Local businessman Randy Kurohara (Mānoa, BBA ’84), owner of the Aloha Grown brand, Parker Ranch Store, and Creative Arts apparel and promotional product company, recently visited with students from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s College of Business and Economics (CoBE) for an entrepreneurship workshop. In his opening talk, Kurohara took the students through his journey as a local entrepreneur.
“Successful local business [creates] a belief in others that you can make it as a local business,” says Kurohara, adding, “local businesses are aware of community needs.”
The workshop was a collaborative effort between UH Alumni Relations and the business college. Kurohara graduated from UH Mānoa in 1984 with a bachelor of business administration in marketing. For sharing his experiences with the UH Hilo business students, Kurohara received recognition as Alumni Professor for a Day courtesy of UH Alumni Relations.
Kurohara is a member and past president of the Rotary Club of South Hilo, a director and past president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaiʻi, a board member of the Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Hawai‘i Health System Corporation’s East Hawai‘i Regional Board, an advisory board chair for the East Hawai‘i Salvation Army, and emeritus board member for the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island.
“Randy is a real powerhouse and the definition of a true serial entrepreneur,” says Helen Tien, a UH Hilo instructor of marketing and management. “His path to success gives students first-hand insight on how to build a local brand with real community impact.”
Path to success
As part of his talk, Kurohara shared the history of local entrepreneurship in his family. Growing up in Hilo as the son of a retailer and the grandson of a tailor, he was inspired to start his own business from a young age. His father’s screen-printing business, Creative Arts, established in 1972, is where he started his entrepreneurial journey.
Throughout his career, Kurohara considered ways to contribute to keeping agriculture a part of the island’s economy while inspiring the next generation of farmers. With this mission in mind, he created the Aloha Grown brand in 2009, developed as a “surf shop for farmers,” with messaging and philosophy centered around agriculture.
The Aloha Grown brand promotes a sustainable lifestyle, encouraging locals to “Join the Backyard Revolution,” with every sale going back to the community in some way, such as helping new farmer-entrepreneurs purchase supplies.
Following the success of Aloha Grown, Kurohara took on the historic Parker Ranch Store in Waimea, helping to preserve the paniolo lifestyle of the area through promoting a message of keeping agriculture and sustainability a part of the island.
Through entrepreneurship and giving back to the community, Kurohara hopes to inspire the growth of more local businesses in Hawai‘i.
But he cautions students to prepare for setbacks.
“You’ve got to always be prepared for challenges; you have to learn that challenges are opportunities to get better,” he explains. “Every day, when I face a challenge, or deal with a challenging situation, it’s an opportunity to better the business. If you take it from that perspective, then you don’t necessarily give up based on just having challenges in the business.”
Kurohara markets his businesses through social media and a website that merges Parker Ranch Store and the Aloha Grown brand, emphasizing the rarity of the products. He says people like that the products are only found on Hawai’i Island. He makes sure the culture of the island is promoted properly through a message of encouraging sustainability.
Future local entrepreneurs
In addition to hearing about Kurohara’s experiences and business strategies, students also networked at the event, asked questions, and entered a drawing giveaway to win Aloha Grown t-shirts and stickers.
Students also discussed applying Kurohara’s experiences to their own hopes for becoming entrepreneurs in the future.
Garnett Stone, Jr, an accounting major at UH Hilo, hopes to own his own business one day, and attended the workshop to learn more about entrepreneurship. “I was thinking about opening my own accounting firm one day if I continue doing accounting,” he says. “If I change my majors, [this workshop] would still help me, because one day I really believe that I would want to start my own business. It’s good to get information from someone who has gone through creating their own businesses.”
Alex Rapoza, a finance major, came to the workshop to hear what it’s like first-hand to be a business owner in Hawaiʻi and how to overcome the challenges that come with it. “My family runs a business and I feel like this whole workshop can help me, because eventually I’m going to have to take over that business,” he says.
Melanie Ebreo, a marketing major, attended the event to see how Kurohara developed his marketing strategies of getting the word out about his business and keeping the community engaged. “I enjoy the marketing end of businesses, especially local ones,” she says. “A popular method of marketing local business is by word-of-mouth or social media; they don’t necessarily need an entire department, so it’s always interesting to get a look at that.”