Employee shortage puts ice cream store in deep freeze
THE Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream Store in Hawaii Kai Towne Center closes today after 10 years at its plum, corner spot.
It is a victim of the state's powerful economy.
The state's jobless rate has been the lowest, or among the lowest in the nation since 2004 and shop owner Larry Kee can't find employees.
"Kids don't want to work," he told a customer.
He declined to be interviewed without Baskin-Robbins corporate approval and officials did not return Star-Bulletin calls on Friday.
"It's a sign of the times," said Leolani Kini, general manager of Hawaii Kai Towne Center, where Kee has operated one of three Baskin-Robbins franchises. His others are in Kailua and Kapolei.
Maybe the kids aren't hungry to work like they were in previous generations or years, she said.
"Kids who normally do work are all busy, with things to do, sports to do, so I've been trying to see how we can keep him, until the very last moment," Kini said.
"He does have other locations and he's overseeing those, as well. He'll probably just focus on those other locations and just kind of let this one go," she said.
Kee's decision did not come due to a proposed increase in lease rent, Kini said.
In addition to the staffing issues, he mentioned his family "and how long he's been here, his history and some recommendations ... and said, 'I really need to move on.' "
Other operators have expressed interest in the 520-square-foot space, said Kini. "We are working on getting another ice cream store to take care of the void that Larry will be leaving."
But if a Baskin-Robbins couldn't attract employees, how can the next operator lure workers?
If a family run operation with relatives to serve as staff takes over, that will help, Kini said.
"Nobody wants to pay any dues anymore," said Keith Robbins, president of Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts Inc., which has a franchised store in Koko Marina Shopping Center.
With CEOs, athletes and movie stars making multiple millions, "people want something for nothing. They want all the money, they just don't want to work for it," he said. It's an attitude that pervades society, he said.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations now allows 16- and 17-year-olds to obtain work permits online for free, without the hassle of a trip into town for documentation, which is still required of 14- and 15-year-olds.
The department is preparing for the July 1 kickoff of HireNet Hawaii, a new online program to help would-be workers find jobs and to help employers find workers, but it comes too late for the Hawaii Kai Baskin-Robbins store -- and too late for many high school kids, for whom summer is shorter as the public school calendar has been adjusted.
Jane Sawyer, public information officer for the Hawaii office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, has not heard of the worker shortage causing any businesses to close.
She theorized that kids may be more focused on being on vacation since the summer is shorter "and a lot of them may not want to work," she said.
Staffing is an overall challenge for Starbucks and Jamba Juice, which both opened at Hawaii Kai Towne Center in April of 2005, said Marketing Director Sherri Rigg.
"We're really focusing on retention right now, even more so than hiring."
It costs the company more to hire someone than it does to keep someone who is already employed, even considering retention and referral bonuses employees are offered.
Jamba Juice has a mentoring program, continuing training, and it stresses team building and community involvement as part of its corporate culture, which Rigg says helps to reduce turnover.
It must be more difficult for smaller operators, Rigg said, as Jamba Juice has a full-time human resources staff that recruits and retains the 600 employees at the state's 33 Jamba Juice stores.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com