Buy Local, For Locals



©Tina Mahina

The 23rd Annual Made in Hawai'i Festival returns with the spirit of entrepreneurial support and community.  

It's as if the history of consumerism has come full circle these days. As farmer's markets and online craft websites such as Etsy have taken off in popularity, customers are taking a closer look at the products they're purchasing and reaching more towards items that will support their local neighbor. This has been the very reason for the success of the annual Made in Hawai'i Festival, which will open its doors again at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall and Arena from August 18 through 20. The festival's executive director Amy Hammond is excited to see new and old vendors lined up throughout the arena as it's a reminder that there's still a sense of community among local businesses.

"It's a great way for everyone to network and get to know each other," Hammond says. "After three days of selling next to each other, the local exhibitors get to know one another and swap ways to help each other ... You could have a business that's in need of jars for their products and another who has stickers for you to place on the jars, or someone who has access to lots of lilikoi for your jam. It's amazing to see everyone come together and help one another succeed."

Along with local businesses helping each other, comes a "trickle down affect," Hammond says, of customers wanting to buy what's familiar and personable to them.

"The customers like to put a face to a name," Hammond continues, as she quickly references the imported frozen raw tuna from Indonesia that tested positive for hepatitis A in April, which caused eight locations of Times Supermarket to recall their tuna. "People want to know the ingredients. They want to know where it comes from, and they especially want to help our local economy. That has been the success formula for a lot of our exhibitors here at the festival."

First established as a small business marketing tool, and to give local businesses a chance to showcase their products and reach new customers, the Made in Hawai'i Festival has grown into a 45,000-attendee and 400-exhibitor event that showcases everything from food products and apparel to accessories, artwork, books and more. Adding on to the theme of local talents will be live stage performances by top musicians such as Jerry Santos, Maunalua, Raiatea Helm and Led Kaapana. There will also be special cooking demonstrations by highly acclaimed chefs such as chef Ray German from the Four Seasons Resort O'ahu at Ko Olina's Fish House and chef Lee Anne Wong from Koko Head Café. The festival will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, August 18 and Saturday, August 19. On Sunday, August 20, the festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs $6 but children aged six and under are free. There will be $1 coupons at First Hawaiian Bank's branches starting mid-August, while supplies last.

Returning again as an exhibitor is Jimmy Chan – Hawaiian Chip Company's general manager and Hammond's favorite success stories of the Made in Hawaii Festival – who is especially excited to see his theory of "supply and demand" come to life for local businesses that would have otherwise been left in the dust for success.

 

"Customers are willing to spend the money on a product if it has value to them," Chan says. "I once spent three to four years selling our product on the mainland with only two percent in profits. Once I started to concentrate only on our local market, I gained about five percent. By staying local and knowing the market and what our customers like, it has helped us grow tremendously."

However, like other exhibitors at the festival, Hawaiian Chip Company's success is not without its share of hard work, grit and determination. Chan laughs about it now but still remembers the heat he felt from the fryer himself when he and his friends would make 50-pounds worth of taro chips a day to sell at the Aloha Stadium's swap meet or a local farmer's market. Today, their storefront makes up to 500-pounds of chips a day and collaborates with corporate-brand stores such as Longs Drugs, Wal-Mart and Costco. Although the exposure factor for Hawaiian Chip Company is not necessarily needed at the Made in Hawai'i Festival, Chan is still excited to return every year as it keeps his company well versed in their customer's wants and needs. A factor that he and many other exhibitors abide by for their customers and potential buyers.

"The customers that we meet at the Made in Hawaii Festival have been a tremendous help for my company because they're certainly going to give you your opinions whether you asked for it or not," Chan laughs heartily. "But most importantly, it helps us to stay engaged with our customers and know what they like and what will sell. It's getting to know our supply and demand and I'm very grateful for the opportunity."

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