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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Postal Service teaches eBay 101

 •  EBay yields slice of U.S. history

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Alan Okami has dozens of one-of-a-kind 'ukulele piling up in his Nu'uanu home and even more in the family's KoAloha 'ukulele shop in Kapalama that Okami would like to somehow, some day sell over the Internet.

U.S. Postal Service small-business specialist Aaron Oya, right, helps 'ukulele maker Alan Okami set up an eBay account at the airport post office. The Postal Service is offering free instructions to small businesses on creating accounts to sell products on eBay.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

But the members of the Okami family — patriarch Alvin, mother Patricia and sons Alan and Paul — don't possess the same touch with a computer that they have transforming koa into high-end 'ukulele.

So Alan Okami went to the U.S. Postal Service's main post office near Honolulu International Airport yesterday for free instructions on setting up an eBay seller's account so the company can offer KoAloha prototypes and other special KoAloha 'ukulele over the Web.

Yesterday was the first effort in Hawai'i to join the Postal Service nationwide push to get more small businesses to sell their goods through eBay and possibly increase the amount of postal traffic.

Postal Service officials know they run the risk of creating more business for competitors such as UPS and Federal Express.

But Aaron Oya, the postal service's small-business specialist for the Honolulu district, set up yesterday's eBay demonstration area with plenty of Postal Service products, such as "flat rate" packing boxes that can be stuffed for $7.70, no matter what the weight.

And Oya was quick to point out services to potential customers, such as the "click and ship" program that lets anyone buy stamps online at usps.gov and then have postal workers pick up packages at their home or office — for free.

Glen Pang spent 30 minutes yesterday setting up an eBay account and learning the basics, such as how to price the darkroom equipment and camping gear that he wants to sell.

As he stepped away from the laptop computer, Pang finally felt equipped to do business on eBay.

"I've always thought about selling stuff on eBay, but I never pushed it," Pang said. "I never had the momentum. This will definitely kick-start me."

Then he listened to Oya tout the Postal Service's flat-rate boxes.

"It looks like the post office has a really streamlined system, which makes it a lot easier," Pang said.


All times 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Today: Makiki post office

Tomorrow: Downtown post office

Thursday: Kane'ohe post office

Friday: Mililani post office

Okami sat himself in front of a computer keyboard and pecked out an eBay user name with his self-taught, "seven-finger" typing method.

When it comes to computer technology, Okami said, "We're definitely behind. My father is even worse than I am."

There are business reasons, too.

KoAloha makes about 200 instruments per month and sells them through 40 retailers across the Islands and two in Japan. Most of the 'ukulele are spoken for even before they're finished, Okami said.

The company does not sell directly via its own Web site because "we won't undermine the businesses that support us," Okami said.

Instead, KoAloha's Web site is intended mostly as a fun place to learn about the company, Okami said, and as a place to get updates about the 'ukulele world.

But the Okamis have yet to find an easy outlet for the 100 or so one-of-a-kind, koa 'ukulele that they're produced over the past 10 years.

There's the 'ukulele that Herb Ohta Jr. used on his latest CD, " 'Ukulele Breeze," some experimental instruments and lots and lots of prototypes whose ideas often ended up in mass produced models.

KoAloha tried selling them through the factory. But people were more interested in handling them as a curiosity than in buying them, Okami said.

Now that he's eBay-ready, Okami would like to one day see sales of the prototypes and other 'ukulele account for 5 percent of KoAloha's total business.

But right now, Okami just wants to get on eBay so he can start clearing out the clutter.

"They're in the warehouse, in my home, in my dad's house," Okami said. "We're running out of space. Everywhere that you that you can fit an 'ukulele, there's an 'ukulele in it."

Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085 or dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.