Friday, June 10, 2016

Green Flash Comics Now Located in Joeten Superstore Building

Interviewed by: Orrin Pharmin
SBDC Director/Business Advisor

Please tell us about yourself and your family I arrived on Saipan in 2002 to teach math at the Northern Mariana College (NMC).  I left NMC in 2009 and taught math at Marianas High School for two years.  I also taught computer course and math at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi in 2011-2012. I then returned to Saipan in 2012.  My wife's name is Susan, who works for IT&E as a purchaser and we have two children: James (11) and Sarah (9).

Why did you decide to start your own business?  While in Abu Dhabi, I attended the very first annual “Comic-Con.” Although there is a high demand for comic book merchandise as well as a high level of brand and character recognition, I discovered that there were no comic book merchandise stores in the entire country of the United Arab Emirates. The one condition for starting a store there is that I would need to already have a business elsewhere, so I decided to start one on Saipan since there were no other full comic merchandise stores on the island.

How did the Small Business Development Center and other resources help you?  They got me started in the right direction by helping me with the logistics of starting a business on the island.

What was the start-up process like? How did you fund your business?  I funded the business completely through personal savings I did not take out a loan or need to borrow money.  The start-up process took more than a year.  It's a lot of work and planning plus finding a suitable location.  This all took a bit of time.

What were some of the biggest challenges/experienced you experienced in the start-up process?  There were plenty of challenges, including finding a reasonably proper location, setting up how to make and receive orders, finding out what was in demand and what was not, establishing a clientele.

What is your most memorable triumph in your start-up process?  Just opening the doors for the first day of business knowing the store was absolutely ready to begin business.

What are your short-term and long-term plans for your business?  Short term: Moving to a better location (which has been accomplished).  Long term: Opening a store in the U.A.E.

What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?  With the price of oil dropping as much as it has in the past year or so, plus the noticeable increase in construction on-island, it might be a good time to consider starting a business.

For more information on starting a new business or expanding your existing business, contact the CNMI SBDC at 670-664-3018. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Field Bar and Restaurant in Palau: Great Atmosphere and Food

By: Ltelatk Fritz
Service Center Director/Business Advisor
(Palau SBDC)

Spectacular sunset views at dusk overlooking the bay towards Ngarkebesang Island. The Field Bar & Restaurant is owned and operated by Wilbur “Olu” Williams. It is a family-friendly, full-service restaurant with a semi-formal, relaxing atmosphere. The Field is also a chic bar, open nightly from 6 pm to Midnight on weekdays and until 1 am on Saturday nights.

With the help of his family, Olu officially opened The Field for business in July 2013.  Although he did not have a lot of experience in the food & beverage industry, he has always envisioned owning and running a bar and restaurant.  He is extremely grateful for the support and knowledge he gained from watching his in-laws run their restaurant. After 24 years working for Palau’s national government, Olu was able to lease the old Peleliu Club—the original location on the ground floor at Uchul a Ngas in Medalaii—as well as obtaining capital to renovate, re-wire, and re-furnish the place with the help of his family. 

In 2015, he came to the Palau SBDC to seek assistance in expanding his business. Olu needed additional capital to increase his inventory and revitalize the business operations.  Palau SBDC was able to help The Field successfully retain three (3) existing jobs and maintain its operations, in addition to the acquisition of new capital obtained from the Palau National Development Bank.

Owner Wilbur "Olu" Williams
Today, The Field is thriving and riding the current waves of increased business from the locals celebrating the many holidays and annual festivities. As a restaurant, The Field serves up a great selection of delicious local and international cuisines. During the work week, The Field is open for lunch from 11 am to 2 pm. In the evening, it re-opens at 6pm for dinner every evening except for Sundays. Some of the local favorites include the Kangkum Tuna and the Sizzling Steaks.  The field also offers catering for in-house events such as birthday parties, baby showers, workshops, luncheons, office dinners, family reunions, class reunions, and even local customs.

The Field is a very family oriented business, as Olu and his family are very supportive of one another. The management is flexible and is often able to meet with the needs and requests of their clientele.  The Field also allows guests to book the venue and bring in their own food and drinks, with prior arrangements.  There’s a separate smoking area within the restaurant to make it convenient for everyone.  It is spacious enough to comfortably fit 70-75 guests.  

As for entertainment, The Field has two extra-large flat screen televisions—one at the bar and one in the dining area.  Live, local entertainment is available upon request for additional charges. 

The Field is open six days a week—Monday through Saturday. It is located at the Peleliu Club Building, next to Bai ra Maiberel and Palau Conservation Society, across from Happy Landing Shell Station. You can contact them at (680) 488-1888; e-mail; or follow them on Facebook. 

For more information on how the Palau SBDC can assist you whether starting or expanding your business, contact their office at 680-587-6004 or visit 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Crafting the Hafaloha Spirit: An Interview with Owners Leonard and Tara Kaae

By: Nicole Tesiro
Network Program Associate
(Pacific Islands SBDC Network)

Growing up in Hawai`i, Len Kaae looked up to local clothing brands as inspiration to own a retail store one day. Together with his wife and business partner, Tara, they made that dream happen to what is now known as Hafaloha. I had the opportunity to sit and speak to them at their shop in Tumon on how Hafaloha started and take a glimpse to where the company is heading.  

Hafaloha started as a hobby, creating and selling merchandise on a spare time. Having to work, raise three children (Trayven, 12, Ahela’a, 6, and Leonard III, 5), and start Hafaloha was an overwhelming experience. But they managed to do them in stages, accomplishing each small goal to reach their ultimate achievement of opening a brick and mortar shop. They first wanted to have an online presence selling merchandise on the web. They also attended the Pacific Islander Festival Association (PIFA), exposing Hafaloha to the Pacific Islander community in the West Coast.  Then, they opened a pop-up shop in the Guam Premier Outlet (GPO) displaying their style to the Guam community and returned to PIFA the next year. After much exposure and noticing a consumer demand, they finally decided to open their store, located in Tumon across the Pacific Islands Club (PIC).  The shop coming to fruition exemplifies the result of hard work and the desire of truly wanting something to happen. Although the stages they went through took a toll on them mentally and physically, they found the strength and motivation in the people who surrounded them with support and guidance. They reflected on their humble beginnings starting  with just the two of them and a rack in their bedroom hanging a few of their designs to today where their shop carries a variety of products, serves shave ice and acai bowls, and  employs a staff of 27. 

Len spoke on how growing up with three sisters helped him understand fashion and gave him advice to craft his own style. He also credited the local clothing brands present in Hawai`i when he was growing up to spark his artistic vision. Tara’s background focused on customer service and general operations specifically in the food and beverage and retail industries. Her enthusiastic personality exhibited one who enjoyed meeting new people and a love for learning. As partners, they decided that Tara would be the general manager of operations while Len would be the artistic eye generating designs for new merchandise. The Kaaes spoke a lot about family and centered their business approach on treating their employees and customers like family. The love (or Hafaloha) exudes from both of them constantly smiling when they talk about their business, staff, customers, and each other. It was evident that a lot of care goes into this company. 

The Guam SBDC was another support system that helped achieve their dream. Tara listened to the positive advice of Denise Mendiola, Senior Business Advisor/Women in Business Program Coordinator.  Denise’s experiences of what worked and didn’t work for her in her business ventures aided in how Tara and Len structured their business model. Len chimed in stating his appreciation for how Denise was always available to answer any of their questions. Denise’s enthusiasm and inspiring words gave them that boost of confidence needed to believe that their goal was within their reach. Tara mentioned that the workshops that SBDC offered were helpful in managing their operations. The QuickBooks courses gave her a better understanding in basic accounting before they were able to hire an accountant. Preparing the business plan was the most crucial aspect of the technical support received by the Guam SBDC because it laid the groundwork for what Hafaloha would be. The resources available to complete the business plan were valuable especially the convenience of being able to just plug in the data they researched into the financial templates provided and having it generate their reports. 

The business plan was also a crucial document for potential partners seeking a stake in Hafaloha. These partners wanted to see their financial projections and sales forecasts as well as how they will execute and implement their ideas. The Kaaes did not take out a loan and, instead, opted to find a partner. The guidance received from these partners became vital in the products produced and the timing of their release. Hafaloha is about constant reinvention and to evolve as a brand as consumer trends evolve. Len stated, “We had to continuously keep it fresh and keep it new.” The wide spectrum and number of ideas they had for the shop was immense, and they both stated how thankful they were for the business savvy of these partners in how to prioritize their ideas and identify which ideas would be beneficial to the growth of their business. 

Tara and Len found themselves in challenging situations where mistakes were made but are grateful that they happened because they were able to analyze these situations, learn how to prevent them, and make smarter business decisions. It was discouraging at first, but they told themselves that they can only understand what went wrong and try to find solutions. As a business owner, there is no time to sulk in these types of situations. Len stated, “You have to wake up, brush it off, and ask yourself what you are going to do to fix it. Just keep pushing.” 

When asked what their most memorable triumph in this start-up process, they simply replied the entire journey. They reflected on how they started and appreciated that they were able to see those dreams realized and those goals accomplished. As the Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPac) approaches, Hafaloha’s short-term goals involve working towards utilizing the event to showcase what Hafaloha has to offer. In the coming months, you’ll be expected to see Hafaloha collaborate with local and international companies organizing events. In addition, Hafaloha will be able to serve customers from private parties to community events with their mobile shave ice. Over the next years, Hafaloha’s long-term goal is to expand their business by opening other locations on Guam. Furthermore, Tara and Len want to improve the shave ice side of their business by offering more local favorites and unique flavors and creating their own sugar-free syrups to cater to other markets.   

Listening to Tara and Len speak on their business and their family was inspiring. Hearing how they started with the one rack in their bedroom—which they still have—to remind them of their journey to planning a second location and offering a variety of products is motivating for any business owner that has an idea that they are passionate about. When asked to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Len and Tara agree that passion is key. They continue to say to have patience and expect to fail, and when you do come across those hiccups, dust yourself off and persevere. 

Hafaloha is a two-part retail shop offering clothing merchandise from shirts, hats, surf shorts, women’s clothing, and kid’s clothing to bags, sunglasses, air fresheners, key chains, coloring books, and stickers. The other part of the shop offers shave ice where they developed their own syrups and acai bowls. For more information on Hafaloha and their products, visit or call 671-989-3444.

For more information on how the Guam SBDC can assist you, visit our website at or contact our main office at 671-735-2590. Request for counseling to receive free, confidential one-on-one business advisement or register for upcoming training events at low to no cost to jumpstart your business venture.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

An Interview with Taliea Strohmeyer: "Color Guam"

TGalleria Explore, Learn, and Color Guam Launch.
Taliea Strohmeyer, a local artist trained in graphic design and painting, shared her story on how she fell in love with art and took us through her journey in how she started her business involving one of her greatest passions.

Please tell us about yourself and your family.
I’ve been an artist for over 30 years. Art is who I am, from the day I picked up a paintbrush I knew my calling. I was exposed to the medium at a very young age and count the late Sister Kathleen Sarmiento as a driving influence along with my musical family.

I learned a great deal of discipline and relentless practice in art school. This allowed me the opportunity to train in Europe & Asia.

Being a fine artist & graphic designer is a unique combination of skills. I had to merge both these skills when we created our first interactive historical book, “Explore, Learn & Color Guam” and reproduce my original works of art. Both these products are now sold online at our website and at various retail locations on Guam —Two Lovers Point, the GUMA Gallery, NEX and other retail outlets on island.

I also love teaching painting. I love to see how people go from “I don’t know” to “Now I know” when they complete a session. I have instilled a love of art in my children and count them along with my business partner and husband, Tom as my core inspiration today.

Why did you decide to start your own business?
I had spent over 20 years working in the field of advertising creating print campaigns, booklets, logos, packaging, basically any type of visual art that would communicate to the masses.  I had climbed the corporate ladder and found myself as a Creative Manager, managing several incredibly talented people, but I had always wanted to branch out on my own doing something art related and spend more time with my children.

GUMA Gallery in Hagatna.
In early 2014, I embarked on that journey. I picked up the phone and made an appointment with Denise Mendiola. We went over an entire list I had in mind. She said, “Go out there and see what’s in the market and then we could talk again.” I did the research and became frustrated – all my ideas were already on the shelves.  I felt discouraged but met with her again. She told me to think of something that hadn’t been made yet and said, “You have a talent, use it, spend some time thinking about it, and do more research.”

A couple of weeks went by and out of curiosity I went to my first FestPac meeting conducted by Monica Guzman. I was asked to introduce myself and what group I was from. I found myself surrounded by Guam’s cultural gatekeepers. It was a very profound moment for me because they were all in one room and had so much knowledge on our culture and our people and they were determined to educate our youth. Sitting there I felt a bit ashamed because I was raised on this island, I am Chamorro and what have I done to educate our people about our past, our culture & traditions in my art?  I also thought about my children and the type of legacy I want to leave behind. That day I made a promise to myself that whatever my product would be, it would educate our children and those who know very little about Guam and our cultural heritage.

As the weeks passed, I struggled to come up with a product with a historical focus. Until one day my husband and I decided to take our kids to the Plaza de EspaƱa. Being curious little kids they took off running. When they finally caught their breath we took them on a tour. They just loved the park and had so many questions. My daughter took a certain admiration with Chocolate House. She was only five years old at the time, but wanted to know who built it and why. She loved listening to the story. That was when a light went off on my head and the possibility of creating a historical book for kids and adults. That’s how “Explore, Learn & Color Guam” was born.

GUMA survey at TGalleria, Tumon.
What experience do you have in this type of business?

The only thing I had under my belt was my graphic and fine arts experience, managing employees and working with people, but the whole business aspect was something I had to learn.

How did the Small Business Development Center and other resources help you?
The guidance I received from my advisor, Denise Mendiola was truly one of the keys in creating our first product. I became organized, I did my homework, and I listened to her ideas and her professional advice and took the necessary steps I needed to make our idea into a reality.
What was the start-up process like? How did you fund your business?
The start-up process was challenging. It took a year for us to complete the coloring book. We kept an eye on our financial resources, what we had already spent on the book and art prints and what we were going to spend in the future. We looked at all the equipment that was needed, the amount of time it would take and had to compare costs and quality of each vendor.
We decided to use some of our funds in our savings to print the English/Chamorro version of the coloring book. Our Japanese/Chamorro book was funded by the Guam Unique Art & Merchandise (GUMA) grant money we were awarded. We were working with both the Guam Unique Art & Merchandise and SBDC to create our business plan.
Visiting family at TGalleria coloring Guam. 
What were some of the biggest challenges/experienced you experienced in the start-up process?
The market research, the financials and the marketing aspect of promoting our products. We had to present to the Board of Directors of GUMA. I can say looking back, we definitely had the jitters, but that nervousness wore off as we plunged into all the research and planning in our business plan. It was exciting and at the same time very emotional for me because of the enormous time and energy we spent on our business plan.
What is your most memorable triumph in your start-up process?
Handing our first printed book in English & Chamorro to our advisor, Denise Mendiola, completing our business plan and being awarded the Guam Unique Art & Merchandise (GUMA) grant a month after our presentation to translate out book in Japanese.
What are your short-term and long-term plans for your business?
Our short term plan is to build exposure with our products going into FestPac. Our long-term plan is be sustainable and to diversify our product line. We are currently working with Guam tour agents to purchase our books as they not only educate visitors, but could be used as a tour guide to get around Guam and it would be wonderful for visiting families to color together. We are also working with the public and private schools to carry our books and are adding more downloadable educational art on Guam on our website. We have another business idea brewing that we are very excited about, but that will all come in due time and we will definitely work with SBDC again.
What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?
Find something you are passionate about. That passion and burning desire is one of the biggest keys. Learn from the experts, find an advisor at the SBDC who will help you through the process. Finish your business plan, it’s your roadmap. I read a lot of material on how some of the most successful businesses have started and the struggles these owners had to endure and the lessons they had to learn. Whatever you do keep moving forward.
For more information on how the Guam SBDC can assist you, visit our website at and “Request for Counseling” to receive free, confidential, one-on-one business advisement.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Shenanigans Restaurant Saipan: Five Years and Growing

By: The CNMI SBDC Staff

Growing up in a restaurant environment, the exposure to the hotel and restaurant industry from her grandparents and father, and then later studied the business aspects of the industry in college, Belen Busby was destined to open a restaurant of her own. She stated, “It’s kind of a childhood dream that needed to happen.” Belen was born into the industry where her grandparents owned a restaurant in the Philippines and then having worked in F&B businesses since the age of 18. She went to college and earned a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration and a Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technology and Network Engineering. Belen has resided on Saipan for 21 years with her husband Michael Busby and son, Rafael.
Five years ago, Belen and Michael opened Shenanigans Restaurant located in Orchid St. Beach Road, Garapan serving up pasta, sandwiches, and other delicious entrees. The business was funded through their personal savings and personal loans. Belen recalls back on the obstacles they faced during their start-up years that not only affected the CNMI throughout but their business as well. Shenanigans Restaurant was opened during a period when the government and private sector were cutting hours, during the unfortunate and unforeseen disasters in Japan (one of the CNMI’s main tourism markets), and the increase in prices and utility rates. Other challenges have been obtaining CNMI-only Transitional Worker (CW) permits for workers, finding experienced U.S. Citizens to replace CWs, and maintaining operating capital to meet the shortcoming of the low season. However, the Busby’s survived and Belen stated that if they could survive those years, especially in an industry as tough as the restaurant business, she believes they can survive another five years and more.
As their five year mark approached, their equipment reached its mark as well. With the guidance and assistance of the CNMI SBDC, the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA), and City Trust Bank, the Busby’s were able to obtain funding to purchase new equipment and repair their old ones. In addition, they were able to access additional operating capital and gained the knowledge of creating a formal financial portfolio for their company. One of the most difficult years for the Busby’s and Shenanigans Restaurant was the hardships they faced in 2014 and making it through that served as their most memorable triumph. Belen shared her gratitude and appreciation of the patronage of their customers and the support of their vendors and the trust that they have instilled in them over the years.

With her experience Belen advises entrepreneurs, “Follow your instinct and keep praying for guidance. Know who to trust and stay away from the ones that project negative vibes.” She continues on to say that a business is a gamble. You will never know if you are going to succeed unless you try. It is also a test of self-control and knowing when to stop. Before Belen and Michael opened Shenanigans, she shared her possible venture with others. They questioned her decision with the condition of the economy. However, she responded that [the economy] is in the bottom and that there is nowhere for it to go but up. She also stated that if she did not do it now then she might not have the chance to do it again and she will never know if it failed or succeeded.
Shenanigans Restaurant is located in Garapan, Saipan. They are open for breakfast at 7:30am on Saturday and Sunday only and every day for lunch from 10:30am – 3:00pm and dinner from 5:30pm – 10:00pm. Contact Shenanigans Restaurant at 670-233-8324 or e-mail
For more information on how the CNMI SBDC can assist you start or expand your business, contact their office at 670-664-3018 or visit 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sari Sari Outlet Open at the Agana Shopping Center

By: Fred Granillo
Business Advisor
(Guam SBDC)

Robert & Filipina “Pina” Rabago are the husband and wife team that own Sari Sari Outlet.  Sari Sari in Tagalog basically means everything, but right now they’ve been focusing on cell phone covers and accessories.  Robert and Pina have been married for 10 years with two children (girl and boy) ages 9 and 7, respectively.  Robert is from Guam and Pina is from the Philippines.
Their business is truly a family run operation with Pina and Robert handling the day to day operations after work hours while their oldest daughter, Hazel Aulerio, runs the morning shift.  Even the children are there to help out after school – cleaning up, and putting the products in the packages.  Pina and Robert still have a full time job and consider this venture as their part time job after work and on the weekends.
Pina is the driving force behind Sari Sari Outlet. She had been planning and dreaming that one day she would own her own business. She had been working part-time at different retail positions and gained some knowledge on product placement, promotion and distribution.

Her last position was working part time for a small business at the Market Place in Agana Shopping Center that sold retail electronic accessories.  She liked and understood the various products and felt strongly that she could start up the same type of business but achieve a better market penetration and establish herself in this business. Having never owned a small business before, Pina had enough retail experience, customer service and product knowledge that she was convinced she could open her own business.  Robert was not so convinced that it could work.
Although Pina was confident that the business could work because of her knowledge of the other shop at that time, they realized further assistance was needed in developing their financial projections for the business. Robert knew Fred Granillo, Business Advisor and asked for assistance in developing their projections. The Business Advisor helped in clarifying how to develop and determine their total startup costs, operating expenses and projected sales. Robert noted he wanted to see what the numbers looked like but after working with the Small Business Development certainly opened his eyes to the real potential for his business financial operations.
Pina was now more focused on establishing the business and she never looked back.  She worked with her husband and had many discussions on planning, opening the business and committing to the daily operations. This business would be a meaningful part of their livelihood so she was going to see it through and give it her full attention.
With a husband and wife team, the stress level was at an all-time high during the initial set up of the business.  But the start-up process was very interesting and a real business education. For instance, the areas that they encountered were working with the suppliers to bring in the product and build their inventory, understanding the shipping process and costing, establishing the leasehold location including the leasehold improvements, and the business license process. Other items they had to learn were the setup of the credit card to enhance their sales and the recordkeeping function that they would handle on their own.
The business was started with their personal funds and a personal loan that they took advantage of to pay off another current loan and the difference used to start the business. They are conservative people so they wanted to limit the amount of debt used in the business that in turn to have a low monthly payment. Some of the biggest challenges were understanding the ordering part process as there are many product items offered by the supplier and each with a particular code. Any error in the coding process could produce the wrong product received. Further, trying to build up their inventory in a short time so they can have a sufficient opportunity to capture sales during the holiday season.  Pina was and is the only one with the retail eye for items that customers will want to purchase in the shop.
Owners of Sari Sari Outlet,
Pina and Robert Rabago
Their opening day and having to experience the first customer sale was the ultimate experience in establishing the business. That feeling was the best confirmation of all their efforts had come to fruition. Plus Pina noted there is a sense of freedom of operating your own business and she is happy that she took the step.
Pina and Robert’s short term plan is to refine the product mix within the store to identify the products most in demand form their target market. Further, they desire to enhance their marketing budget and increase an advertising strategy to attract more customers. So sales is the key focus. In the long term they want to eventually expand in to a second location so as to leverage their knowledge from the first store and further increase sales and potentially net profits. They want this business to be a long term sustainable business.
Pina and Robert’s advice for other small business startups is once you commit don’t look back.  Stay positive and get started on that business license.  Everyone will give you advice, but it’s really on you to make it happen.  Plus take advantage of free resources like the Small Business Development office that offers sound business advice to make sure you’re on the right track.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Killy's Store: Offering Refreshing Iced Products

By: Ketsen Haregaichig
Service Center Director/Business Advisor
Chuuk SBDC

Killy Fritz is a mother of four little girls and a part time custodian at Chuuk SBDC for over ten (10) years now.   My four little girls are attending private school and my salary barely meets their tuitions, school expenses and home needs.  Life is difficult but I want the best for me and my girls.

So, Killy decided to open up a business selling iced drinks. Killy went to the Chuuk SBDC to get help on business planning and start-up assistance. Killy stated, “I want to thank the staff of Chuuk SBDC for their help, strong support and encouragement that led me into developing my business plan and submitted to the FSM Development Bank.  After two visits to the bank I was informed that my loan request was approved.  I was very happy.”

The start up process was not easy but with the strong support and encouragement by the staff of Chuuk SBDC things went well. Killy sells three types of iced products on a dock where islanders come in the morning and leave in the afternoon. Her product is ideal for the heat. Killy sells ice blocks to fishermen and others who need ice for cold drinks and food preservation. She also sells ice cups which is a delicious and refreshing koolaid mixture. And lastly, she offers ice chofar which is a popular ice cup flavor in the Chuukese community. It is made of water mixed with carnation milk, condense milk, sugar, and chofar.

In the long run, Killy intends to purchase her own chiller where she will be able to produce more ice block and ice cups and be able to meet the demand of her present market.