At Hana Pa'a Hawaii, Mabel Kaya and her son, Sterling, work the counter while their two dogs, Bok Shil, right, and Shadow, usually have the run of the place.

Kaya family dives
into Hana Pa‘a

In less than a decade,
the store has grown

By Erika Engle

Hana Pa'a Hawaii is relatively new as family-owned fishing supply stores go; it was incorporated in 1993.

It's not as old as Lihue Fishing Supply, which dates to 1966 and its days as Ideal Cleaners.

It's not as old as Honolulu's Kaya Fishing Supply, incorporated in 1969, but that Kaya family is at least distantly related to the Kayas of Hana Pa'a.

They talk about such things when Hana Pa'a Vice President Sterling Kaya makes wholesale deliveries to the other fishing Kayas on Kekaulike Street.

Despite its youth, Hana Pa'a has made a name for itself with a flagship store in Kalihi, a sub-leased space in Ala Moana Center, through sponsored events and in a magazine in which it has ownership interest.

Hana Pa'a came to be when the owner of Phillip's Fishing Supply at Middle Street near Dillingham fell ill and sold the business to longtime customer Fred Kaya and his son Sterling, with Kaya matriarch Mabel to help mind the store.

Sterling had already been buzzing along in his own career as art director of the in-house advertising agency at Servco Pacific Inc.

"It was a big investment on my parents' part," Sterling Kaya said. "It was better to help them."

The store moved about three years ago to 1733 Dillingham Blvd. because of a plan to build a new big box retail store at the old spot. The plan fell through but the Kayas moved anyway.

"We found a place we liked," Kaya said. "It was bigger, there was more parking, it was a good thing with a long-term lease."

Joining the business from the start gave Sterling the on-the-job-training he needed to take over operations following the stroke-induced death of his father in September 2000. He and his mother were on their own and the following year made the decision to expand.

Kaya's advertising and graphics experience gave the store an edge in marketing and merchandising. It offered T-shirts, decals and other logo-emblazoned items, setting it apart from most other fishing related retailers.

Its line of apparel and a selection of diving and fishing gear is sold in Hana Pa'a's sub-leased store-within-a-store at Hawaiian Island Creations in Ala Moana Center.

It opened for business in time for Christmas last year, despite the plummeting economy caused by Sept. 11.

"Everything was set in motion prior to 9/11," Kaya said. "I didn't want to back out."

HIC President Stephen Tsukayama speaks glowingly of the arrangement.

"They are the leaders in the free dive arena, their people are knowledgeable, they're into the sport," Tsukayama said.

HIC decided to maximize its Ala Moana space with a complementary product line that would not compete with its own merchandise.

"They do something different. Their products are more one of a kind, for professional and hard-core (divers)," Tsukayama said.

Since Hana Pa'a opened, a new breed of customer has also been exposed to HIC products.

"It's kind of neat. (Kaya's) getting Australians, Europeans," he said. "You don't realize that people free dive all over the world."

People will venture into the space to hang out, Tsukayama said. "He's got pictures and videos going on and a lot of his guys, they know what's going on in the water, every rock, every hole, every shark out there."

At Hana Pa'a Hawaii, Bok Shil has free run of the Dillingham Boulevard store while Mabel Kaya and son Sterling handle the business end of fishing supply.

Hana Pa'a also advertises and promotes itself through sponsorship of fishing tournaments such as the Hana Pa'a Ohana Shoreline Fishing Tournament in July. Some 500 people participated.

In 1999, the younger Kaya, an avid diver, learned that magazine publisher Damon Duhyalongsod was going to fold Hawaii Skin Diver magazine, in which the store advertised.

"I guess the divers were disappointed," Kaya said. "They liked the magazine and it helped us from advertising, so I decided to buy it."

He and partner Clifford Cheng, who serves as art director, have since won numerous awards for the quarterly magazine, from the Hawaii Advertising Federation, the American Institute of Graphic Arts-Hawaii Chapter and the Society of Publication Designers.

"We got merit (awards) two years in a row," Kaya said. "And those are international awards." The latter were especially sweet for Kaya and Cheng as the competition included such publications as Martha Stewart's Living, ESPN magazine and Rolling Stone.

Hawaii Skin Diver is not a household name as magazines go. "It's small but has a fanatical following," he said. "We actually have subscribers on the mainland and around the world."

Subscribers pay $19 a year while others pick it up at fishing and diving supply stores and other retailers for $4.75.

Hawaii Skin Diver's main competition comes from Spearfishing magazine, published in Florida. Not surprisingly, Kaya sees no comparison.

The magazine had an advertiser as a lead sponsor for its spearfishing tournament in June in which 70 divers competed. Next year the competition will bear the magazine's name to leave the door open for more sponsors.

Competition in the fishing and diving supply business is a bit difficult for Kaya to gauge.

"It's hard for me because I haven't been in the business long enough," he said.

Looking toward the future the biggest challenge Kaya sees is finding a balance.

Kaya sees the need to get "the next generation involved in the sport so it'll perpetuate itself, but we've also got to conserve the resources so there'll be things to catch."

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