Kauai aims to boost business by promoting local merchandise

By: Marty Wentzel

In the summer of 2003, Kauai mayor Bryan J. Baptiste presented a challenge to Beth Tokioka, Kauai County’s director of the Office of Economic Development.

“He wanted to find a way to better support small businesses while spreading the word about Kauai’s wide array of products,” said Tokioka.

Today that challenge has blossomed into a creative new campaign to promote Kauai through its unique merchandise. Called Kauai Made and funded in part by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the program is scheduled to launch in March online, on-island and at trade shows nationwide. The program’s brochure and Web site will act as a catalogue of sorts, letting clients know about island-specific souvenirs and where they can be found.

“If you search for Kauai products on the Web today, you come up with nothing that is comprehensive or even user-friendly,” said Tokioka. “Having a strong Web presence and offering a variety of high-quality products will be a great service for our visitors.”

Tokioka noted that a growing number of travelers arrange their activities online before they arrive.

“With Kauai Made, they can pre-plan where they want to shop and what they want to shop for,” she said. “We’re helping visitors get what they want in the most efficient way.”

Many return guests are looking for what’s new and different when it comes to Kauai products, Tokioka said.

“They also have a sincere desire to support local businesses,” she said, “because repeat visitors often feel that they are part of our extended ohana [family].”

In a recent Kauai Visitors Bureau exit survey, 85 percent of those polled reported that they shopped for souvenirs during their island stay, and 80 percent said that they shopped specifically for Kauai products.

“We hope to link them with the merchandise they want to buy and at the same time, provide an incentive for local product makers to utilize Kauai materials and value-added processes, which would infuse more dollars into our local economy,” Tokioka said.

On average, 18,000 people visit Kauai every day.

“With just over one million visitors per year, that’s a tremendous opportunity for our retail sector,” Tokioka said.

Assuming that each party spends $50 on souvenirs, sales of Kauai products can translate into a $19 million-per-year industry, she added.

Kauai Made’s logo represents a traditional Hawaiian hookupu (gift) wrapped in ti leaves.

“We love this logo because of its cultural significance and because the hookupu can represent any type of product,” Tokioka said.

For background information and guidance, Tokioka studied other destination programs, including Made in Hawaii, Made in Maui, Mountain Apple (Big Island) and the state of Oregon’s branding effort. Perhaps the most informative and useful program was the Made in Alaska program, she said.

“Made in Alaska has been around for 20 years and is codified extensively in state law,” said Tokioka. “Looking at their documentation and talking to their coordinator was very helpful.”
Unlike the other programs that Tokioka studied, Kauai Made offers permits to qualified retailers as well as product makers, rather than focusing solely on products. In addition, Kauai Made is backed by marketing efforts which benefit all participants who hold valid permits.

“We’re starting with a Web site and promotional brochures in racks around the island, along with prominent visibility in the stores of our retailer members.” said Tokioka. “Eventually, we hope to have the resources for a fully developed marketing and advertising campaign. There is no other model I’ve seen that puts so much emphasis on marketing.”

Along with the Web site, the county will work with the Kauai Visitors Bureau to distribute Kauai Made brochures to potential customers at travel shows on the mainland.

“You don’t have to visit Kauai to buy Kauai products,” Tokioka said. “On the other hand, we can use Kauai products to help market our destination to potential visitors.”

If all goes according to plan, Kauai Made will help small businesspeople who can’t afford to do much marketing on their own.

“Many smaller product makers and establishments don’t have the resources for a significant Web presence or on brochure racks, where many of our visitors get their information on where to shop and what to do on Kauai,” Tokioka said.

The county is currently enrolling vendors in the Kauai Made program.

“Based on the interest we have seen so far, we expect to have a vast assortment of products, including apparel, jewelry, food, crafts, stationery, furniture, music, art and photography,” said Tokioka. “We’re accepting virtually anything as long as it is in good taste, of good quality and made here or made from materials found on Kauai.”


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