If Jeanette Otsuka Chang had her way, the plaque she’ll receive as the state’s small business person of the year would be sliced into 40 pieces, shared equally with all the employees of Otsuka’s Furniture & Appliances, and Otsuka’s Too!
More than wishing to accept congratulations for winning the U.S. Small Business Association’s top annual award for Hawai’i small business people, and qualifying for potential national recognition, she was interested in making sure credit was given to her three general managers: Ron Victorino, Jeff Hayes and Baltazar Manibog.
“Without having wonderful employees and, primarily, my three general managers, I could not have won this award. Absolutely not,” said Chang.
“Everything that this company is is a result of everybody who has stuck with me through a lot of tragedies,” she said, pointing to two fires, the death of her father Wally Y. Otsuka, Sr. and her brother Wally Y. Otsuka, Jr., hurricanes and other calamities that may have forced a lesser person out of business.
Chang took over Otsuka’s three years ago when it was in a state of disarray, and she isn’t totally joking when saying she won the award because the selection committee was sympathetic to all she has gone through.
Without possessing a degree in business, Chang turned her passion for shopping into a total redesign of the Otsuka’s main store on Kuhio Highway at the northern end of Kapa’a.
Not only did she transform the store’s interior with totally new merchandise, but she cooks lunch almost daily for employees and customers, and will soon take up Sub Zero representatives on their offer to install a demonstration kitchen somewhere in or around Otsuka’s main showroom.
“We have tried to make this store a second home,” and regular customers come in just to say “hello,” and bring their friends in. “There is absolutely no pressure to buy,” ever, she added.
“Because I always feel that, eventually, if you’re ready, if you like who we are, you will come back. And that’s my whole philosophy,” said Chang.
“The more comfortable I can make you feel, the more at home you’ll feel and, maybe one day you’ll see something you like and you’ll buy it,” she said.
“I really love people, and everything including how the salespeople sell is all about people. It’s about making relationships, not closing the sale,” she said of the secret to her success.
“I looked at who I have, and I simply empowered people to do what they do best,” she said.
Setting an example by cleaning floors, moving furniture and dusting tables, and doing other work that a company president doesn’t usually do, Chang influences her employees to not be tied down by job descriptions.
That’s pretty easy, because there are no specific job descriptions, she said. Accountants are called upon to cook and serve at private sales, and delivery people tend bars at those after-hours functions.
“It’s really nice to see that this is a family more than a business, I think.
“You have to have a passion. You have to love what you’re doing. And you have to love the people you work with,” she said. “It’s more about people than sales,” she continued.
Also, she felt the need to thank her company’s loyal customers. “Without them, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. The Otsuka’s intent is to keep money on Kaua’i, build excitement here, and offer fine furniture, too, she said.
She has also continued her family’s long commitment of giving back to the community, approving donations to local causes like Kiwanis Club, Kaua’i United Way, The Salvation Army, the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce, the Kaua’i Veterans Council, the Hawai’i Jaycees, Kaua’i Economic Opportunity, the Boys Scouts, and various Little League entities.
She lives in Lihu’e with husband Adrian. They have three grown children, and a grandson.
First Hawaiian Bank’s Paul Endo nominated Chang for the award.
“I’m just grateful that someone nominated me,” she said.
“It’s just overwhelming,” she said not only of the congratulations that have come from the community, but in the sheer amount of paperwork involved in the application and selection process for the SBA honor.
Through part of the process, she asked Endo to “un-nominate” her, though it was probably way too late for that.
Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 224).