control / Termites – One of the things that come with our year-round great weather is a whole bunch of creepy crawly things. If you’re a homeowner, plan for termites making a meal on your structure. Mason Termite and Pest Control is a great family-run business on the island. With years of experience and an abundance of aloha, they should be high on your list.

At Kona Impact, we are all about helping small and medium-sized local businesses thrive. The big box stores and franchises almost never buy locally, and the profits from these businesses are repatriated to the Mainland. We know that the big box stores and franchises will never support us, so we choose to buy from and promote businesses that will strengthen our community.

Kona Impact | 329-6077


Will Google Ignore Your Website Now? Mobile-Friendliness

On April 21, Google rolled out an update to its search engine focused on mobile sites. Read more about it here: 

This will affect every business with a website—for good or for bad.

We have all come across a lot of websites on our phones that are nearly impossible to read because they are just a website on a very small screen or the formatting is wacky This can be very frustrating for the site visitors as they can’t view the information for which they are looking.

Many websites you visit on your phone are specially formatted for the small screen. For example, if you go to on your computer and on your phone, you’ll mostly the same content formatted for two different devices. There is a mobile version and a full-size version.

mobile website

To check your website for mobile-friendliness on Google’s tool:

Google’s new algorithm (the formula it uses to match searches with content) will now give preference to mobile sites when the user is searching through a mobile device. This means that a search for “kona snorkeling tour” on a phone and a desktop will most certainly give different results. A company with a traditional website and a mobile site is likely to have visibility for computer-based and mobile-based searches. One that has only a traditional website is likely to not appear for mobile searches.

What will this mean for businesses in Kona, Hawaii?

Well, if your business has anything to do with tourism, you are going to lose out on a huge amount of business if you don’t have a mobile site.

We estimate that over 50% of searches for tourism-related businesses are done on mobile devices, so a restaurant, tour operator, lodging provider or transportation company, is likely to be losing a tremendous amount of business if they do not have a mobile site.

Even a car mechanic, retail shop or service provider not focused on tourism will see a marked decrease in website traffic if it does not have a mobile site.

What can be done?

If your website is very old, it might be a good time to make a new website, while at the same time making a parallel, mobile-friendly version. An old car with new seat covers is still an old car.

If your website is fairly modern, we might be able to use what you have to create a mobile-friendly version fairly quickly and inexpensively. This is certainly less costly than starting over, and you will be able to be recognized by Google as mobile-friendly.

Crating a mobile friendly site for some websites might require more work.

The first step is to give us a call—329-6077-and have us take a look at what you have. From that information we can give you an estimate of the time and costs involved.

 Kona Impact | 329-6077

Think About it Friday: How a Japanese Kindergarten Design Can Help Your Business

I love TED talks. I love them so much so, that I decided to replace my morning news reading with a TED talk. They are much more uplifting than the news, and I find them a great way to get my mind thinking about what I do and what I can be doing.

One of the best talks I’ve seen recently is one about the design of a kindergarten in Japan. The basic premise of the talk is that design and architecture mold our environment and smart design can encourage movement, interaction and development. Here’s the video:

My take aways from video (as they relate to business) include:

1. Creating useful space can be achieved through removing barriers and clutter as much as it can be made through adding.

2. Communal space (like the four-sided wash basin) will create interaction and community.

3. Risk taking can be encouraged through design and planning.

4. Sometimes the solution to what we need is not at ground level.

5. Kids (and adults!), given the opportunity, will explore the space you give them.

6. Nature in a work environment can bring beauty and connection to the outdoor world.

What could your business do differently?

Kona Impact | 329-6077

A Model for Business Giving: Time, Talent or Treasure

First, this idea is not mine. I heard these three words first at a Rotary Club of Sunrise meeting several years ago. It has stuck with me throughout the years as a quick and easy way to remember what my company has to give: time, talent or treasure (money).

I get asked at least twice a week to donate to some cause. Yesterday it was a call about sponsoring a school’s folder; last week it was for printing flyers for an event, and two days ago it was mentor high school students. We said no to two out of three requests: sponsoring a school’s folder and mentoring high school students because we didn’t feel these would be a good use of our resources. Our experience with mentoring in the past, especially if it is school-directed, has not been good. We’d rather pay a young person to do actual work and learn along the way-a better win-win for all.

We have a few guidelines we use when deciding if we will give, and whether the donation will be our time, our talent or our money.

  1. Will the donation make a significant difference? There are many big organizations that received substantial federal, state and county funding. We tend to look at smaller groups that are self-funded or run on a very small budget. I like lean organizations, as I feel what I give them will make a big difference. A few hundred dollars to an agency that has a $2 million budget is unlikely to make a big difference.
  2. Is it a cause I believe in on a very deep level? Supporting education, children, the arts and the physically disadvantaged are what we focus on. These are part of what we know and understand, so groups that focus on other issues are generally less interesting to us. To this end we have given to Holualoa Elementary School’s literacy program, Deep and Beyond’s snorkel days and camps, Family Support Hawaii (Board of Directors), the Rotary Club of Kona’s Community Foundation (Board of Directors), Hawaii Island Growing Our Own Teachers (Board of Directors), and Aloha Theater/Aloha Performing Arts Company (new website and free hosting).
  3. Is our donation a multiplier? Providing PR materials for event multiplies our contribution many-fold. Providing expertise or consulting will help the entity grow or refine processes—a definite multiplier.
  4. Does Kona Impact get a PR benefit? Ok, the truth is that we want something in return. A nice thank-you letter is great and sufficient in most cases. Our logo on shirt, sign or email is good, too. If it’s for an event, thank your sponsors by name.

Last year we gave a $750 (retail) banner to a group. Their focus was something we believe needs attention. We will, however, decline future donations because we did not receive any recognition for what we had done: not a thank you letter, not recognition in the program, not even a call.

give us a donation

Note: please do not waste money on a West Hawaii Today mahalo ad! Send a simple letter or card to each donor instead! It’ll mean much more and it’s something they can put on the wall. Don’t waste money thanking us for giving money!

In the past Kona Impact used to write a lot of small checks; we now say no a lot and try to engage non-profits on a much deeper level.

 Kona Impact  | 329-6077

Ways Small Businesses in Kona Can Exist in a Land of Big Box Stores

The reality in Kona is that the big box stores—Walmart, Target, Kmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Costco—all have huge advantages over smaller, locally owned and operated businesses and stores. The have economies of scale, strong distribution networks and can fill our Sunday papers with advertisements each week. If you want to sell toothpaste, paper towels or 2’ x 4’s you are guaranteed to be beat on price and selection.

That said, there are some ways small, local businesses do well in Kona. We work with a lot of these businesses at Kona Impact and have come up with four keys to beating the big boxes, or, at least, developing a strong, sustainable business.

Develop connections with other small businesses. I am always amazed at how some small businesses in Kona will buy everything they can online or shop exclusively at chain stores and franchises, yet they expect others to buy locally. When you talk with other small businesses owners, participate in a paddling team, attend church or participate in a Rotary or Lions club, you are connecting with people who might become your customers. Even more important, these local businesses have a strong “coconut wireless” system for referrals and information. Get involved. Shop locally. Get connected.

buy local kona

Be the source for expertise in your area. I do not expect the employee in the Walmart garden section to have any knowledge of plants. They are just there to ring up your sale. The local nurseries, however, have very knowledgeable employees and can help you figure out what grows where you’re at and what doesn’t. I don’t expect the guy at the 20-minute oil change to look at my vehicles the way my local mechanic does. Sure, he costs more, but in the end, I feel like I’m getting much more value.

Have what the big stores don’t. I watch a tens of construction guys a week pick up specialty lighting from the business across from mine. The builders know that their customers, the home buyers, want quality and specialized lighting solutions—not the kind of stuff you’ll find at Lowe’s. Kona Coast Office Supply doesn’t bother with the cheap, flimsy file cabinets you’ll find at Walmart: they have the good stuff. Keeping a good inventory of hard-to-find items and helping clients with special orders is something the big stores often fail to do.

find a niche

Make it in Hawaii. Target is a huge store, about 100,000 sq ft or more, yet the “Hawaii” section is minuscule, maybe a few hundred sq ft. Walmart’s Hawaii section is mostly items not made in Hawaii! Come up with products that can only be made here, whether it is Dragon Fruit jams, Mamaki Teas or tours in Hawaii. Go where they won’t go. Selling at the local farmers markets and village strolls won’t make you rich, but they are an ideal way to connect with customers and introduce them to your website, which will allow you to sell to them anywhere at any time. You also might want to try selling to Costco; they have a pretty good reputation of local sources for agriculture products and some consumer good.

We all know it’s ridiculous to try and beat the big box stores at their own game. You don’t need to; there are many local businesses and people that are eager to buy locally and support their community. The key is to offer something the big stores can’t, whether it is specialized products or services or awesome customer service.

Kona Impact | 329-6077

Making Sense of the County’s Sign Code

We had two clients who own businesses in Kona express frustration with the sign code yesterday. One remarked, “Apparently the county doesn’t want me to be in business” after he was told he had to remove his small A-Frame sign from a place that was clearly not a safety issue. When a business owner says that we should listen, as he pays tons of taxes and runs a business that employs several people. It’s also a business that decided to rent space that has historically been vacant most of the time, so he has taken a bit of Kona blight and made it more vital.

First, a few things on which we can all agree: 1) nobody wants to see billboards on the side of highways or Las Vegas-like lighted signs, 2) nobody wants signs that have electrical or structural issues to not be properly installed and permitted, and  3) behind every sign there is a person trying to make a living.
las vegas signs

My problem with the County of Hawaii sign code is that it is not at all connected to the reality of what Hawaii Island is and what businesses need to do to survive. It’s also about 35 years old and doesn’t fit today’s reality.

Sure, on one hand you have a very small group of people who claim to protect the scenery of Hawaii by actively reporting sign code violations, no matter how big or small. No problem with that; we live in a democracy and they have a right to lobby, complain and have a vision of what they want Hawaii to be. They do not, however, represent all people, and they certainly do not represent the small business community, which in Kona provides way more jobs, services and economic vitality than all the big companies combined. At last count, we have over 2,000 small businesses from Hawi to South Point!

Here’s my problem with the sign code:

  1. It’s way too restrictive. Here’s one from the Prohibited Signs (Section 3-61) for any sign in Kailua Village: “Any sign for product advertising when visible to the general public. A sign containing only the name of a business is not a sign for product advertising.” So every sign you see that includes a product logo that is visible to the general public is technically in violation of the code. Also in that section of the code, temporary event signs can only be eight square feet. Anyone who has been on Alii Drive for the annual Ironman event knows that almost all the temporary signs on the buildings are nonconforming. Some of those temporary signs are 100+ sq ft! The code needs to be more flexible.
  2. It’s selectively enforced. Some districts have many nonconforming signs and some districts have less. That said, even in the areas where the sign code is enforced, almost all signs you see still do not meet code. Realtors put many Open House and other signs up that are nonconforming, but they seem to have a blanket pass from enforcement.
  3. It’s anti-business. Kailua-Kona is not a very well-planned community. Many of the buildings date back fifty years or more, and, truth be told, many are in varying states of disrepair. Retail shop space is often in hard to see locations and down dark and narrow passages between buildings or on the 2nd floor. The street front businesses have good visibility, but a lot of the affordable and open spaces are very hard to find. Signs are how these businesses direct people to their locations. One masseuse we know has a 2nd floor oceanfront location, but it is impossible to find without signs. When the county, through the property manager, made her remove her small street-level sign, her business dropped dramatically. She is now considering stopping her lease, which will not only affect her livelihood, but also add to the inventory of disused space.
  4. Signs are not what makes Hawaii Island beautiful (or not). Sure, if you hate signs and don’t care about the business and people’s lives they support, any sign is an eyesore. I find the numerous big box stores with huge buildings, lighted signs, large parking lots and Mainland goods as much more of an eyesore than the small businesses with a banner out front. The dilapidated buildings on Alii Drive are much more of an eyesore than the signs on them.The point is that the beauty of Hawaii Island is the skies, mountains and ocean. If the naysayers spent their efforts beatifying the medians of roads, the airport, our beaches and areas like the Old Airport, they would have a much bigger impact on making Hawaii a place that fits their image of what Hawaii should be
  • county-sign-code

Maybe it’s time to re-write the code in a ways that supports businesses and jobs, while at the same time protecting us from the things that can really affect our quality of life. If you own and business and are frustrated, contact your county council member and lobby for a reasonable sign code that helps instead of hinders business.

 Kona Impact  |  329-6077


Thoughts on Earth Day 2015: Why We Do (and don’t) Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Earth Day 2015 at Kona ImpactWatch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

I have to admit that we are guilty of not always doing the right thing when it comes to the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

earth day 2015

I think our experience can be informative for other businesses in Hawaii and perhaps even provide some ideas how to reduce the impact business has the environment.

Here’s what we have learned:

  1. All you can eat is a horrible model. At our old location, we had a huge dumpster, and since the building was mostly empty, the dumpster was seldom full. That meant, there was always space to throw things away and there was no direct cost to consuming and discarding. There was no incentive to reduce waste, as twice a week, the dumpster was empty and we could fill it up again.
  2. Shared cost is a horrible model. Our previous building had no separate electric meters for the first floor; the electric costs were divided amongst all the first floor tenants. As a result, we paid approximately 1/7th the electric cost no matter how much electricity we used. Consequently, our cost for electricity was not directly tied to our use, as we were subsidized by the other tenants. This, of course, led to a lot of waste by us and other tenants.
  3. Recycling has a cost. We now have a big office that allows us to have ample space for cardboard boxes, which we have a lot of because a lot our supplies come in boxes. We now have a large stack of boxes and take them to the county recycling location periodically. Our old location did not have any extra space, so it was much more convenient to take them out the dumpster right away. Bad choice for the environment, but a rational choice for us. When it’s convenient to recycle, we do it; if not, we’ll take the easiest alternative: the dumpster.
  4. Incentives matter…a lot. I’d like to think we’re all conscious of our decisions and the environmental consequences of what we do. Perhaps we are, but we are also very aware of the costs of actions or inaction. We are separately metered at our new location. As a result, every second of air conditioning and a light being on is a cost for my business. I see a direct correlation between use and cost. Since I would rather have the money in my pocket instead of the power company’s I don’t turn the A/C on until we need it. Lights are off if we’re not in the room. Computers and monitors are turned off every night. Money matters. If you want some pro-environment action, make sure it makes sense financially.
  5. It’s not all about the money. We often propose sign solutions for our clients that result in less revenue for us. This might include suggesting that we reuse an existing material or that we use the back side some foam core displays. For banners for yearly events, we’ll often suggest changing the date only instead of making a new banner. These suggestions make us less money, but they do less the environmental impact. We’re ok with that.

After over eight years in business, we have learned that we, like many others, often take the easy, expedient option instead of making a better, more environmentally friendly choice. As I always tell our clients, business (as is life) is a process of becoming, a journey instead of a destination. We try to learn, reflect and become better every day.

So, on this Earth Day 2015, we acknowledge our weaknesses and strive to do better with how we affect the environment every day.

Monday Business Focus: The Value of Getting in the Game

At Kona Impact we meet a lot of entrepreneurs. We also see several “want-a-prenuers”, people who are always thinking about starting a business, but for some reason fail to get anything going. These are the people who have a lot of ideas, so many, in fact, that they will often come to Kona Impact and try to talk through their ideas and fish for advice.

The want-a-prenuers all have something in common: they are watching the business world from the bleachers or the sidelines: they are not in the game. They are spectators stuck in the world of “could,” “might,” and “thinking about”.

start a candy store

The entrepreneurs are in the game. They have a product or a service and are doing business, sometimes very little business and sometimes a lot of business.

The value of being in the game is immense. You will learn:

  1. Is your product or service wanted in the marketplace?
  2. How much you can charge for your product or service?
  3. What are your expenses and costs?
  4. How much does it cost to acquire a customer?
  5. Is your business viable?

You will never learn the answers to these questions from the sidelines. You can guess, but our experience at Kona Impact with working with hundreds of entrepreneurs is that your guesses are likely to be wildly inaccurate, so much so, that they probably are only a good first-day estimate and will be thrown out after a few weeks or months of being in business.

The want-a-prenuers have ideas….lots of them. The entrepreneurs have experience, loads of data from the process of being in business, and a lot of customer feedback.

We know there is nothing more humbling that reality. That said, there is nothing more valuable than knowing if you are wasting your time (i.e., your business is not viable), you can make it with changes (95% of viable start-up businesses we know) or if you have a runaway business that will bring your huge profits and little competition right away (maybe 5% of business, probably less).

How can you go from want-a-prenuer to entrepreneur? Easy! Go from idea to product. If you are a service business, start pitching potential customers. Go all in. If you treat your business like a pastime or a hobby, expect very little financial gain from it.

At Kona Impact we work with hundreds of businesses a year, including some of the largest employers on the island and many small mom and pop businesses. Let us help you!

Kona Impact | 329-6077

Three Ways We’re Trying to Improve Our Customer Service

Exceptional customer service is not a destination; it is a process of evolving and becoming better. I seldom see a business that does everything right all the time.

customer service word cloud

At the beginning of this year, Kona Impact set out to improve all our processes, from our invoicing and billing systems to our project management and communications systems. We put everything on the table and tried to find ways to do them better. Most of the changes we made are not visible to our customers, but they help us plan, implement and bill our projects more efficiently.

One thing we did was move to a space that is more than twice as big as our old office. This allowed us to have a dedicated production room, and a lot more storage space. The additional personal and work space is great, and it allows us to meet one of our primary goals this year: same day and next day turnaround on many of our products.

We now keep more than enough inventory to allow us to fulfill almost all banner, foam core, PVC and aluminum sign orders in a day. This is what we would want as consumers, so we are trying to provide this to our customers.

Another thing we did was to expand our deliveries to clients. So, for example, a customer staying at a resort in the Waikoloa area can, if the order meets certain criteria, expect same or next day delivery on a print or sign order. A local client can expect us to drop off most orders the same or next movie Everest 2015

fast delivery

Finally, we try to recognize companies that do an exceptional job at customer service. This might include a mention on our blog or writing a positive Yelp! or TripAdvisior review.

We hope that by observing others, we can learn and grow. Likewise, we strive to help new businesses by sharing what we have learned.

So, 2015 has given us some new ways to serve our customers better:

  1. More space and inventory to reduce production time and allow same and next day turnaround.
  2. Expanded delivery options.
  3. Focusing on learning and growing by implementing best practices we see with other businesses.

We’ve been meeting our goals most of the time, and have far exceeded them some of the time. Just last week we had a local restaurant bring in their large beer sign. We made a proof, got it approve, updated the sign and delivered it in less than 24 hours. We also put some vinyl signage on a local retailer the same day they requested it. Yesterday we had a consultant who needed several reports printed and bound that day. We did so and delivered them to the Mauna Lani, allowing her to spend two  more hours enjoying her time in Hawaii instead of driving to Kailua-Kona and back.

Are we going to get everything right all the time? Certainly not. Are we going to learn from our mistakes and seek new ways of becoming more customer-centric? Absolutely.

Kona Impact has been helping new and established businesses on Hawaii Island for since 2006. We’ve  seen boom and bust economies and have worked with hundreds of local businesses on their design and marketing needs.

Kona Impact   | 329-6077


Great Results with No Effort….Really??

A guy walks into his annual physical with his doctor. He says, “You know, Doc, I don’t have lot of energy, I can’t play sports like I used to and, well, things aren’t going very well in the bedroom either.” man with no energy The doctor looks at his chart and says, “Well, you’re very overweight, and your blood work shows high cholesterol.

The guy replies, “Oh, that’s not good. How can I get my weight and cholesterol down?” The doctor answers, “Well, you need to eat less, eat more healthy food and exercise more. Those are three ways you can achieve better health. We have classes and program that can help.”

The man says, “I don’t have time to exercise; I love pizza and beer; and, I don’t want to make any major changes in my life. I’ll try to figure it out myself.”

The doctor’s answer: “Well, with no change, I guarantee tomorrow will be the same as today, only worse. There are no miracle cures.”

Later that day the man gives an online marketing consultant a call and says: “business is down. I know I’m not reaching my potential with my company. My customers say that can’t find my online easily, and my website is outdated. Can you do some magic to change this?”

The consultant looks at the website and runs some tests on the site’s visibility and says, “Well, your website is 8 years old, it’s only three pages and it does not meet Google’s guidelines.”

The guy replies, “Well, I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on this, maybe just a few hundred dollars. Can’t you just do something with what I have?”

The consultant replies, “What you want is for me to take your old Honda and make it perform like a Ferrari. Can’t be done. Your website needs to be replaced. Fixing an old website is like fixing an old car; it will always be sub-optimal.”

Do you recognize your approach to health or business in any of the scenarios above?

We all want quick fixes and instantaneous results. The problem is that fundamentally changing your health or business requires fundamental change. At Kona Impact, we say that there are no home runs in marketing; that is; there are no singular actions you can take that will change everything for your business. Life and business are like that: results require effort and, yes, sacrifice.

Much of this effort requires professional help and costs. I hire a mechanic to fix my truck, and he hires me to help him get found online. We both know what we don’t know.

I suspect that many business owners that want results without meaningful effort understand the impossibility of this. I think these business owners are too focused on today and tomorrow to see the long term benefits of having a professional and solid online presence. They don’t see the thousands, tens of thousands or millions of dollars of business they are currently losing to competitors who do it better. They view a few thousand dollars as an unwanted expense and not an investment in their business.

At Kona Impact we have worked with hundreds of business owners over the years. We have seen some come and go and many who have started with nothing reach wonderful levels of success. We know there are no miracles and “home runs” in business; it’s much more complicated than that. If you want solid, cost-effective solutions for your business, give us a call.

 Kona Impact | 329-6077