Tuesday, March 30, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Sam Szabla, left, is a 23-year-old entrepreneur who has
just opened his second Hawaiian House furniture store.
Szabla is shown here at the new Aloha Tower Marketplace
store with stock manager Erick Sandoval, store manager
Lisa Escobedo (seated), and sales clerk Ivonne.

with right ‘stuff’
takes on furniture

An ex-waiter, who just opened
his second store in Hawaii, is
fulfilling a lifelong dream

By Jerry Tune


Sam Szabla, a 23-year-old former waiter, got his first taste of the retail business when he held a garage sale to get rid of some extra furniture that wouldn't fit into his Kauai studio apartment.

"I sold $4,000 in four hours," he said. "People liked my stuff."

Now, the young entrepreneur is taking on furniture powerhouses with his just-opened Hawaiian House Inc. store at Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Szabla leased 10,000 square feet, replacing the Elements by Liberty House store, once one of the retail anchors at the marketplace.

"We're like Pottery Barn and we also compete with Pier 1," said Szabla, who started the first Hawaiian House store on Kauai in 1997. "Our goods from Mexico are 26 to 30 percent lower than the same goods at Pier 1."

The store is the second for Szabla.

"I got into retail pretty much by chance," he said.

Kauai was still recovering from Hurricane Iniki and Szabla was a waiter at the Princeville Hotel when he held his garage sale in 1996.

Soon after that, a roughly 1,000-square-foot space opened up at the Kukui Grove Shopping Center near Lihue and Szabla took the retail plunge, opening his store in March 1997. After good first-year sales, he moved to a space four times larger next to the Borders bookstore.

He didn't have any investors but used his personal savings to start his business. "It wasn't that much money," he said, declining to say exactly how much.

The money, he said, came from profits on the sale of three computer company stocks and a home in Scottsdale, Ariz., which he bought by assuming the existing loan. At the time, Szabla was 18 years old and cleaning homes for a living.

But Hawaii was his destiny. "Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to work in the islands," he said. "I always wanted to work for myself."

His Kauai store started after Szabla traveled to Mexico and brought back one container filled with unpainted wrought-iron furniture and pottery.

"I painted the furniture myself," he said. "I always admired the Z Gallery and Pottery Barn stores (in California and Arizona). But I don't need to charge as much as they do because it's just for me."

His furniture now comes from the United States but other accessories and products are from Europe, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Indonesia. The items include private-label bedding made exclusively for Hawaiian House including duvets, bed skirts, shams and pillows.

Szabla said his vendors, who now total 160, have made an extra effort to get his merchandise to Hawaii as quickly as possible.

He has managers for both stores, but Szabla still sells in the stores next to sales clerks, does all the buying on the mainland and keeps the books. (A private company does the payroll.)

"I go to San Francisco and pick out the fabric for our bedding," he said. "It's very popular. Seventy percent of our bedding goes back to California (after being bought by tourists)."

He said tourists buy his goods because they can get household accessories cheaper than on the mainland.

Szabla said he is looking at opening another store on Oahu and possibly one on Maui.

All this is happening very fast for a former waiter with no retail experience before 1997.

But the high school graduate from Dearborn, Mich., remains calm about the series of events.

"I studied business (while in high school) and I was in Junior Achievement," Szabla said. "Sometimes I can't believe all this is happening but it sure beats waiting on tables."

Home improvement

BulletWhat: Hawaiian House furniture stores.

Bullet Who: Owned by Sam Szabla, a 23-year-old former waiter.

Bullet Where: Aloha Tower Marketplace and Kukui Grove Shopping Center on Kauai.

BulletWhen: The marketplace store opened March 12. The Kauai store opened in 1997.

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