Uncommon Sense: Helping Small Businesses

Kona Impact has been around for more than 16 years in a small, physically isolated community in the middle of the Pacific Ocean: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Our town has about 35,000 residents and our island, the Big Island / Hawaii Island, has about 220,000 residents. We get a few million tourists every year, so we’re a big area with a small population and a modest number of tourists. 

Kona Impact has worked with thousands of new and established small businesses over the years, and we’ve seen many successes and failures along the way. Every business struggles with attracting and retaining customers. Our most-valued customers are those who live here, as we will have many opportunities to engage with them and build our businesses over time.

Small Business Matters

Research which businesses are locally owned. 

All things being equal, a locally owned business will keep more of your money in the community. Here are ten businesses that you may not know are locally owned: Queen K Texaco, Standard Bakery, Matsuyama Stores, Poi Dog Deli, Bike Works, Kona Sports Center, Ola Brew, Krua Thai Cuisine, Precision Auto and HPM building supply (employee-owned). Don’t be afraid to ask when you patronize a small business and keep a list of ones that you will give special consideration to when you are choosing where to spend your money.

Look critically at where your dollars will go.

Spending $100 at Wal-Mart will probably result in 80-90% of that money leaving the island. Some will go to local employees, but most will leave the community. Sure, it’s hard to find a local company selling motor oil or toothpaste, but there are many that sell clothes, coffee, art supplies, fabric, alcohol, and frozen pizzas. A dollar spent at KTA, a locally-owned grocery strengthens our community more money than a dollar spent at Safeway. Anything spent online will have almost zero positive economic impact on our community. 

Advocate for Small Local Businesses

As a small business owner, I can attest to the value of referrals. If you have a local business that you love, write a review on Google. If you have a bad experience, tell the business, as most want to make it right. Letting your friends and acquaintances know about a great local mechanic, dog groomer or restaurant helps that business get noticed. 

Use Cash or a Check

When you use a credit card or debit card, businesses pay 1-3.5% of the transaction cost to the payment processor. That money leaves the island immediately and is an added cost, which you inevitably pay. This can easily be avoided by using cash or a check. Kona Impact recently had a fairly large invoice settled by card–we forgot to turn off that payment option–and ended up losing over $500 in transaction fees. Ouch!

Pay Particular Attention to Critical or Highly-Value Business

We have one art supply store in town. If you need special paint or a drawing pencil, they are the only ones who will have it. We used to have an awesome office supply store in town that would sell specialty papers. There is one specialized European Auto mechanic shop in town. There are countless others that, if lost, will result in our inability to get the things we want. The point is that if you want this type of business in town, you need to support small businesses year-round, even if that means buying some things at higher prices. 

I advocate for a change in the criteria for purchasing decisions. Instead of using price or convenience, consider, too, the impact your purchase will have on your community. Will it contribute to a stronger, more diverse, and more vibrant local economy?