Friday, May 27, 2016

Crafting the Hafaloha Spirit: An Interview with Owners Leonard and Tara Kaae

By: Nicole Tesiro
Network Program Associate
(Pacific Islands SBDC Network)

Growing up in Hawai`i, Len Kaae looked up to local clothing brands as inspiration to own a retail store one day. Together with his wife and business partner, Tara, they made that dream happen to what is now known as Hafaloha. I had the opportunity to sit and speak to them at their shop in Tumon on how Hafaloha started and take a glimpse to where the company is heading.  

Hafaloha started as a hobby, creating and selling merchandise on a spare time. Having to work, raise three children (Trayven, 12, Ahela’a, 6, and Leonard III, 5), and start Hafaloha was an overwhelming experience. But they managed to do them in stages, accomplishing each small goal to reach their ultimate achievement of opening a brick and mortar shop. They first wanted to have an online presence selling merchandise on the web. They also attended the Pacific Islander Festival Association (PIFA), exposing Hafaloha to the Pacific Islander community in the West Coast.  Then, they opened a pop-up shop in the Guam Premier Outlet (GPO) displaying their style to the Guam community and returned to PIFA the next year. After much exposure and noticing a consumer demand, they finally decided to open their store, located in Tumon across the Pacific Islands Club (PIC).  The shop coming to fruition exemplifies the result of hard work and the desire of truly wanting something to happen. Although the stages they went through took a toll on them mentally and physically, they found the strength and motivation in the people who surrounded them with support and guidance. They reflected on their humble beginnings starting  with just the two of them and a rack in their bedroom hanging a few of their designs to today where their shop carries a variety of products, serves shave ice and acai bowls, and  employs a staff of 27. 

Len spoke on how growing up with three sisters helped him understand fashion and gave him advice to craft his own style. He also credited the local clothing brands present in Hawai`i when he was growing up to spark his artistic vision. Tara’s background focused on customer service and general operations specifically in the food and beverage and retail industries. Her enthusiastic personality exhibited one who enjoyed meeting new people and a love for learning. As partners, they decided that Tara would be the general manager of operations while Len would be the artistic eye generating designs for new merchandise. The Kaaes spoke a lot about family and centered their business approach on treating their employees and customers like family. The love (or Hafaloha) exudes from both of them constantly smiling when they talk about their business, staff, customers, and each other. It was evident that a lot of care goes into this company. 

The Guam SBDC was another support system that helped achieve their dream. Tara listened to the positive advice of Denise Mendiola, Senior Business Advisor/Women in Business Program Coordinator.  Denise’s experiences of what worked and didn’t work for her in her business ventures aided in how Tara and Len structured their business model. Len chimed in stating his appreciation for how Denise was always available to answer any of their questions. Denise’s enthusiasm and inspiring words gave them that boost of confidence needed to believe that their goal was within their reach. Tara mentioned that the workshops that SBDC offered were helpful in managing their operations. The QuickBooks courses gave her a better understanding in basic accounting before they were able to hire an accountant. Preparing the business plan was the most crucial aspect of the technical support received by the Guam SBDC because it laid the groundwork for what Hafaloha would be. The resources available to complete the business plan were valuable especially the convenience of being able to just plug in the data they researched into the financial templates provided and having it generate their reports. 

The business plan was also a crucial document for potential partners seeking a stake in Hafaloha. These partners wanted to see their financial projections and sales forecasts as well as how they will execute and implement their ideas. The Kaaes did not take out a loan and, instead, opted to find a partner. The guidance received from these partners became vital in the products produced and the timing of their release. Hafaloha is about constant reinvention and to evolve as a brand as consumer trends evolve. Len stated, “We had to continuously keep it fresh and keep it new.” The wide spectrum and number of ideas they had for the shop was immense, and they both stated how thankful they were for the business savvy of these partners in how to prioritize their ideas and identify which ideas would be beneficial to the growth of their business. 

Tara and Len found themselves in challenging situations where mistakes were made but are grateful that they happened because they were able to analyze these situations, learn how to prevent them, and make smarter business decisions. It was discouraging at first, but they told themselves that they can only understand what went wrong and try to find solutions. As a business owner, there is no time to sulk in these types of situations. Len stated, “You have to wake up, brush it off, and ask yourself what you are going to do to fix it. Just keep pushing.” 

When asked what their most memorable triumph in this start-up process, they simply replied the entire journey. They reflected on how they started and appreciated that they were able to see those dreams realized and those goals accomplished. As the Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPac) approaches, Hafaloha’s short-term goals involve working towards utilizing the event to showcase what Hafaloha has to offer. In the coming months, you’ll be expected to see Hafaloha collaborate with local and international companies organizing events. In addition, Hafaloha will be able to serve customers from private parties to community events with their mobile shave ice. Over the next years, Hafaloha’s long-term goal is to expand their business by opening other locations on Guam. Furthermore, Tara and Len want to improve the shave ice side of their business by offering more local favorites and unique flavors and creating their own sugar-free syrups to cater to other markets.   

Listening to Tara and Len speak on their business and their family was inspiring. Hearing how they started with the one rack in their bedroom—which they still have—to remind them of their journey to planning a second location and offering a variety of products is motivating for any business owner that has an idea that they are passionate about. When asked to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Len and Tara agree that passion is key. They continue to say to have patience and expect to fail, and when you do come across those hiccups, dust yourself off and persevere. 

Hafaloha is a two-part retail shop offering clothing merchandise from shirts, hats, surf shorts, women’s clothing, and kid’s clothing to bags, sunglasses, air fresheners, key chains, coloring books, and stickers. The other part of the shop offers shave ice where they developed their own syrups and acai bowls. For more information on Hafaloha and their products, visit or call 671-989-3444.

For more information on how the Guam SBDC can assist you, visit our website at or contact our main office at 671-735-2590. Request for counseling to receive free, confidential one-on-one business advisement or register for upcoming training events at low to no cost to jumpstart your business venture.