Technical difficulties led to a shaky kickoff for the popular Made in Maui County Festival — held virtually for the second year in a row — but shoppers can still support local businesses throughout the holidays as the booths remain available online and on businesses’ websites.
About 30 minutes after the 8 a.m. launch time on Saturday, the website started to crash and remained down until about 2 p.m., during which were “key shopping periods” as well as scheduled vendor demonstrations, musical performances, commercials and targeted ads, and educational videos about Hawaii’s culture, said Pamela Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber had partnered with Eventhub, a management platform for live events and marketplaces, to host the 8th annual Hawaiian Airlines Made in Maui County Festival, a two-day shopping and entertainment experience.
“We had a lot of amazing vendor items that people didn’t get to see, we had a lot of content that people didn’t get to see, and unfortunately, it was like having your hands tied behind your back,” Tumpap told The Maui News on Saturday. “There wasn’t a thing that we could do until (Eventhub) got it back up, but in the meantime we spent the day trying to see what we could do to help redirect people to continue to shop.”
Recognizing that the situation was a very unique problem with a third-party server, Eventhub took full responsibility and worked to resolve the internal issue as quickly as possible, Tumpap said via phone.
“Our vendors gear up for this event, which means they make a large investment, whether it’s ingredients or elements of their product and their manufacturing time to make the product,” she said. “We’ve worked very hard to pivot throughout the day and help them pivot, re-target messaging and keep people posted and up-to-date on what’s happening.”
To “make up this anticipated revenue as quickly as possible,” Tumpap said that the Maui Chamber of Commerce is surveying vendors for ideas for dates and availability for a rescheduled event, possibly a hybrid event to allow both in-person and online shopping.
“The challenge is that we were all very excited, everything was ready on our end, and we were so excited to think that we were going to have this great festival, we had a networking event last night, and we were ready for a smooth day,” she said. “The vendors were all prepared and we launched and everything looked great, and then all of a sudden everything went down.”
The chamber extended the festival hours in hopes of getting additional sales for businesses on Saturday, but encouraged customers to continue to view the vendors’ booths since they will remain up for the next year or to shop directly on their individual websites.
“Although the event was only live for a couple of hours, we experienced some traffic to our website with the proactive help from the event organizers,” said Deron Furukawa, owner of Maui Chili Chili Oil. “Wished for more, but oh well.”
As first-time participants in the festival, Furukawa said that they “over-prepared” because they were expecting to be busier for the kickoff day.
However, while the event site was down, he said that he and his wife decided to go live on their own social media pages.
“We were hoping to do product demonstration on the actual platform, but we had to make do,” Furukawa said. “My wife and I made sushi salmon rice with Maui Chili Chili Oil and ate them on our live feed. We had to have a little fun to turn the sad experience into a positive.”
Jon Emerson, owner of Kula Crafts & Flowers, said on Sunday that he was disappointed when the virtual booths shut down after three weeks of product and store preparations and meetings.
This is the only craft fair that the business prepares for and attends all year.
However, Emerson noted that “I do have to say that these guys did the best they could, they did a good job marketing.”
“We did notice that we had sales throughout yesterday,” he said. “It wasn’t coming in by the tons, but you know, I’m glad we had something.”
Emerson said that he would be open to having the event in person if the opportunity arose again but probably would not participate online.
Still, a variety of locally made products are available through the Made in Maui County Festival, like food, produce, arts and crafts, jewelry, furniture, collectibles, clothes and more.
Some other examples of participating businesses include the Maui Cookie Lady, Maui Tea Farm & PONOinfusions Teas, Ocean Jazz Maui, Polipoli Farms, Da Beehive, Aloha Uhane 369, BDC Designs, Kupu A’e Molokai LLC and many others.
The first-ever Made in Maui County Festival was held at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in 2014 and hosted more than 130 vendors and more than 9,400 visitors and residents, according to the Maui Chamber of Commerce.
Considering that customers from around the world can access online stores and support businesses virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual events have the ability to reach a wider audience and draw some new shoppers, especially for those who are already established online.
For Molokai business owner Stephen Koa Kakaio, sales through Kava Roots LLC have been done primarily through his website since 2017.
“So business on Molokai always depends on how much marketing I get to do before I release a product,” said Kakaio, who does all his own artwork, design, branding and packaging for items like stickers, hats, beanies and more. The inspiration behind Kava Roots designs is the variety of pacific cultures and the traditions that make them each unique.
Still, online shops are lacking that personal connection with the customer that Tammy Dunham, owner of Kapua U’i Jewelry, has been missing over the course of the pandemic.
“It is fun creating a virtual booth though,” said Dunham, a mother of three born and raised on Molokai. “I used to sell my jewelry weekly at our local Saturday market, but in March 2020 they shut that down, so I was forced to throw myself full force into my website and marketing on social media. It was an adjustment.
“I miss the face-to-face relationship with my customers and seeing many of the same people week after week for many years.”
Dunham handpicks shells and sea glass for her jewelry business, which aims to empower women to feel “strong and beautiful.”
“I absolutely think that wearing pretty jewelry can make a difference in how a woman carries herself and feels,” she said.
“Unfortunately the big sale day Saturday started off with technical difficulties, and continued, with none of the booths able to be viewed for most of the day,” she added. “Even though it got off to a very late start, I am happy to have gained many new customers.”
For updates or for more information about participating vendors and how to support them, visit https://www.made inmauicountyfestival.com
* Dakota Grossmancan be reached at [email protected]