Cowabunga! Computers President Yasuo Ogawa, left, Mayuki Park, Russell Kim, and Patrick Callahan. From right, front, Stacie Unabasami, Rieko Kato, Randal Uyeunten, Marshall Lloyd, and Eric Miyasato. Missing are Ruben Casile, Steve Lee and Lori Martindell.

Milking it

Cowabunga! Computers has
quickly built a profitable business
around its splashy name

Cowabunga! Computers

Business: Computer repair, Internet access, Web design
Location: 1953 S. Beretania St., Suite 3C, Honolulu
Web site: www.smartcows.com

Heard any good cow jokes lately?

Yasuo Ogawa has heard plenty since launching Cowabunga! Computers more than three years ago.

But the high-tech company with the bovine moniker and cowmobiles is enjoying the last moo, er, laugh.

Cowabunga provides Internet access, network architecture, Web design and repair among its services. The 14-person company, headed by 34-year-old Ogawa, turned its first profit last year.

"I think we get a lot of customers because we have a catchy name," Ogawa said. "But the reverse of it is that we have some corporate partners who want us to adopt another name because they didn't think it was appropriate to mention they were working with a company called Cowabunga Computers."

The company's name may not be mentioned in the same breath as Yahoo or Google, but the idea is the same.

"We've very anti-corporate," Ogawa said. "A lot of the people we started with came from a large corporation and we wanted to just break it down."

Hence, the company's name and the Volkswagen Beetle white service vehicles adorned with black cow patches. Not to mention the employee nicknames throughout the office led by Ogawa, who also goes by the label "holycow."

The branding (pun intended) of the company has caught on with both customers and employees alike.

"We have just about every cow toy you can imagine given to us by customers or brought in by my employees when they travel," Ogawa said.

Cowabunga is part of a family owned business operated by Honolulu-based Lumi International LLC, which has an international division in Japan. Cowabunga was started by Ogawa because he felt he could do better than other computer service companies.

"I've always had problems getting good service when it came to computer repair," Ogawa said. "So, I said, 'Let's start a computer repair company.'"

To that end, Cowabunga provides 24/7 emergency support, on-call technicians and services commercial and residential customers with no difference in pricing.

Cowabunga was self-funded from money Ogawa received from brokering the sale of a mainland data-storage firm to a large software company.

Once the money was committed, the next order of business was coming up with a name. Ogawa said the original plan was to call the company Bonzai Computers, but that the idea was scrapped for being too ethnic.

"So we thought of a name that was comparable with the bonzai attitude," Ogawa said.

That led Ogawa to Cowabunga, which he said gets its origin from the television show "Howdy Doody" and is associated with surfers in the 1960s.

"It's like a go get 'em attitude," he said.

Cowabunga is one of three Road Runner-approved service repair companies for Oceanic Time Warner Cable, the largest Internet service provider in the state.

Ogawa is planning on opening a second Cowabunga outlet in Hilo during the first half of next year. And he's talking to a large mainland computer manufacturer about adding his company's services into the manufacturer's business model at select retail distribution points nationwide.

"If you're in business long enough, the consumers start to trust you," Ogawa said. "In Hawaii, more than other markets it seems, the consumers are very critical of references and trust and credibility. And being that we're going into our fourth year, and we've grown both in the commercial and private residential side, that's brought us very good credibility."

As good as Cowabunga might be, Ogawa said it's the name -- and the cars -- that attract the most attention.

"Some people moo us and little kids wave to us, but I can tell you, the cars certainly get a lot of attention," Ogawa said. "It's an incredible marketing tool."

Hawaii companies with fewer than 20 employees had a net gain of jobs in 2001.

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