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Kanile’a ‘Ukulele’s New Showroom Shines in Dark Times

Victoria Wasylak • January 2021Retail • January 5, 2021

We’ll put it plainly: 2020, it seems, was not the year to make any extravagant business plans come to fruition. Even among MI brands, who stepped up to the plate to rev up instrument and gear production to serve bored musicians during their lengthy quarantines, very few companies were able to execute what they had hoped for the year.

That is, with the exception of Kanile’a ‘Ukulele. The Hawaii-based ukulele brand built their flagship retail store last year, which was unveiled in October. After hoping to create a showroom for years, 2020 created a unique need for a safe, relaxed place where guests could select the instruments that would get them through the doldrums of social isolation.

“2020 was the right time to open this showroom for us because through tough times people needed something to lean on, and for a lot of people, that was the ukulele,” CEO Kaimana Souza says. “We have wanted to open a showroom of this scale for about five years now. Instead of cowering in the face of fear, we as a company stood strong and thought long and hard about how we can do something different to keep the power of music alive.”

Located inside Kaneohe’s Windward Mall, the showroom spans 2,000 square feet, complete with classroom space for ukulele lessons. Despite the pandemic, the store is open seven days a week, as Souza says that most retail operations that cater to locals are still open. All Kanile’a instruments are assembled only a few streets away at the Kāneohe factory.

Much like the continental U.S., more folks in Hawaii are turning to at-home recording, and Souza notes that he’s seen an uptick in folks asking about pickups, recording, and achieving the best sound when recording. Premium Koa ukuleles have been especially popular this year, too.

“We wanted to think differently and open ourselves up to new possibilities,” Souza explains. “During COVID-19 shutdowns, a lot of people were playing their ‘ukuleles and we saw a resurgence of people bringing out their old instruments that had been sitting and we had a lot of demand for people who needed new strings, or new tuners, or new accessories to get them back into playing. Being able to offer those things to the community is important to us. We also wanted to give ourselves some time to be in a position to take on visitors who have pent up buying energy for when tourism in Hawai’I opens back up. We are already seeing more and more visitors who want to simply come and experience what we have to offer.”

Perhaps even more importantly, Souza hopes the space helps encourage the preservation and growth of traditional Hawaiian music and art forms.

“We have always been an integral part of our community when it comes to ukulele and music in general,” he adds. “In our previous location we were able to do that, but not to the scale that we had always dreamt of. And now, being able to create a showroom in the local mall less than half a mile from our factory brings us closer to the heart of the community. This means that we are digging in for the community to make sure that Hawaiian ukulele and Hawaiian music thrive. Being able to provide products for music was one major step. And to top it all off, we pushed to collaborate with a local group who is opening a school of music right next to us in which they will offer lessons on ukulele, guitar, bass, piano, voice, engineering, and even hula.”

Souza, who also led the design team for the new retail space, says he’s especially excited about its clean, spacious layout.

“The interior design and the ability to have more than 100 of our instruments is what really makes our showroom special,” he says. “We steered clear of having a cluttered showroom and opted for more spacing with more area for people to try out the instruments apart from other customers. Ninety-nine percent of the people who walk into our showroom are blown away by the beauty of the store and by the quantity of instruments that we have. I jokingly (but seriously) tell customers who are not familiar with our brand that ‘We have that blue children’s ukulele in the window for $110 and we have this blue custom instrument behind the counter for $8,000. And we have an ‘ukulele for you anywhere on that spectrum.’ So really, the ability to offer exactly what someone needs on their ‘ukulele journey’ is what excites me.”

Along with ukuleles available at a variety of price points, the store also stocks beginner Islander mini guitars, Tiny Boy Basses (mini electric basses from Japan), and branded apparel and accessories.

In addition, the space features room for in-store performances and a VIP lounge, which offers guests some privacy and quiet when selecting some of Kanile’a ‘Ukulele’s more expensive models.

Combined with regular music performances, classroom area, and $59 to $8,000 selection of ukes, the new Kanile’a ‘Ukulele showroom doesn’t feel like a store – it’s a complete, family-friendly experience bringing light to an otherwise dark time.

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