INSIDE HAWAII INC.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mark Elwell is owner of Bamboo Flooring Hawaii LLC, a small, fast growing local company that sells imported bamboo and cork flooring locally and nationally. Above, he showed some of his product at his headquarters at Pier 2.
Importer finds profits underfoot
How did home flooring become cocktail party talk?
I think it's because of the housing boom. So many people are able to refinance and improve their homes, and the home improvement shows are such a popular item. Any dollar you put into your home your going to get two dollars out of it in appreciation. Everybody's trying to be trendy. Everybody's trying to do something a little different.
How are sales?
Job: Owner of Bamboo Flooring Hawaii LLC. Amid a construction and real estate boom, the company's revenues have gone from $1.1 million in 2002 to as much as $2.2 million this year. The company was founded in 1999.
Location: Hawaii Foreign Trade Zone No. 9, at 521 Ala Moana, Pier 2.
Born: Stockton, Calif. He has been in Hawaii for 25 years.
This year we've kind of leveled off. We will do close to $2 million this year. For myself and one assistant, Andrea Sikkink, that's a lot of product. I always say that if it weren't for the foreign trade zone, I wouldn't be where I'm at now. It gave me a lot of opportunities to test the waters.
How much is the rent at the Foreign-Trade Zone?
I have a very small office. It's about 350 square feet. I have a cage downstairs for overage that's about 350 square feet. I get forklift service, excellent inventory monitoring, security, and unpack at least one container a month, and I usually would pay no more than $1,800 a month.
How much do your bamboo floors cost, say for a 1,000-square-foot installation?
For some products, we recommend professional installation, but we've come up with a click system flooring that's an interlocking bamboo flooring. The homeowner could install one of the products themselves, which can pretty much cut the cost in half. With this new product ... you can probably keep it around $4,000 and you've got a nice solid bamboo floor. It's 7 inches wide. With an installed 3-inch flooring, which has to be professional-installed, you're looking at about $8,000.
How much of your business is mainland?
It's 70 percent mainland, 30 percent local. We don't pursue much business locally. Even though I love Hawaii it's pretty much a small county in Southern California. I pretty much should be living in Southern California, because of the time zone difference.
What's your outlook for sales?
I think it's as much as I want to make of it. It's all about how big do I want to get. If I make that next level, am I going to lose that quality of life? Am I going to be traveling every day of the week? I travel at least twice a month to somewhere in the U.S. to meet with my partners/distributors. Do I want to do that or just relax and keep the success at the next level? I could franchise it. I could also expand out, get more distributors across the U.S. and flood the market with all the different products that I have, or just stay at the same level with decent growth for the next five to 10 years. I don't want to sacrifice. I enjoy life too much.
How did you get started?
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mark Elwell and Andrea Sikkink run a $2 million business -- by themselves.
I found a source in China in late 1998. By early 1999 I was well on my way to bringing my first container, but it was hand packed. When we unpacked it was 900 boxes and I realized this was not going to work really well. So we unpacked them, stored them, started doing business here to a lot of my friends, and so forth -- then realized the big market is in the mainland U.S. So I started working in Manhattan Beach, Calif. I started walking the streets, meeting contractors, designers, architects, and worked my way up to the largest distributors in the U.S. through the referral system. It was a lot of hoofing around, a lot of legwork. In the meantime, I continued to work in the Hawaii market, expanding my business here. In the meantime, I did a National Wood Floor Association show. I set up a booth in Palm Springs, Fla. The wood flooring was in a transition at that time, carpet was started to be replaced with solid-surface flooring. At the time I was able to make a connection through my Southern California distributor, and they referred me to other distributors around the U.S. We had a great reputation for quality control and a good reputation for customer service, and that was the key to our success at that point. We have a good partnership with our distributors around the country. We're not just customers.
And a lot of it was luck, being at the right place at the right time with the right product.
I do a lot of traveling, I go to China a couple times a year. This year I'm going to Hanover, Germany, for Dormatex, the largest flooring trade show in the Europe, so we're aiming at establishing a market there.
What we primarily do is bamboo. Last year I came up with NapaCork. We're getting that production done in central China, in Xian. Now I'm working on palm wood out of Malaysia. The palm wood is prefinished and it's gorgeous. It's from palm trees that have gone beyond the state of bearing any fruit. We're also dabbling in plantation teak. I've got the trust and confidence of my distributors; now it's a matter of plugging the products into their product scheme.
How do you do quality control?
One of the strongest reasons why I've been successful at this is I have a quality-control team based out of Hong Kong. They'll check on what I order and (ensure that) what I inspect is what I really receive. It's allowed me to have some of the highest-quality product on the market. There's a lot of garbage out there and a lot of people that will tell you what you want to hear, but your reputation depends on the quality of the product that you can bring in.
Inside Hawaii Inc.
is a weekly conversation with business and community leaders. Suggestions can be sent to email@example.com