Jumping In Feet First

(from left) June, John, Juliet and Jasmine Kaohelaulii at Sole Mates in Coconut Marketplace

By John and Juliet Kaohelaulii
Owners of Sole Mates

Soul mates run Sole Mates footwear store at Coconut Marketplace.

Having just celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary, John and Juliet Kaohelaulii find the name of their footwear store in Kapa’a to be more than ironic. Sole Mates, located at Coconut Marketplace, was purchased by the high school sweethearts more than six years ago, and it’s where residents and visitors are encouraged not to “cheap the feet” and instead go with “high quality” slippers and sandals, says John Kaohelaulii.

How has business changed in recent years?

John: Overall, the economy has settled down. But it’s hard to say how much.

Juliet: It’s not getting worse. It needs to get a little bit better. I think we’re very lucky because we are getting more and more local people through the door. It helps to have regular customers.

What sets your business apart?

John: Trying to focus on family and fun. Our strong family values help our customer service program, and a lot of people just enjoy coming in. Another thing is we have a really strong recycling program. We try to recycle everything and even make our Mainland customers take an oath promising to recycle their box or bring them back for us to recycle, because they are just going to throw them away anyway. Little things like that we try to have fun with.

Why do you do what you do?

Juliet: I like working with people. I really do. People say, ‘Well, don’t you get tired?”Don’t you want a day off?’ But I’m like, ‘No.’ I really like the job. When you work, you have to like what you’re doing. I don’t understand why some people call in sick. They say they have children who are sick and they say family is more important. But you’re working for your family and if you don’t have the job, you won’t be able to take care of the family.

What is the most challenging aspect of having this business?

John: It’s challenging being a small business anywhere, especially now with the Internet and big-box stores. People are changing, and it’s going to be a different economy when we finally bounce out. Things are not going to be the same as they were two years ago.

We have to be in a position to adapt and diversify. Kaua’i’s economy is so fragile. For example, every sale bought online is like a nail in the coffin because there is no value in the product when you buy online. It hurts our economy because the money goes out. But what hurts even more is when people come in to try on the product and then go buy it online.

Juliet: That’s just stealing our time. But it happens. Sometimes you just don’t want to make a big point because they just don’t get it. We hope they go online and then come back because it’s only $2 more here and they don’t have to pay for shipping.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of the job?

Juliet: When people come back and say ‘Thank you.’

John: The relationships we’ve developed. Having people come back and having them walk into the store who may have been hesitant to try on a new product. Then they come back a few days later and thank us.

How do you measure success?

John: Success is not necessarily about how much money you have in the bank, but how strong your family ties are, how strong your family is as a core.

What are your plans for the future?

John: We’re looking at growing. It’s about timing. We do want to expand, especially our products for the local people, our local market. A lot of our local people wear the flat rubber slippers, and they don’t realize the cost of the damage they are taking by wearing those types of products. They’re cheap, but you pay in the long run. We’re hoping to bring in more products that will provide better structure for their feet.

Do you have a motto or philosophy for doing business?

John: Treat everyone like family.

Sole Mates is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 822-2180.

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