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Column: Isle businesses pivot to web to adjust to new coronavirus

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  • Rob Kay

    Rob Kay

As every pundit is fond of saying, our world has changed. Well, at least for the foreseeable future. With face-to-face transactions problematic, businesses are learning to leverage the web.

My favorite yoga studio, Iyengar Yoga Honolulu, based at Manoa Marketplace, closed down a week before Mayor Krik Caldwell proclaimed “stay at home, work from home.” Co-founder Ray Madigan, an RN by vocation, saw the writing on the wall and temporarily closed shop. He and his partner, Shelley Choy, create free online classes. Other yoga classes are offered in real time via Zoom, but Ray and Shelley opted to post videos on their site. Their thinking is that students can do them on their schedule if they are prerecorded. Classes range from back pain to neck and shoulder relief. There’s also a timely video on yoga that will fortify the immune system.

J.R. Robinson, founder of Financial Planning Hawaii, has been as busy as ever responding to questions from his 125 clients. Prior to COVID-19 he’d often meet people at his office near Salt at Kakaako, but with the stay-at-home edict, he shifted to his Manoa home. Robinson said his client call volume has increased dramatically, particularly in response to newletters, podcasts and email that he generates. “I get back to my clients,” he said, “via phone or video apps such as Zoom or Screenleap.” The challenge he said, is to create original content rather than just parroting what the usual financial “gurus” are saying. “My clients want personal guidance from me,” he said.

Dave Marabella’s Garden Valley & Isle Seafood company has been exporting and importing seafood for 35 years. His company supplies hotels and restaurants throughout Hawaii with fresh ahi, mahimahi, kajiki, ono, snapper and other seafood. With tourism imploding, Marabella has lost 80-85% of his business. His challenge was to switch gears and sell directly to the consumer. He’s set up a “grab-and-go” system where customers call or text orders and pick up their two to three pounds of poke from his 225 N. Nimitz Highway office. He depends on word of mouth. “We’re not tech experts,” said Marabella, “but we’ve set up an Instagram account now and soon will be on Facebook.” He noted that seafood has never been cheaper.

Kojun Murakami, a Realtor for Equity Hawaii Real Estate, had to shift gears from a traditionally “high-touch” business to communicating almost exclusively in cyberspace. Working out of his home on Wilhelmina Rise, he converses with clients over Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. His brokerage has hired a firm to create virtual tours that allow you to walk through each room with a 360-degree field of view. Murakami said, “We are still doing private showings on vacant properties with lock boxes and leaving bottles of disinfectant sprays inside. No actual interaction with listing agent and buyers.”

For Denis Salle, founder of eC3 Hawaii, a Kaimuki medical information technology services company specializing in billing and medical records, the shift to virtual communications had everything to do with his clients: medical doctors with medical practices. The first thing he did was to send his three employees to work at home and provide them with encrypted VPN lines. The next challenge was to set up telemedicine systems for his clients. “Doctors knew,” said Salle, “that they had to switch to telemedicine — and quickly. A COVID-19 infection would shut a medical office down.” Webcams were in short supply, so he configured camera-enabled laptops that were never intended for telemedicine. It was a MacGyver move, he admitted, but it worked. “The sad part,” he said, “is that I miss my employees at the office.”

Rob Kay, a Honolulu­-based writer, covers technology and sustainability for Tech View and is the creator of He can be reached at

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