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Morris: Lessons from the Islands

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I always count it a privilege and a treat to travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Many of you know that my son and his wife live on Oahu and being able to spend time with “Ohana” gives us the perfect excuse to travel to Hawaii as often as we possibly can. You may also know that I have many colleagues that own and operate terrific body shops in Hawaii. Places like Island Fender, Oka’s, and Kuroda’s on Oahu and Auto Body Hawaii on Big Island are some of the best-run operations and operators you will ever meet.  

The men and women that operate these shops deal with a tremendous amount of adversity and numerous challenges like those that you and I experience sometimes, but they deal with it on an exponentially larger scale. For example, if you need a new tech to augment your team, your resources are vast in comparison to the islands. On the Islands, the cost of living is high, and technicians are scarce because of this. In many cases, it turns out that the body shops support and finance the student tuition and supply tools and equipment so the programs can remain viable.  

Are you having challenges with back-ordered parts? Well, what would you do if you were faced with two- to three-week lead times on all parts orders, like the folks in Hawaii experience every single day? Over there, if a part is not in stock, it is coming on a slow boat from the Mainland or Japan. 

These operators have created solutions for the challenges they face, and they are an inspiration to me when it comes to dealing with the challenges I encounter in the business. They are the true epitome of the “aloha spirit” when it comes to helping us Haole’s on the Mainland. Lesson No. 1 is do not be afraid to enlist the help of a mentor to help you find a way to go over, around, or through your challenges.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I observed some other interesting ways that businesses and individuals are coping with and overcoming the challenges of our new normal environment. Once we had booked our flights and lodging, it was time to reserve a rental vehicle. We planned to stay on Kauai, which is a small and sparsely populated island, but some of the sights we wanted to see and experience were somewhat far from the place we were staying. 

So, just like we always had in the past, I contacted the rental car companies that have offices on the island, only to learn that not a single company had vehicles to rent. They were either completely booked, or they had moved their fleet to neighboring islands during the pandemic. 

We started thinking we were going to end up riding the public bus or paying $175 per ride on Uber or Lyft whenever we ventured away from our condo. A week out from our departure, I brought up this rental car predicament to my son. He told me to sit tight, and he would ask around on the coconut telegraph to see if there were any alternative solutions. A few days later, we had a full-size SUV lined up for us to use, courtesy of a local that had a spare vehicle and was willing to rent it out. Lesson No. 2 is do not be afraid to enlist the help of family and friends when you need help going around, over or through your challenges.

Toward the end of our trip to the Islands, we decided to have some Pupu’s and an adult beverage at one of our favorite restaurants in SALT at Our Kaka’ako. We were delighted to see that our restaurant was open and vibrant, even though capacity limits kept occupancy at half of normal. We were also happy to see the establishment was fully staffed with young, energetic, and smiling service staff. There was a large empty table at the corner of the restaurant with a “reserved” sign on it, but soon I started to see service staff moving over to the table and sitting down. After a short period of time, there were 10 staff members at the table and then the manager came to the table and joined them. I am pretty sure it was a start-of-shift team huddle where staff learned about the chef specials, catch of the day, restaurant events, etc. 

One unique thing I noticed was that every team member passed around a non-contact thermometer and checked the temperature of their neighbor. The team members behaved casually but carefully during this testing process. They were peaceful, calm, and even sometimes playful with each other as they passed the thermometer around. I do not know how other businesses are handling mandatory temperature tests for employees that are arriving to work, but I guess I pictured some sort of lineup outside of the business where managers with rosters on clipboards herded employees into a temperature test check point before allowing them into the workplace.  

I asked the manager how they came up with the process for temperature testing. He said, “the team came up with it.” It was enlightening and gratifying to see how the staff at the restaurant handled mandatory testing. Here, the lesson for me was, do not be afraid to enlist the help of your team to come up with the processes and solutions that get you around, over and through challenges and unpleasant tasks.  

I trust that when you travel for pleasure, you can disconnect from the “day-to-day” of your work, but what I also hope is that your genuine curiosity allows you to learn lessons from whatever and whoever you encounter on your journey.


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