Chinese immigrant Chung Kun Ai founded City Mill as a lumber-importing and rice-milling business in Honolulu in 1899. Despite troubles and setbacks over the decades, the enterprise grew and expanded into other areas, including pineapple, laundry, fishing, tobacco, and oil drilling. City Mill eventually became Hawaii’s leading supplier of wholesale materials to the building industry, and opened their first retail outlet in the 1950s. Among the oldest family-owned businesses in Hawaii, they are now a thriving home-center business with eight stores across Oahu. “We have a lot of big box competition,” says Carol Ai May, Vice President and granddaughter of the founder. “We watch our competition very closely.”
“Google helps us better understand our customers, identify what they are looking for, and determine the best way that we can help them.”
Carol Ai May, Vice President
Hawaii’s unique business environment, far from the mainland, means that shipping is prohibitively expensive. So City Mill doesn’t currently offer e-commerce and depends on in-person store visits for sales. Google My Business is vital for providing store information such as store hours, photos, and directions to their Oahu customers. Google Analytics helps City Mill understand what customers do on their website, so the business can deliver information that matches what people are looking for, especially to those searching with smartphones or other mobile devices. “As the retail industry and customer expectations evolve, we need to stay relevant and updated, and be attractive to the younger customer,” Carol says. They also have a YouTube channel that features various DIY videos to educate and engage with customers.
City Mill Company, Ltd. has 500 employees.
City Mill has been a mainstay of the local economy for over a century. They’ve been named one of the best places to work nine times by Hawaii Business magazine. Carol expects they will continue to grow and become more digitally focused. Over the decades, many employees stayed with the company until retirement, while others have moved on to influence or start other Oahu businesses. “This company has been a training ground for many businesses in Hawaii,” Carol marvels. She and other family members see themselves as stewards for their generation and company. “Our business is a problem-solving business,” she adds. “And I think we’ve set the right tools in place to go forward.”
For more information on the City Mill Company, Ltd. case study, visit https://economicimpact.google.com.
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