Kimberly Svetin on keeping Kamoi Snack-n-Go afloat
By Melissa Kelsey
Kimberly Svetin mingles with ice cream customers at Kamoi Snack-n-Go.
It is stores like Kamoi Snack-n-Go, home of Dave’s Hawaiian Ice Cream, that help the small town of Kaunakakai retain its characteristic flavor. Ube flavored ice cream, toys sold by Molokai vendors and candy brands you have not seen since you were a child are just a few things found at Kamoi Snack-n-Go that are hard to find anywhere else.
Behind the pleasant customer service and ono scoops of ice cream is the business savvy, community minded Kimberly Svetin, who was born and raised on Molokai.
“I am just happy to still be in business,” said Svetin. “People do not realize how expensive it is to run a business here.”
Among her secrets to keeping such a challenging business afloat, Svetin said she makes it her priority to make sure her employees are happy. Offering flexible hours and good benefits are just two of the ways she achieves this goal.
“If you treat your employees well, they will treat the customers well,” said Svetin. “Without customers, you don’t have a business.”
Svetin said she makes sure she takes the time to listen to what customers have to say. Listening to employees is also important, because they spend so much time directly interacting with customers.
“I think as businesspeople, we need to be much more focused on the customer experience,” explained Svetin.
After growing up on Molokai, Svetin moved away for college and did not return for 18 years. While she was away, she graduated from Pomona College in California with a degree in history. As a student, she worked as a manager at a retail store, an experience she said taught her the fundamentals of running a business. She lived in the cities of Washington D.C., Seattle and Los Angeles. She traveled to Europe, and for a while lived closer to home on the island of Maui. While living in Seattle, she developed a successful marketing and consulting business.
When Svetin returned to Molokai, she worked helping manage several Molokai businesses her family owns, including Kamoi Snack-n-Go. She immediately noticed that the space in the store was not being utilized to its full potential. With a focus on purchasing goods from people who live on Molokai, Svetin brought new snacks, candies and toys to the shelves.
“The more we can support these smaller vendors, the more money will stay on the island,” said Svetin.
Svetin described her return home as a bittersweet experience. To be closer to family and raise their children on Molokai, both Svetin and her husband, Todd, left lucrative, urban jobs. Svetin said she still misses her former business clients and the abundance of opportunities to take road trips and travel to new places. However, she said she is happy for her kids, who can grow up on Molokai and experience the same island life she experienced as a child.
“Their video game is Molokai,” said Svetin, describing her kids’ life.
Planning for the Future
For young people who hope to do business on Molokai someday, Svetin recommended leaving Molokai for a while to learn and practice business skills.
“You learn from your mistakes,” said Svetin. “Get the experience before moving here.”
She advised finding good business mentors and doing research to determine what types of businesses are not already on Molokai. For herself, she said she would love to see Japanese, Chinese and Mexican restaurants, as well as more second hand thrift stores.
“Don’t duplicate what is already here,” she recommended.
From giving free ice cream to blood donors to donating money to the Little League, Kamoi Snack-n-Go has earned a reputation for giving. School groups regularly visit the store to learn how ice cream is made.
“It all comes back to you,” said Svetin, when asked why the store has a focus on contributing to the community.
She said her kids and their friends also motivate her to stay involved.
“What can we do as a community to improve education outside of school?” asked Svetin. “How can we give our kids the opportunity to travel?”
In the case of Kamoi Snack-n-Go, the answer may be stopping by for an ice cream cone.