Customer Q&A: How Keiki Kaukau Has Scaled E-commerce Operations as a Woman-Owned Business
Running a business can be tough. Running a business on your own as a woman can be even tougher. Yet despite that, many of those entrepreneurs and merchants find a way to break through, succeed, and provide something meaningful to the world.
One of our favorite examples of this is Keiki Kaukau, a Hawaiian-based e-commerce store selling toys, books, and games centered around Hawaiian and Asian American Pacific Islander culture!
We spoke to April Hail, owner and founder of Keiki KauKau, about how she started her e-commerce business, how she overcame unique obstacles, and what’s next for her online store.
She also shares some important tips for women looking to own their own businesses as well.
Q.) What inspired you to start Keiki Kaukau?
“Around the age of 2 or 3, my kids got really into pretend food toys. They loved to role-play the preparation and sharing of food, which was also such a great way to develop vocabulary and practice important social skills. Yet when I looked at the existing food toys – and the toy world in general – the selection felt very monocultural, and unrepresentative of our lived experience.
We live in Hawai‘i, which is a unique melting pot of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) cultures. The foods we eat, from tropical fruits to poi, poke, and dimsum, tell the story of our diverse community’s origins, and define a unique sense of place. Keiki Kaukau means “kid food” in local lingo, and we aim to nourish children through culturally resonant toys as well as a giveback program with the Hawai‘i Food Bank.
Since launching with one product in 2019, we’ve grown to a collection of 30+ unique toys, books and games reflecting local Hawai‘i culture and other underrepresented AAPI cultures.”
Q.) Were there any challenges you faced, specifically as a female-owned and operated business? How did you overcome them?
“When I started Keiki Kaukau, I had no experience in business or even retail. I had been working as a high school teacher in the humanities, and the whole world of business seemed very foreign and out of reach. I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me to set foot in the business sphere until I saw others in my peer group launching their own brands, which suddenly rendered it feasible.
The hardest part of being a female business owner is that my attention is so often torn between maintaining my business and giving attention to my kids, who are still young. My husband is a very involved parent and wonderful partner, but his work hours are more rigid, so I end up dropping whatever I’m doing when the kids are sick, or on vacation, or have appointments, in addition to the physical labor of growing and feeding humans (I’m pregnant with my 3rd). It’s frustrating to be distracted from my business goals so often, yet I’m also very grateful to have the flexibility to respond to my kids’ needs, and lucky to have a community of fellow mom-preneurs who can relate.”
Q.) What are you most looking forward to for Keiki Kaukau?
“We get a lot of encouraging feedback from customers not just here in Hawai‘i, but all over, who say “I wish these products existed when I was a kid!” It’s such a privilege to bring joy to children through play, and to facilitate cultural connections across generations. I hope we can expand our reach to more families craving diverse representation. I also love the design process, so I’m excited to expand our line to tell more cultural stories and appeal to a wider range of ages.”
Q.) What advice would you have for other women looking to start their own e-commerce business?
“The upside of e-comm is that start-up costs tend to be low relative to a brick-and-mortar business, so you can worry less about overhead and focus on your product and brand-building. The downside is that you need to work a little harder for people to find you, so start building an email list ASAP, and leverage social media as a free tool to grow your audience.
Email marketing is actually one of my weak points because, like a lot of women, I’m afraid to be too annoying and get in people’s faces (or inboxes) more than necessary. The best way around this is to create relevant content that actually brings value to people, so that you’re not in “sales mode” all the time but rather connecting with people on topics of mutual interest. And finally, I’d definitely advise any new business owner to connect with other entrepreneurs, as being your own boss can be lonely at times!”