Carol Ai May and Steven Ai of City Mill turn their business acumen to a new venture, Simply Organized, which says it all. Despite getting ready to launch a brand-new speciality retail store
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Steven Ai And Carol Ai May Of City Mill Open Simply Organized, A New Store Offering Everything You Want And Need To Get, Well, Simply Organized
“From the people who brought you City Mill, now comes a store….” Steven Ai says in a deep baritone worthy of a blockbuster movie trailer.
“Take one! You have to timestamp these things; isn’t that how it works?” chimes in Carol Ai May.
Despite getting ready to launch a brand-new speciality retail store in an equally new shopping center, Steven and Carol keep the humor they are most affectionately known for.
And why shouldn’t this brother-sister team be so happy? If the success of their family’s 109-year-old company, City Mill, is any indication of their business savvy, then their sister company, Simply Organized, is sure to be a welcome addition to our island business table.
“We’re taking a risk,” admits Carol, company vice president. But a well-thought out risk.
Steven and Carol were on the Mainland in the late 1990s researching upcoming products - food, beauty products, clothes, etc. - just to see the trends in merchandising. It was then that they noticed a rise in organizational and storage speciality stores.
“When the big boxes were coming into the market, we’d go to the Mainland and see what our competitors were doing. We wanted to know what kind of stores were doing well and why,” Carol explains.
Put that together with the proliferation of public storage facilities in Hawaii’s metro areas and the smaller sizes of island homes, and it was clear that what people needed was a one-stop spot to get their stuff together.
“We’ve been exposed to a lot of various retail and business venues, but also a lot of different ways of thinking,” says Steven, president of Simply Organized LCC. “I think having exposure to literally the East and West coasts of our nation, it opens up our eyes to what is possible.”
So off they shopped, through mall after mall after mall to find what the average person wants and, more importantly, needs.
Once home, the Iolani (Steven) and Punahou (Carol) grads began introducing organizational products into a few of their City Mill stores in 2000 to find out what would make sense in the local market. Each year the selection expanded until there was some presence of the supplies in all eight Oahu stores.
Then in late 2003 the pair bought property in Kapolei, and the timing seemed right to launch their new venture.
“Kapolei is the Second City,” explains Steven of this choice. “We think it’s a growing area. While it has not hit a critical mass, it is growing to a critical mass both in retail presence as well as in a population base. We looked at that as a good start.”
They broke ground on the project - the 30,000-square-foot Crossroads at Kapolei - in February 2007 after 21 months of negotiating a building permit and two years of meeting with builders and designers. Simply Organized opens its doors Nov. 22 as one of the center’s anchor stores, and according to the siblings, they are on the lookout for more retailers that will help inject a fresh flavor into the Leeward side.
“We are looking for tenants, but we want someone who can join the group and has an exciting concept also that could be a cross-fertilization of new products,” Steven says. “Simply Organized, it’s a new concept, so we’d like to have others that have the same kind of excitement - people who want to be in a shopping center where it’s lively and exciting, not the same old, same old. We’re looking for more.”
Carol elaborates on how Simply Organized will bring “more” to their customers. For starters, there will be items similar to those you’ve come to know and covet from City Mill; however, the selection will be wider and deeper.
“We’ll have a greater breadth of some of the things you may see around town - more styles, more colors. We want to look at everything that’s out there,” she states with a mix of excitement and anticipation.
“We have storage and organizational products for every room in your house,” Steven says, “from your kitchen to your bathroom, your closet, your garage, your office ...”
“You want us to go slower?” Carol jokes.
They both continue to hand off all nooks and crannies you can think up that now will be neat and tidy. Just imagine: Ants or B-52 roaches invading counter-side spices and foods will be a distant memory once you see the selection of air-tight stainless steel and see-through kitchen containers. Cords will be tackled with the greatest of ease, thanks to a singular docking station that you can use to house all your electronics. And ladies, there is a product line called Freedom Rail that Carol guarantees will help you achieve an enviable closet.
“Men don’t organize,” Steven bluntly states before the corners of a smile give away his tease. “I shouldn’t say that, because I do organize, but we think that it will be slanted toward the female shopper.”
“Now see, I believe men might think this is a ‘female store,’ but once they’re in there, they’re going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I need this, this and this,’ ” Carol counters.
Steven considers this before agreeing: “There’s something for everyone. Males, females, the kids, pets. We even have a little section that we have just for the seasons.”
Believe it or not, they decided to open Simply Organized in late November not to get on board the Christmas shopping rush but to be there when the Santa, snowmen and holiday knick-knacks need to be put away. In fact, the third most-common New Year’s resolution (after losing weight and quitting smoking) is getting organized.
“One thing about organization and storage is so much of it is utilitarian,” Carol says. “Everyone’s got their laundry, everyone’s got their trash, everyone’s got their refrigerator with all their stuff in there. And it’s sort of organizing your every-day living that makes life a little easier.”
Especially in a year of so much uncertainty. Even though Simply Organized has been nearly a decade in the making, many skeptics would say late 2008 may not be the wisest time to launch a new business. However, Steven and Carol think now is the perfect time to bring a bit of simplicity to our lives.
“Retirement plans have dropped significantly, there’s uncertainty with various jobs around town,
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