If freight ordered by K. Taniguchi Shoten wasn’t repeatedly mixed up with another store’s orders, Big Island-based KTA Super Stores might be marking its 100th anniversary under a different name.
Founder Koichi Taniguchi started the “shoten” (store) with his wife, Taniyo, in 1916. His shipments were marked with the initials “KT,” but “there was another KT store,” said Toby Taniguchi, the founder’s great-grandson and company president and chief operating officer.
KTA SUPER STORES MILESTONES
1916: K. Taniguchi Shoten established in Waiakea
1939: Company expands to Keawe Street, downtown Hilo
1946: Original K. Taniguchi Shoten destroyed by tsunami
1953: Keawe Street store converted to supermarket format
1959: Company expands to Kailua-Kona
1966: Company opens Puainako store, now its flagship
1977: Puainako store expands, builds state’s first in-store bakery
1979: Puainako KTA becomes first Hawaii supermarket to fully install bar code scanners at all checkouts
1984: Company expands to Keauhou, Kona
1989: Company expands to Waimea
1990: Company opens sister-store, Waikoloa Village Market
1994: Mountain Apple private-label brand created to promote Hawaii-grown, Hawaii-made products
2000: KTA’s “Living in Paradise” TV show launched
2007: Photovoltaic systems commissioned for Kailua-Kona and Waimea stores; ktasuperstores.com launched
2014: Launch of waikoloavillagemarket.com
Source: KTA Super Stores
The “A” in KTA doesn’t stand for Associates, as many people imagine. “My great-grandfather just added the A at the end to differentiate it from the other KT store,” he said.
That is the story as it has been passed down through the generations, confirmed Toby’s father, Barry Taniguchi, KTA Super Stores chairman and CEO.
From those humble mom-and-pop beginnings, the modern six-location supermarket business now employs some 790 people and is marking its centennial with contests, prizes, in-store celebrity appearances and other ways to thank its customers.
Some of the anniversary celebration contests will be handled via social media sites, including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — which neither Koichi nor Taniyo, or the second-generation children who succeeded them in business, could have foreseen. Further, comedic YouTube star Sean Fujiyoshi made an appearance at the flagship store to help kick off the centennial. Additional events are planned throughout the year.
K. Taniguchi Shoten was a 500-square-foot grocery and dry goods store. Koichi Taniguchi would deliver orders to Hilo families by bicycle, or customers could come pick up their orders.
Over time the store’s name changed to K. Taniguchi Store, K. Taniguchi Supermarket and, finally, KTA Super Stores.
Five of the company’s six stores are KTA Super Stores, while the sixth location is a sister-store called Waikoloa Village Market. That same hyperlocal Village Market branding likely will be used for further expansion of that store concept, Barry Taniguchi said.
Barry Taniguchi, 68, is Koichi and Taniyo’s grandson. Just as Barry’s father, Kuniwo, was the eldest of Koichi’s sons and rose to head the business, Barry is the eldest of his father’s sons. Toby, as it happens, is Barry’s oldest son. Toby has an older sister, but she is not involved in the family business, Barry said. In between, uncles, cousins and other family members also have helped to lead the company.
Many, but not all, of the Taniguchi family and their relatives start their work lives in the company business, but all are encouraged to work outside of the company to gain valuable experience. “I tell my friends that, too,” Barry said, “tell them to work outside for a while, but don’t forget to use that experience to come back and help the (family) company.”
Of the 16 officers of parent company Puna Plantation Hawaii Ltd., three bear the Taniguchi surname, but others also are family members.
The company “is held by the family. However, in our organization we do have … nonfamily executives who have been with our organization for a long time,” said Toby Taniguchi. Company executives Glenn Kodama, Derek Kurisu and Craig Hamamoto “have been with (us) so long that we consider them family,” he said.
Koichi Taniguchi bought Puna Plantation Hawaii, a papaya farm, around the time of the eruption in the Kapoho area of Puna in 1959, Barry said. Puna Plantation became the parent company name for various units, one of which is the grocery retailing operation.
KTA has established many firsts in Hawaii’s grocery industry over the years, claiming to have been the state’s first supermarket to have an in-store bakery, at the Puainako store; the first to install UPC bar code scanners at all checkouts; and the first to install and operate energy-saving photovoltaic systems, at its Waimea and Kailua-Kona stores.
KTA debuted its private- label Mountain Apple brand in 1994 as a way to promote products grown or made in Hawaii, and it also launched its own TV show, “Living in Paradise,” in 2000. Episodes are archived on the KTA website.
Hawaii doesn’t have many businesses that have hit the century mark, said John Butler, faculty director of the Family Business Center of Hawaii at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Shidler College of Business. He cited Roselani Ice Cream and City Mill as rare examples of enduring longevity through generations. “I would say less than 2 percent make it that far,” he said. “It’s a pretty small percentage, and in food there have been (thousands of) articles written about food stores” that went out of business “when Walmart came to town,” Butler said.
Walmart opened in Hilo in 1997, less than half a mile away from KTA’s flagship store on Puainako Street.
Butler noted that the pace of progression of the Western world toward Hawaii shores was a likely factor in Hawaii’s small number of century-old family businesses. “I just think there are probably more 100-year-old companies on the East Coast,” he said. “One hundred years here would be like 200 (years) in New Jersey or New York,” he said.
The same is true for businesses extending in the opposite direction, from whence the Taniguchi family came to the islands.
Kongo Gumi, which primarily operated as a Japanese temple-building company, is widely believed to have been the world’s longest-lived family business, having been run by 40 generations of the Kongo family. It was founded in 578 and ran for 1,428 years until it was absorbed into a subsidiary of another Japanese construction company in 2006, according to multiple reports.
A company as old as KTA Super Stores generally has longtime employees, and some of of the longest-serving are Harold Leite, at 52 years; Nora Murashima, 50 years; Dennis Kodera, 50 years; Vice President Glenn Kodama, 50 years; Craig Tomori, 49 years; and Executive Vice President Derek Kurisu, 48 years, according to Barry Taniguchi.
The employees and company culture are among the reasons KTA has not yet expanded to any of the neighbor islands, he said. The idea has been bandied about over the years, “but we don’t think we’re ready for that,” said Taniguchi.
Without a distribution center on Oahu or Maui, for instance, shipments would go from the mainland to Oahu and on to Hawaii island. They then would have to be processed and sent back to Maui or Oahu. “The back-haul would make no sense,” he said.
Also, KTA has a corporate culture “we think is unique to this island,” he said. “The employees know how we operate, they know our values,” and trying to establish the identical culture “with people from the outside (is) another reason we hesitate,” Taniguchi said.
So far, prioritizing its core market on Hawaii island has been working for the Taniguchi family business. It is a reflection of the founders’ century-old philosophy reflecting a commitment to humbly serve the people of their community, Taniguchi said.
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