GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pocketbooks and mouths were open at the Hawaiian Kine Flavors booth at First Hawaiian Bank's 11th annual Made In Hawaii Festival yesterday at the Blaisdell Center.
Made-in-Hawaii product show holding its own
Showcasing everything from goat cheese made on Maui to soaps made from Kona coffee, the Made in Hawaii Festival is expected to bring $3 million in immediate sales for the 350-plus participating vendors.
The three-day weekend festival, which started yesterday at the Neal Blaisdell Center, will likely bring in more than 35,000 attendees in its 11th year, consistent with previous years.
"Other than a few vendors that had to drop out, everything went as planned," said Dick Botti of Hawaii Food Industry Association, the festival's producer. "So far, the flow is going very well."
Last year, the festival brought in 36,000 attendees, while the year before brought in 34,000. In 2003, a peak of 37,000 attendees visited the festival.
Given the limited availability of parking, that number is the festival's full capacity, Botti said. It has always been at the Blaisdell, he said, and brings in about 70 percent locals and 30 percent visitors.
While the festival has made efforts in the past to market to more tourists, Botti said organizers are still working out how they would transport them from Waikiki to Ward Avenue. So far, Blaisdell has proved to be the ideal venue.
Marketing efforts, carried out primarily by sponsor First Hawaiian Bank, typically amount to about $70,000 every year, according to Botti. Other sponsors, such as Hawaiian Airlines, offered exhibitors a special cargo freight rate, while Ohana Hotels promoted the event to its guests.
Small-business owners and entrepreneurs swear that the festival brings in new customers, wholesale accounts and valuable public exposure.
Whether it's custom jewelry, art, lomi sticks, cooking spices or handmade quilts, the festival is a chance for local business owners to give their two-minute sales pitch.
This year, nearly 50 of the vendors are from the neighbor islands.
Exhibiting at the show also has networking value, said Lani Weigert, marketing and promotions director for Alii Kula Lavender, participating for the third time.
Weigert said marketing efforts and trips to trade shows on Oahu have driven more traffic to the company's online sales, she said, as well as visitors to the lavender farm in Kula, Maui.
Alii Kula Lavender offers more than 75 products, from jam to lotions, candles and candies.
The festival, Weigert said, is where she has found most of her partners for new products. Lavender truffles, for instance, are manufactured in partnership with Big Island Candies, while lavender goat cheese is made in partnership with Surfing Goat Dairy, also of Maui.
Instead of relying on visitors going to Molokai to buy Kanemitsu Bakery's signature loaves of bread, the business brought its baked goods to the festival. But it does so only once a year -- and only to the Made in Hawaii Festival.
Sales from the festival brings the bakery more than a 30 percent boost in a single weekend, according to store manager Blossom Poepoe.
Younger entrepreneurs, like Aaron and Charmaine Bernard, who were selling T-shirts, tanks and shorts emblazoned with their logo, Seaductive, see the festival as a way to get their products out to the public.
Without a retail store, they run the business from their Oahu home. But they have big ambitions, and are searching for a space to lease, either in Honolulu or Haleiwa.
"Our goal is to compete against Roxy one day," said Aaron Bernard, also a surfer and photographer.
It was Maui Babe's first time participating in the festival. But Mona Aragon, Oahu sales director for the line of suntan lotions, already made up her mind to participate again next year.
"Since being here, I picked up a lot of contacts from Japan," she said.