As part of our Local Spotlight series on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state of Hawaii, we’ve profiled three small business owners in the state:
- Caramiya Davies-Reed, who owns a brick-and-mortar store and an online business in Maui.
- Justine Lee, who co-owns the restaurant PAI Honolulu with her husband, Kevin Lee.
- Nick Gerard, co-owner of the full-service auto repair shop Neue Auto in Honolulu.
In addition to offering you the perspective of these small business owners, we wanted to share some observations from our experts in the state. These three have been working to keep freight and household goods moving to and from Hawaii, while Approved and our sister company, Royal Hawaiian Movers, operate as an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through their eyes, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the freight and logistics operations in the state, as well as how the pandemic is changing the way business gets done in Hawaii.
Meet KC Manuel, Sales Manager of Business Development, Approved Freight Forwarders – Hilo, HI
Approved Freight Forwarders: What are you seeing when it comes to the freight side of business in Hawaii?
I’ve been seeing both good and bad, honestly. For a lot of my retail and distributor customers who handle restaurants and hotels, obviously their business has gone down tremendously. Some have had to apply for loans, and some have asked us to extend their payments.
I also do a lot with construction customers, and that business has been booming. It never slowed down. Lots of these companies are statewide. They’re shipping a lot, and they’re still busy.
So it’s been full of good and bad. I’m glad that construction continued to operate. I don’t think our economy could take a hit to both tourism and construction.
Approved Freight Forwarders: You mentioned that some customers have been asking for an extended time to pay their invoices. How else has Approved been helping businesses in Hawaii continue to operate?
A lot of people have been asking us if we can find lower rates to help with reopening and getting back on their feet. One was a small business in Kauai that we’ve been working with for the last 10 years. They distribute to restaurants, hotels, and schools, and they took a really big hit. So we worked with them to find a rate that worked. We are open to having those conversations with our customers, and we’ll do our best to assist when we can.
I’ve also been talking with customers about alternative freight solutions. For example, if a company has done a lot of air freight shipments in the past, I’d suggest we look at ordering in advance and going to ocean freight. It can be as little as a third of the cost of air freight. In other words, you’re ordering smarter—in bulk so you’re paying less per item.
I’m also just reaching out to customers and asking about their current problems. Are they planning on reopening soon? How can we help? We’ll try to provide solutions as best as we can.
Approved Freight Forwarders: What’s it been like to go through the pandemic for you, over on the Big Island?
It’s been challenging. I’m used to traveling to Maui, Kauai and Oahu a lot. So having to stay home with three kids and still working—it’s been pretty challenging, not just for me but for my kids and my family as well.
I miss being in front of customers and getting that face-to-face contact. Even before the whole COVID pandemic hit us hard, I noticed already that customers weren’t shaking hands. Some would rather give you the knuckles. No hugs. And you know, that’s normally how I greet customers: I give them big hugs or shake hands. It’s changing our world dramatically, especially in the sales world.
Meet David Lillie, Assistant General Manager, Royal Hawaiian Movers – Kauai, HI
Approved Freight Forwarders: How is the situation in Kauai?
Luckily, we’ve been pretty quiet here on the COVID front. We’re somewhat isolated, so that’s been a plus for us in this scenario. As of June 15, we haven’t had any new confirmed cases since April 9.
Approved Freight Forwarders: What have household moves been like during the pandemic, with Royal Hawaiian operating as an essential business?
The household goods side of the business had come to a crawl, but now it’s starting to pick back up again. It’s really touch-and-go because of the scheduling. We’ll get something scheduled, and then things fall through [for pandemic-related reasons]. Overall, it’s not springing back as quickly as we hoped, but it is coming back.
Approved Freight Forwarders: What about in-home surveys? I know we’ve talked about those as the best way to get an accurate quote for your household move. Were you doing those during the pandemic?
Not at the height of the pandemic, no, we weren’t. But now that we haven’t had any recent infections, we’ve returned to doing in-home surveys.
We’re also offering a web-based AI survey that you do with your smartphone or tablet. We haven’t had a high volume of these surveys yes, because a lot of our customers aren’t comfortable with the technology. But the ones we have done have been pretty accurate.
Approved Freight Forwarders: Does the comfort with the technology fall along generational lines? Do younger people take to the virtual survey more easily?
I wouldn’t generalize it that way. I had a gentleman who was probably in his late 50s, early 60s, and he did it with no problem. He probably did the most accurate survey I’ve had through the new virtual tool. His attention to detail was pretty impressive!
Usually, I prefer in-person surveys because I can guide our customers along the way. However, these virtual surveys have really worked out for us, especially for those who have busy schedules and can’t make the time for an in-person survey.
Approved Freight Forwarders: And how has the freight side of the business been operating on Kauai?
Throughout the pandemic, Approved Freight has continued to be an integral part of the supply chain to get essential goods to our local essential businesses on-island.
Although our normal freight volumes are down, we continue to have regular bi-weekly containers coming in. They’ve provided essential goods and kept our freight drivers going during these unprecedented times.
Meet Grace Dace, Business Development Manager, Approved Freight Forwarders – Honolulu, HI
Approved Freight Forwarders: Although the state is starting to open back up, what kind of issues have you been seeing on the freight side over the last few months?
Air freight has been difficult to quote. Quotes have been taking longer because the airlines have canceled so many passenger flights, which we often use to move our customers’ air freight. Additionally, for a while, they were prioritizing essential items, so we had some customers’ shipments get bumped. Our customers have been pretty patient, as long as we’ve relayed the message to them.
We’ve also seen some difficulties scheduling pick-ups for freight. Some places on the mainland still have reduced hours, which can make scheduling a challenge. Or they’re running with a skeleton crew, so they can’t even pick up the phone to answer questions [about their operating hours]. That’s delayed confirming pick-up requests.
I know restaurants have taken a big hit. One other thing we’ve seen is reduced shipments for vendors who cater to the tourist market. Some hotels, retail stores and restaurants who were closed during the lockdown halted shipping until they can reopen.
Approved Freight Forwarders: How do you think a forwarder like Approved can help its customers—and other businesses—in a time like this?
I think the most important thing that we can offer is knowledge: things like the status of airlines and air freight and making sure they are aware of vendors’ warehouse hours for pick-up requests, for example. In terms of a business’s processes, we have the industry knowledge to help them find the most efficient way to move freight right now and to inform them of possible issues and delays so we can take action proactively.
And we can handle everything for them. All we need is the right information to get their freight. So, if their supplier’s hours change, we can alert them and change the pick-up time. Then we can take the responsibility to coordinate everything and make sure the freight shows up at its destination when it’s scheduled to be delivered. It’s less for a business owner to have to think about—and less stress for them.
Approved Freight Forwarders: And what do you see for the future of Hawaii? Where are things going?
I’m sure everyone’s going to be looking for ways to save. I believe all of the industries have taken a hit somehow, so we’re going to see people asking for lower pricing. We’re going to be asking potential customers things like “What else can we do for you?” and offering really strong value-added proposals.
When people call, looking to change forwarders, it’s because of one of three pain points: time, money or pain. So we’re looking to help people in multiple areas, not just one.
I also don’t see a lot of face-to-face contact with our clients. The type of people we are [in Hawaii], we’re kinesthetic people. We make decisions on how we feel. We have to see someone to feel them out so we can trust who we’re working with. In Hawaii, that’s important.
I’m a social creature, business-wise. I like taking customers out of their workplace. They’re more comfortable that way. They can talk freely about the real challenges they face at work. They let you know more about their business, things they would want to improve or change at work. I’ll miss that. So for now, I’m just sending customers some appreciations and sweet little nothings to show that we are thinking about them.
Approved Freight Forwarders: How has the pandemic affected you personally?
I missed the beach. [Note: Beaches were closed on Oahu from April 21 to May 16 for reasons other than crossing the beach to access the water.] I go to the beach a lot. Just the fact of not being able to just sit down on the sand really affected me.
I live in Honolulu which was a hot spot for COVID-19. I have a 102-year-old grandfather and I was too scared to go see him, just in case. And my friends with babies, as well. I couldn’t really see them.
On the positive side, I’ve touched up my chef’s talent. I was already pretty good, but I’ve been cooking the things that I crave at home. Hawaii also has that ohana feel, so everyone here has been trying to help by supporting local restaurants. I’ve seen (socially-distant) lines out the door to pick up food. On Fridays, we pick a different local restaurant to order from, so we can help.
Approved Freight Forwarders: And what are a few of your favorites around Honolulu?
I think people in Hawaii, they know how much tourism affects business. So we really have to focus on doing more local business. Because until tourists come back, it’s just us. We have to support one another.
If you’d like to talk with one of our experts about how working with a freight forwarder can benefit your Hawaii-based business, just reach out to us. We’d be happy to help you find the right freight mix for your business as the state continues to reopen.