HOME, SUITE HOME
A company founded to create custom furniture and decor for Pacific resorts offers its services to individual homeowners
HAWAII'S SOARING real estate market has become the catalyst for several longtime professional acquaintances to take a gamble on expanding Sourcing Asia by O Designs LLC to become the furniture and interior design store of their dreams.
Bobby Cepeda, a designer from Guam, is the brainchild behind the endeavor. Sourcing Asia, a supplier of custom-designed furnishings, architectural details and landscape elements, was founded to meet the needs of architects, interior designers, hotel operators and developers.
Location: 1133 Bethel Street
Hours: 9 to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Sunday by appointment; and 9 to 9 p.m. on First Friday
Web site: www.sourcing studio.com
By partnering with furniture manufacturer Intra Cipta Adhistana
in Indonesia, Sourcing Asia is able to offer custom pieces directly to the buyer, giving them control over both cost and quality.
"Typically the importers here fly to Bali and fill a container and go," Cepeda said. "Our partnership gives us more power; however, we also source throughout Asia to bring our clients the right products for their designs."
It's been a concept that has worked well in Guam and Southeast Asia, where for the past 10 years Cepeda and his international partners have earned a reputation and built a global network for Sourcing Asia, completing renovations of many Mandara Spas as well as numerous resort properties in Aruba, Bahamas, Maldives, Seychelles, Europe, Japan, China, Singapore, Micronesia, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
A setting using a table from the cinnamon collection made exclusively for Sourcing Asia. It features real cinnamon inlay in an enamel lacquer, and handmade tableware.
The unprecedented performance of Hawaii's visitor industry makes the islands an ideal location to capture a strong share of Sourcing Asia's traditional core market -- but Cepeda also saw the potential to carve another niche by offering the same types of services, albeit on a smaller scale, to individual home owners.
"I was looking for more of a challenge," Cepeda said. "Conceptually this concept wouldn't work in Guam, but the economy here makes it ideal."
In Hawaii, Cepeda turned to longtime friend Karen Birkett, whom he met while she was opening a Liberty House store in Guam, to seek advice on potential partners.
"After he filled me in on his idea, I wanted in," Birkett said. "The real estate market was booming, so it seemed like a great time to do this." She left her retail roots to begin working as a lender three years ago at New Century Mortgage.
Birkett used some of the proceeds she has earned from Hawaii's rising real estate market to bankroll the venture with Cepeda.
The two then brought in Lino Fritz, whom they met while he was managing DFS stores in Guam, to serve as the company's director of sales and marketing. In Hawaii, Fritz, whose career in retail has spanned some 30 years, is best known for overseeing the opening of the Waikiki Galleria, which became DFS' flagship store.
"I kept badgering them until they hired me," Fritz said.
Fritz helped recruit Charles Au, a Honolulu CPA and business owner with more than 15 years of experience in accounting, who invested in the idea and became the company's chief financial officer.
The addition of Karen's former boss Felix Calvo, who left a prestigious high-paying job as area manager for nearly all Hilo Hattie stores in Hawaii six months ago to take a chance on this start-up venture, rounded out the team.
While the group initially thought it would need several investors to augment Karen's principal investment, the partners decided to pool resources and make sacrifices to keep the idea among them.
"We share a common vision and rather than sell our souls, we decided that we had to cut corners to make this work," Au said. "It's really been a group effort all the way around, from people taking pay cuts to cutting back on expenses so we could put more money into the company."
Among the sacrifices, Birkett, Cepeda and Calvo decided to move in together, sharing the upper half of a tight-quartered, one-bathroom home in Manoa along with their significant others. While the business/private partnership style wouldn't work for everyone, it's been a fun journey for Sourcing Asia's team, Calvo said.
"We're all equals and we're not worrying about reporting to a boss or getting a pink slip," he said. "We all see that big old light at the end of the tunnel."
Fritz and Au, who maintain their own residences with their families, joke that after the business takes off, the team is going to build and design a big villa where everyone can live together.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Sourcing Asia on Bethel Street, Felix Calvo, director of operations, sets up a bed display in the showroom.
"If both of us didn't have families, I think we'd feel excluded," Au said. "There's definitely something to this business style -- I think it's brought everyone closer."
Along the way, the team has earned extra money and made additional business networks by renting the bottom half of the home to clients Chuck Davis and Bruce Porter, who needed a place to stay while Sourcing Asia gutted and renovated their aging Honolulu condominium.
Davis and Porter, who opened Micro-Seal Hawaii, a fabric- and carpet-protection company on Kauai, in 2002, said they were looking to expand their business when they relocated to Oahu last December. They hired Cepeda and crew to make their 1960s condominium into a home fit to showcase their collection of Asian art. Before they knew it, they became part of Sourcing Asia's extended ohana.
"We're very pleased and feel very fortunate that we've run into these people," said Porter, who along with Davis helped their old housemates dust, polish and price goods and clean windows at Sourcing Asia's new showroom on Thursday.
"It's the least that we could do since they've offered to help us with our business," said Davis, who is also grateful to the design team for opening up the view at the condominium he shares with Porter.
"You can see from Manoa to Ward Avenue now," Davis said. "It's just fabulous."
Eighteen months and many sacrifices later, the team is ready to open its showroom, located at 1133 Bethel St., where the partners will offer the same unconventional services that brought Davis and Porter into their fold.
"It's a working showroom where people can come with their plans and ideas and we can take them from start to finish," Birkett said. "We have a draftsman on site. I don't think any other showroom offers the services that we can do."
Inside the nearly finished showroom, the smell of cinnamon sticks and wood oil combine with the crisp textures of bamboo and the shiny glint of copper to produce a total sensory experience for visitors.
By pooling its unique resources and talents, the Sourcing Asia team has created a complex product best defined by its mission statement: "Spaces refined by the mind, crafted by the hand."