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Friday, March 31, 2000

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Powder Edge Vice President John Nakajima sits
next to a North Face tent yesterday at the Ward
Village store.

sales snowballing
for isle retailer

Powder Edge's sales jumped
40% last year as snowboards
(yes, in Hawaii) and other
leisure products hit home

By Peter Wagner


LOOK no further than steamy Kakaako to find that snowboard, sleeping bag, or enough cold-weather gear to attack the Himalayas.

"A lot of people in Hawaii travel," said John Nakajima, vice president and part-owner of Powder Edge. "They might be going to Haleakala or Kilimanjaro.

The Hawaii-based retailer, at Aloha Tower Marketplace and Ward Village on Auahi Street, has watched sales climb despite a slow economy since opening in 1995.

"I guess one thing people don't cut back on is lifestyle," said Nakajima, who surfs and snowboards in his spare time. "They want to get away from stress."

Sales of $2.1 million were up 40 percent last year, with 20 percent growth the year before. The company has 18 employees, about half of them full time.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Powder Edge employee Kirstie Yeager displays
an Arbor Heritage snowboard and cold-weather
clothing yesterday at the Ward Village store.

"People can't believe the kinds of products that do well for us here in Hawaii," Nakajima said. "Two years in a row we've sold every snowboard we carried."

Powder Edge initially looked for a niche in snowboards, noting the sport's growing popularity on the mainland and in Japan.

The idea was refined to include "fun" outdoor gear not limited to the winter season.

"We evolved into an outdoor shop," said Nakajima, partner with Hawaii businessman Toru Otani, president of Powder Edge.

Opening first at Aloha Tower, Powder Edge catered mostly to Japanese tourists, accounting for 80 percent of sales.

But since opening a second, larger store at Ward Village in 1998, the local market has climbed to 40 percent of sales, Nakajima said.

While snowboards are not a prime mover at the store -- just 30 of them were sold this winter season -- Powder Edge is proud of its signature Koa-inlaid boards.

"People in the snowboard industry were surprised we could even do that," said Nakajima, noting sales were up from 20 boards the previous season.

Made by California-based Arbor Snowboards, the unique boards retail here for about $390 during the season, now marked down as the season wanes.

Hawaii travelers like to gear up before their trips to avoid the hassle of shopping during their fun-time on the mainland, Nakajima said. And many traveling in tour groups don't have time to look for snow gear along the way.

Goods at the 2,500-square-foot Ward Village store include clothes, footwear, sunglasses, tents, gadgets and camping gear for hard-core outdoor enthusiasts. A $45 butane lighter, for example, will hold its flame on a windy cliff. A fat $200 watch tells not only time but also where you are and how high you've climbed.

"I helped outfit a guy the other day who was going to the Himalayas," said Nakajima. "He needed everything from warm-weather to cold-weather clothes."

Hanging among lightweight cooking implements at the Ward Village is a selection of freeze-dried Eco Cuisine meals including Organic Alfredo Pasta and Cheese with Garlic and Basil, and Garlic Fry Bread.

Looking over a pair of rubber-souled sandals yesterday were Koki Sato and Kentaro Nagaya, both 16, from Sapporo, Japan. Sato and Nagaya said the gear at Powder Edge was cheaper than in Japan and there's a wider selection.

One particular draw at Powder Edge is its line of Patagonia jackets, shirts and other sportswear. Unable to keep up with demand, store operators from Japan sometimes show up at the counter with arm loads of clothes they hope to buy at retail, then take home to sell.

"We have to go up and ask them, "Is that for your personal use?'," said Nakajima, who frowns on the "gray marketing" of Patagonia goods.

While he sometimes loses a sale, Nakajima holds to a Patagonia policy to control the quality of its authorized outlets.

Meanwhile, Powder Edge plans to expand to 3,700 square feet in several months. And the company next month hopes to launch its Web page:

Gearing up

Bullet What: Powder Edge.
Bullet Where: Ward Village at 1142 Auahi St.; Aloha Tower Marketplace.
Bullet Products: Snowboards; clothes, camping gear.
Bullet Opened: 1995 at Aloha Tower.
Bullet 1999 sales: $2.1 million, up 40% from 1998.
Bullet Officers: Toru Otani, president; John Nakajima, vice president.

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