Michael Zhang, owner of the new Blue Hawaii Lifestyle store at Ala Moana Center, is making it his personal mission to export
local goods across the Pacific into the China market.
..."China is the perfect market to begin our branding of Hawaii's healthy, active lifestyle," said Zhang, CEO of Blue Hawaii Lifestyle
and also owner of Blue Hawaii Surf
."There is a great need for the unique alternatives we offer."Zhang
, also the CEO of Blue Hawaii Surf
and CMC Consulting Group
, is setting out to bring quality Hawaii products into the emerging markets of China."The containers come from China full," he
said, "but they go back empty."
says there is a growing market for these Hawaii goods in China.Wealthy residents in China are seeking high-quality health productsfollowing the SARS scare, as well as vitamins and beauty products. /
One of the current challenges of getting Hawaii products into the China market is to meet the Chinese government's Food and Drug Administration rules.That process can sometimes take years, but Zhang is confident, having gone through the process for Hawaiian Host, he can get approvals within a year.Zhang
is using one of the largest food distribution companies in China to sell the goods.
A group of 15 private investors from Hawaii and the mainland put at least $1 million into the Blue Hawaii Lifestyle store
at Ala Moana Center.Zhang
says another group of private investors from China are putting $3 million into the stores he
eventually plans to roll out in Shanghai.Zhang
planning to open two new stores in Shanghai by 2009, including one in the fashionable Xin Tian Di district in downtown Shanghai.He
hopes to eventually open six stores total in Shanghai and four in Beijing by 2011.
Unfortunately, no stores will be open in time for the Beijing Olympics this year.But Zhang
said 70 million visitors are expected to
, a native of Shanghai, speaks Shanghainese as well as Mandarin, the general language of business in China.He
moved to Honolulu in 1990with his
wife, who was then a student at Hawaii Pacific University
acquired Blue Hawaii Surf
10 years ago when it went bankrupt and now has two retail stores-one at Ala Moana and one at Waikele.
has also assembled an advisory board of seasoned business leaders from both Hawaii and China.
"Definitely, the growth market is in this segment," said Zhang
, shown here at his
Blue Hawai'i Lifestyles store in the new Nordstrom wing at Ala Moana, plans to have up to 50 stores in China in the next seven years. /Michael Zhang was a nuclear physicist and owned a research and development technology company in Shanghai, China, when he moved to
"I didn't sell one," Zhang
said.He went on to work nights as a busboy at a Kyotaru restaurant and was a salesman at a T-shirt wholesale company during the day.
It was at theT-shirt firm that he
caught the eye of its owner, who believed Zhang
was better suited to run the company.
The owner came up with a four-year payment plan for Zhang
, who bought the company, Sea Sky USA, in two years.Although the company was doing well, Zhang
had bigger plans.
In 1996, he
acquired Blue Hawai'i Surf, which made surfboards.But when Zhang
lost the company's top board shaper he
decided to take the firm in another direction.
"If I'm short, I don't play basketball.So I wanted to do something different," Zhang
kept the Blue Hawai'i Surf name, but dropped the surfboards to develop a line of clothing and apparel to fit the lifestyle of urban skate and surf enthusiasts.
In 1997 Zhang
first retail store in Waikele and, following the success of that store, opened a second shop at Ala Moana Center
said the stores succeeded because he
wasn't competing with the island's many other surf shops.His
products, under the name Eighty Four Skate, targeted the "hard-core" skater, while his
Blue Hawai'i label was more a "general lifestyle" line.
With a firm grasp on consumers in the 16- to 25-year-old age group, Zhang
sights on older people and also his
market studies showed that China lacked a consistent supply of health food and nutritional products, so he
came up with a concept that he
believed would work here as well as in China.
"Hawai'i people are so health conscious and we live longer and have a very good health image," Zhang
Last week, Zhang
opened Blue Hawai'i Lifestyle
in the new Nordstrom wing at Ala Moana Center
says the store is a combination Jamba Juice, Starbucks
and Body Shop that features organic coffees, teas and smoothies made with deep-sea water.Blue Hawai'i Lifestyle
also has a line of Noni products, organic macadamia nuts and salad dressings, soaps and lotions, and Hawaiian music CDs and books.Zhang
called the Ala Moana outlet his
"franchise store," which he
said will be the model for dozens of stores across China.Zhang
plans to open three Blue Hawai'i Lifestyle
stores in Shanghai in 2009 and believes he
can have 50 stores in the next seven years in China. He
anticipates these stores bringing in $50 million in sales in five years.
"We think that we have a very good chance because this area is virgin in China," he
doesn't plan to grow too much locally, with stores possibly in Waikiki, Waikoloa on the Big Island, and one in West Maui.Zhang believes running a successful business has a lot in common with being a good physicist.He
said each needs to be good with numbers, know logic, and have an unlimited imagination.He
also said he's
done well because of his
early struggles as a door-to-door salesman and busboy.
"When I was in the airplane (coming to Hawai'i), I told myself that you have to forget yourself.I owned a company before I came here, but when youcome here you have to start all over again," Zhang
...The owner, Michael Zhang, moved to Hawaii from China when his wife became a student at Hawaii Pacific University…since then it has become his
dream to bring Hawaii back to China for others to experience.
"We want to be the first pioneer to bring the hula Hawaii culture in China yeah," Michael Zhang
The flagship store will expand to China within the next few years.
"We plan open next year in Xin Tian Di which is the most shopping mall in China and we will plan open 2010 another 2 store in Shanghai," Zhang
With a background in nuclear physics, Michael Zhang
is perhaps not the most likely candidate to launch an international retail chain. /
But as the majority owner of Blue Hawaii LifeStyle
has set out to do just that.Zhang
is aggressively building a global
There are a lot of people who have one [attribute]," says Zhang
, who studied nuclear physics in China."My
backgroundtraining in physics taught me that you have a dream, and you work at it step by step."His
first step was identifying his
had long eyed a tremendously lucrative consumer segment in China, and, at first, Zhang
researched opening a surf shop in China.But after gathering market research, he
found the surf lifestyle did not resonate with consumers there.However, he found a foreign chain such as Starbucks was "huge in China."
, "It's not just coffee, but the American lifestyle and the gathering place."
Then when the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus hit China in early 2003, many affluent and prominent figures fell ill and the general population was reminded that affluence meant nothing without health.Meanwhile, Zhang
says, there are no health-conscious brands in China, such as Whole Foods or General Nutrition Center.
According to Zhang
, Chinese tourists come to Hawaii with a two-pronged mission: to bring home various nick-knacks and chocolates branded with Hawaii themes and labels; and to purchase huge quantities of vitamins and health products because many in China don't trust the quality of similar products sold in China.
"So I said to myself, if I have a store combining Starbucks and a healthy lifestyle, there would be a huge market," says Zhang
, who has since
...Zhang currently serves as CEO of Blue Hawaii Surf, a company that started in 1984 with an inventory of surfboards shaped by industry veteran Glenn
surfing] brands in Hawaii," Zhang