Family, souvenirs kept firm afloat


POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Surfboard-shaped bottle openers, refrigerator magnets, key-shaped key-chain fobs with spinning heart insets, collectible spoons, thimbles, plates, mugs and myriad other Hawaii souvenirs bedeck the showroom of R. Baird & Co. Inc.

The showroom of the state's largest souvenir importer also features custom glassware that the company added to its stable with the recent acquisition of Glassware Decorators of Hawaii Ltd.

Founded in 1948, R. Baird & Co. might not be a household name, but surely most Hawaii residents have seen its wares, and untold numbers of visitors have flown home with some.

The souvenirs are sold everywhere visitors shop, but also where locals shop, because founder Rouse Baird got a call decades ago from Thrifty Drugs and ABC Stores founder Sydney Kosasa, requesting merchandise.

“;Dad said, 'Oh boy, I don't know if they're going to work in a drugstore,'”; said Ginger Baird, chief executive officer. “;The rest is history,”; she smiled. The two men, who became fast friends, had started their businesses a year apart and died a year apart, Baird in 2005 and Kosasa in 2006.





        » Year founded: 1948

» Founder: Rouse Baird


» Current owners: Virginia “;Ginger”; Baird, Shirley Hammel and Leegayle Denton, who are the daughters and granddaughter, respectively, of founder Rouse Baird.


» Type of business: Imports and wholesales souvenirs; customized glassware


» Location: Sand Island




Now a third-generation family business, R. Baird is undergoing a transition.

Ginger Baird is semiretired. “;I come in once a week because I like to feel important,”; she chuckled.

President Leegayle Denton, her niece who joined the company in 1992 “;and just really made the business bigger,”; will soon move to the mainland for family reasons.

The two recently brought company veteran Mike Holland back into the fold to run the show. “;I would trust Mike Holland with my life savings,”; Baird said.

Money is not all that is at stake. Baird's 35 employees have collectively worked at the company for 412 years. Some are fathers and sons, mothers and daughters; some, recruited by siblings.

Such employee loyalty is not achieved without reciprocation, such as after Sept. 11, 2001.

“;We immediately scaled back to four days a week to keep all of our employees,”; Denton said. The company made similar adjustments due to the current economy, and while it eliminated some positions, it has laid off no one.

The word “;ohana”; in the business environment is usually trite and meaningless, but Denton said, “;I've been with them for 17 years, and I feel real responsibility for them, but I know Mike and (his wife) Melody are going to take excellent care of them.”;

Holland believes the custom glassware unit will continue to be popular with Glassware Decorators' previous clients as well as new ones. R. Baird does not have a Web site as it is strictly wholesale, but the custom glassware provides direct-to-customer opportunities, so its Web site will be launched in the near future, he said.