KTA Superstores: A Hundred Years Young

 
How do you grow a business over four generations from a family-run mom & pop store to a five-store chain employing over 750 associates?  Started in 1916, KTA Super Stores is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  In his humble manner, Barry Taniguchi, Chairman & CEO of KTA, and charter member of our club, shared his thoughts for a successful business.
 
 
  • Business is a family affair.  Treat employees as part of the ohana.  One-third of KTA’s employees have worked for the company for over 30 years.  Treat customers as special.  In the early days, Barry’s grandfather extended credit to his loyal customers and allowed them to pay their debt when they got paid, or even bartered with their fresh catch or harvest.  “We hope KTA is not just a supermarket, but a place where something special can happen between friends and neighbors,” said Barry.
  • Customer is always right.  “Even when the customer may not be right, don’t confront; rather, try to convince.  Understand his perspective, and explain yours.”
  • Give back to the community.  Besides monetary donations, Barry donates something even more precious—time and caring.  He’s chaired the Mauna Kea Management Board dealing with the controversial Mauna Kea issue.  He is also actively involved with Community First, an effort to improve health and healthcare in East Hawai‘i.
  • Innovate by starting, trying, learning.  Let people start and try new things, knowing they’re probably not going to get it right from the beginning.  This foresight and patience has resulted in several innovations:  In the mid-70s, KTA became the first Hawaii-based supermarket to convert all of its stores to point of sales electronic scanners.  Another innovation is the private label brands--  Mountain Apple Brand consists of food products grown, processed or manufactured in Hawai‘I, and the 1916 Brand encompasses products produced outside of Hawaii that meets KTA’s values and quality.  Another one of Derek Kurisu’s innovation was KTA’s two popular cable television programs, “Living in Paradise” and “Seniors Living in Paradise.”  Their purpose is to publicize and support positive and constructive community initiatives, and celebrate all that is special about Hawaii.
  • Manage with the belief that someone is always smarter than you.  Oversee the work others do without overriding them because they often know more than you.
  • Lead by example.  Lead by who you are, not your management technique.
  • Value truth over harmony.  We often don’t want to talk straight with each other or hold someone accountable because we want to get along.  In the long term, harmony can only come from truth.
  • Make your words and your actions match.  Even if you don’t have a contract, if you gave your word, you have to make the guy whole.
  • In hard times, everybody must sacrifice together.  KTA went through very hard times in the 90’s when the Japanese bubble burst.  For 6-7 years they focused on paying down debt, but didn’t lay off anyone, and only executives had pay cuts.  They showed their employees the numbers.
Barry concluded that his goal is to keep growing to stay young, and “to be like the cherry blossom falling in full bloom.”