CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Koji Suganuma, left, president of Don Quijote Co., and Takao Yasuda, chairman and CEO, pulled down a yellow tarp yesterday to unveil a new sign for the former Daiei store on Kaheka Street.
Honolulu shoppers rush to greet Donki
Japanese retailer Don Quijote reveals its transformation of the former Daiei store at Kaheka
Tokyo-based Don Quijote Co. Ltd. made its formal entrance into Hawaii's retail market on two sides of Oahu yesterday, reopening the Kaheka Street Daiei store under its own flag and tearing down a fence that had aggravated shoppers for years at the Kailua Daiei store.
The company, which bought the Hawaii operations of Daiei Inc. in February, also disclosed its intention to expand in the United States, both in Hawaii and on the mainland.
Don Quijote Chairman Takao Yasuda, asked yesterday about expanding beyond the four original Daiei stores in Hawaii, responded with an emphatic "of course!" through interpreter Paul Cobbett. As for jumping across the Pacific to the mainland, Yasuda said, "Yes, we have that intention."
Theresa Chang, the store's spokeswoman, said Don Quijote's staffing levels will remain roughly the same at about 950 employees, for now.
Koji Suganama will hold the post of president of Don Quijote USA, relocating from Japan. Six purchasing agents are also relocating from Japan to oversee merchandise selections for the Hawaii stores, Chang said.
But now that the former Daiei Kaheka Street location has been renovated to reflect Don Quijote's merchandising style, similar work will follow at the other three stores, in Waipahu, Pearl City and Kailua.
The timetable will depend upon on the issuance of building permits, which Yasuda said he could not predict.
"We are looking to understand the Hawaiian ways," he said.
Plenty of Hawaii shoppers were eager to learn about Don Quijote's ways at the Kaheka store yesterday.
A mad rush of shoppers, some of whom had waited since dawn, surged through the doors of the store shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday.
They pushed through even before Kahu Kordell Kekoa of Kamehameha Schools could finish blessing the store.
Each shopper was greeted with a single-stem rose while the Don Quijote theme-tune "Donki, Donki, Donki" blared from speakers. Donki is the chain's nickname in Japan.
Customers continued to pour in and out, nabbing shopping carts as soon as they became available.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
After a blessing and unveiling of new Don Quijote signage, shoppers descended into the retailer's store on Kaheka Street.
Inside, the store seemed packed with more goods than before, from ceiling to floor, though the merchandise mix of local and Japanese products was fairly similar to what was available under the Daiei flag.
Don Quijote's jungle theme had taken hold of the store's interior, with plastic flowers and ivy wrapped around shelves from top to bottom.
New signs -- with large print and the Donki penguin mascot -- are suspended from the store's low ceilings.
The store's layout places a souvenir section near the entrance, and health and household goods near the front, while the produce, frozen section, dairy and meat are in the rear.
Gone are the old Daiei green-and-orange color schemes from the exterior of the single-level,100,000-plus-square foot store. The new Don Quijote store's colors are red and orange, while the new sign is in yellow lettering on a black background.
Sherman Cintron, a Waianae resident, drove to the opening yesterday to check out the seafood section. He makes the trek once a week.
"The values are good, and the prices are fair," he said.
Kaheka resident Dorothy Haygen, who was also in the morning crowd, said she would continue to frequent the store just as she has been over the past 30 years.
She has been shopping there regularly through all the evolutions, from when the store first changed from a Holiday Mart to Daiei in 1980, and now to Don Quijote.
"The aisles seem larger, and it's brighter," she said.
Across the island yesterday was another sign that the old Daiei has given way to the new Don Quijote. Yasuda helped start work to tear down a Kailua fence Daiei had long insisted on keeping to prevent shopper migration to the Safeway store next door.
The Kailua Chamber of Commerce has heard from residents for at least 10 years that tearing down the fence was a top priority to make shopping easier.
Mitch D'Olier, president and chief executive of landowner Kaneohe Ranch Co., said that when they first spoke about the possibility, "Yasuda made the decision to take down the fence in about two minutes."
Yasuda was concerned that Don Quijote make a positive entrance into Kailua, D'Olier said.
The company is making a significant investment into its Hawaii subsidiary, expecting it to help drive its median-term growth strategy, according to a recent report by Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, a Japan-based equity research company.
Don Quijote expects to expand nonfood sales at its Hawaii stores, the report said, but will adjust its merchandise mix based on the Kaheka store's performance.
Don Quijote has more than 120 stores in Japan in addition to the four in Hawaii.