Blood, sweat and tears.
That is how John Griffin, Sr. started Pacific Isles Equipment Rental (PIER, Inc.). Being a contractor and working in construction was something Griffin had learned from his father; but the business side of construction represented a whole new learning curve.
“I was working for the Department of Public Safety at Hālawa Correctional Facility as an adult correctional officer, but about 20 years ago I was ready to take a leap of faith and start my own business. I took a small business training class through Alu Like, and I learned how to make a business plan,” recalls Griffin.
He needed startup funding and was originally approved for a small loan. But then the lender rescinded their offer, citing as their rationale that Griffin was in a “high risk” category.
“I’m the type of person that when someone says no, or tells me I can’t do it, I want to prove them wrong,” Griffin said with a smile.
Griffin’s experience illustrates the need for OHA’s Mālama Loans program. In the 1980s statistics showed that both Native Americans and Native Hawaiians were having a hard time starting their own businesses because many were being denied loans from financial institutions. The federal government stepped in through the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) which promotes self-sufficiency by providing funding for Indigenous people.
Through an ANA grant, the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund (NHRLF) was established in 1989 to ensure Native Hawaiians have fair access to financial resources and support to establish their own businesses. NHRLF was originally intended for Business Loans but has since grown into OHA Mālama Loans which provides loans for businesses, as well as for home improvement, education, debt consolidation and more.
Griffin did not know about OHA Mālama Loans when he initially started his business, but even without startup funds, he was able to get over the initial hump as a startup company thanks to the support from local general contractors and material vendors.
After 19 years in business, PIER, Inc., was the first Native Hawaiian businesses to qualify for a $1 million Hua Kanu Business Loan through OHA Mālama Loans.
“We are Hawaiian-owned and Hawaiian-operated general contractors,” said Griffin proudly. “Business has nearly tripled, allowing us to take on 11 additional full-time local employees. I believe we are starting to progress towards our ultimate company goal of providing sustainable futures for our employees and ʻohana.”
The bulk of PIER, Inc., contracts are with the City and County of Honolulu, as well as with the State of Hawaiʻi. And PIER, Inc. gives back to the community, whenever possible. For example, they donated their time and equipment towards the construction of St. Louis School’s football field and Nānākuli High School’s softball field.
Griffin’s sons have also joined the company: John Jr. is the corporate secretary/responsible managing employee (estimator/project manager), and Jonah is the foreman/heavy equipment operator. In September 2019, John Jr. got his A&C contractor license in addition to graduating from SBA’s Emerging Leaders Class.
“I am very proud of my sons and hope this company will be around for generations to come,” Griffin said.
Griffin attributes his success to his late father, Al Griffin, who taught him to work hard to build the company name in the local construction industry and community, and also thanks his wife, Leslie, for always being by his side.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Griffin said. “And I push my sons to strive and do the best they can at whatever they do. If we get educated and do what we’re supposed to do, then we will all do great things.
“We are thankful to OHA Mālama Loans and glad to be partners on this journey. The technical assistance and support they have provided, along with the funds, have been invaluable. Mahalo Nui Loa!”