HANAPEPE — When Laura Cristobal Andersland opened Salty Wahine’s doors nine years ago, she had $800 in her pocket. Fast forward to 2017, and she is on her way to a $1 million year.
“It has grown tremendously,” she said. “But we certainly have had our challenges, that’s for sure.”
Like many small businesses on Kauai and throughout the state, Salty Wahine learned to persevere.
“We had some permitting issues, with construction of a new facility, and it was very time-consuming,’” Cristobal Andersland said. “You have to be very proactive to keep your permit moving along. Normally, Kauai people are just passive and we don’t normally want to get in people’s faces, we don’t muddle the water. But I learned that you have to be the squeaky wheel sometimes, which was not my nature. A squeaky wheel makes things move faster.”
A recent WalletHub study revealed that Hawaii ranks among the worst states to start a small business, ranking 44th in average growth, 50th in cost of living and 46th in labor costs. On Kauai, there are some businesses that have come and gone, and then there are some that still open after decades of serving the community.
Ray Duarte, owner of Shoe Repair Shop in Lihue, has been saving soles and patching up shoes, suitcases and other accessories for almost 41 years.
Over the past four decades, times have changed in the cobbler industry. From cheaper, lighter shoes being produced, making Duarte’s job to fix them nearly impossible, to high costs of owning a space, significant changes have been made to keep the Shoe Repair Shop in step with today’s economy.
“Finding a cheap place to rent was difficult. Rent was always a difficulty. But over the years, I’ve had good people that I work with,” Duarte said. “But it depends on what area. My first shop, I had pretty good rent and every time I was about to be successful, something happened. Like Hurricane Iwa. Then I went to Kukui Grove and the rent was pretty high there. I left there and came here. Here, the rent is good.”
More so than being able to pay his bills, Duarte understood that to keep a business thriving on Kauai, vrelationships were essential.
“It’s a small island, you got to treat people good and be nice to everybody,” he said. “You need to have a rapport with the customers, don’t be a jerk. People don’t come back, you’re not going to please everybody. But the majority of the people come back and what’s nice is the next generation of families come to the shop. They know where to go.”
Sharron Weber, owner of Tire Warehouse Kauai, agrees that without good customer service, there is no business.
“Customer service is very important to us,” Weber said. “Taking care of customers is what’s important to us. Every day we try to serve our community the best way we can.”
Cristobal Andersland said the customer comes first at Salty Wahine. Before starting her business, Cristobal Andersland was a customer service agent at Budget Rent a Car for 29 years, which helped her understand what customers need when engaging with a new business.
“It was always about listening to your customers, listening to what they want and what they want to see, so I train all of my employees to have that strong standard of customer service,” she said. “That, along with having a strong product of course, keeps them coming back, especially with the millennials; they’re really looking for that because it really adds to the ambience of what the islands are.”
Cristobal Andersland learned the most valuable lesson of all: take action.
“My mom was very strong so she overcame a lot of challenges as a businesswoman. Challenges are normal, and you just perceive and do,” she said.
Even though she learned most of her business savvy from her mother, Cristobal Andersland isn’t afraid to reach out for help, especially from the Kauai Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s so many people you can tap into for advice and we do that a lot if we hit a wall. I can just reach out to someone and ask someone, ‘What did you do?’,” she said. “Kauai is small, and not everyone will come to your shop, so you need to go a little beyond also.”