Editor’s Note: Richard Hawes is the owner of Island Girl Coffee ‘n Quenchers, a nine-year old business he took sole ownership of this year.
He is also the managing director of Gemkell Group, which has been majority owned by Tan Holdings since September 2014. Gemkell brands include Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Chloé, Le Sportsac, Givenchy, Lacoste, Longchamp, Marc Jacobs and Kenzo.
Gemkell opened the Arc shopping complex in Garapan in Saipan in May 2017, and also operates boutiques in Hawaii.
Hawes is also a partner in Primo Pizzakaya, which opened in November 2018.
Gemkell incorporated in February 2004.
Hawes was the financial controller on Guam for LVMH Fashion Group from 1999 to 2004 and the director of finance for Continental Airlines from 1997 to 1999. His career began in the finance industry with KPMG Peat Marwick in the United Kingdom and Australia and as a senior manager with Deloitte in Guam. Hawes holds a 1986 bachelor’s in business from the University of Bradford, Yorkshire in England and is a chartered accountant in England and Wales. He also sits on the Board of the Guam National Tennis Federation and Rovers Club International.
Q: How did you find yourself an owner in the beverage industry?
A: Actually my interest in food and beverage started many years ago when I incorporated OZ Wines in 1996 (which is now ANZ wines) to commence importing Australian wine and beer to Guam and selling to the hotels and supermarkets.
I identified a gap in the market and was able to capitalize on this opportunity. The business is still in operation today owned and managed by Sarah Morrison.
More recently, I purchased the extremely popular coffee drive thru business from my friends. Jeff and Connie Hurley, two years ago when they were leaving island in early 2018. Concurrently, I was approached by my good friend Dylan Saad to help him realize his dream to start his own restaurant in Guam called Primo Pizzakaya.
Q: Why is there such potential in Guam for to-go coffee and juices? Or is this a phenomenon that exists elsewhere?
A: We are all so busy in our lives and the convenience of a quality drive-thru food and beverage service will always be a popular attraction. That said, this does not mean people expect a lesser service. In fact, we pride ourselves on excellent customer service and always putting the customer needs first. Our dynamic staff offer a warm smile and a cheery greeting as well as serving up a delicious drink. These drive thru services are not unique to Guam and are commonplace in many parts of the world. I identified the concept when I lived in Australia 10 years ago.
Q: What have you learned about island preferences for beverages — do we prefer a sweeter menu, a more traditional profile, or a health-oriented beverage — or are our tastes a mixture of several consumer palates?
A: At Island Girl, we cater to all palates including choice of soy, almond or regular/low fat milk in our traditional coffee drinks. We also offer many other iced and hot drinks. including frappes, choice of teas, calamansi and energy drinks for our customers who need a pick me up boost.
Q: A Tiger’s Blood Calamansi? How do you define what particular beverages will appeal to consumers in the diverse categories you offer?
A: Our specialty drinks are a real favorite with our loyal customers and are usually in our top five drinks at all locations. We often introduce new recipes to our drink menu to keep it fresh, such as the seasonal Spiced Pumpkin Latte or a Peppermint Frappe. Our Tiger Blood Calamansi is very popular and may help you live a longer more productive life (just joking, but it’s delicious). Try the Nut Hut or the Jolly Rodger!
Q: The business has a distinct profile for its locations — a Tiki hut — and a distinct logo – an Island Girl and feel. In your opinion, what are the essential truths about branding?
A: Strong consistent use of branding is paramount in any successful business. It is embedded in the spirit of our company and can be seen consistently applied across all our locations, uniforms, peripheral items and accessory products such as tumblers, mugs and straws. Coming from a long career in luxury retail sales, I am adamant about maintaining a strong consistent branding message and have dug my heels in when people have tried to change or alter the message.
Q: You have a significant number of employees. The food and beverage industry on Guam and elsewhere is known for high turnover of staff. How do you manage turnover so there is no disruption of service?
A: This one is easier than many people may think. My mantra is “People First.” Treat others how you would like to be treated and reward those who have shown consistent and loyal dedication to your company. I love working with people and enjoy mentoring the people around me. Guam has been good to me and I want to help others.
Q: Island Girl offers sustainable products to customers — for instance its mugs and more. How important to your customers — and you — is this part of your business plan?
A: We are constantly looking at ways to use sustainable products and we do offer tumblers and metal straws for sale and give a 10% discount to those that bring their own mugs. We have noticed that our younger clientele are more conscious of having a green mindset. The biggest impact could be made by large corporations, which are often reluctant to spend a few more cents to use sustainable products. We will continue to look at ways we can be more planet friendly.
Q: Island Girl Coffee has three locations now — Yigo, Barrigada and Home Depot in Tamuning. There are 19 villages on Guam — any plans to expand?
A: The answer to this is yes. Already have a couple of sites in mind.
Q: You began your entrepreneurial journey in the fashion industry and have now branched out with a significant profile in food and beverages. Would you recommend diversification as a business strategy for entrepreneurs?
A: Diversification is extremely important in business, personal investment and even within the same industry. For example, within the Gemkell Group we have diversified across locations, demographics, gender and luxury/lifestyle products. Customer tastes change constantly and it is important to always keep ahead of the curve.
Q: You clearly can’t be in all your locations at once. How do you manage your various interests — through a reliable team, modern tools such as internet communication, the tried and true method of a physical presence — or all three?
A: As I mentioned before, finding the right people is imperative. Empowering people is critical and allowing them the freedom to make decisions with the right support and training in place. Don’t be afraid to recruit people who may be smarter, quicker or more talented than you are.
Answer your emails in less than 48 hours and embrace technology including Instagram, WhatsApp/We Chat etc. Finally, don’t be afraid to take a risk and roll the dice a few times, but remember friends and family first. mbj