Local products launch business: Store features ifit, other Guam-specific items
By Stephanie Godlewski
Pacific Daily News
June 23, 2008
Tourists are almost always looking for locally made products, said John Castro.
He is the owner of Island Cutie Gift Shop, which specializes in local crafts.
"I worked in the tourism industry for 12 years, so I learned what they were looking for," he said.
However, Castro said tourists aren't the only ones looking for authenticity.
"Even people who live or used to live on Guam look for those special items made on Guam."
A year and a half ago, Castro decided to bring people what they're looking for and opened Island Cutie to showcase all the things Guam has to offer.
"I wanted to open up because I wanted to promote local items, like local carvings," he said. "I wanted to display local crafts, like those made from clam shells."
Castro is no stranger to crafts, having seen his uncle, Robert Taitano, create intricate wood carvings from the ifit tree. Castro said he spoke to his uncle about being the exclusive distributor of Robert Taitano creations.
Taitano is well-known locally for his carvings -- ranging from tables to storyboards -- with government officials among his clientele. Today, Island Cutie is the only retail store that sells the master carver's products.
"When people come in, I like to tell them about the wood and the work that goes into the products," Castro said. "When people know its history, the merchandise has more value for them."
Carvings and crafts aren't the only things Island Cutie has to offer, however.
"We have a lot of stuff," Castro said. "We have stickers, T-shirts, coconut graters and handmade soaps.
"I have some really (affordable) items," he said. These range from small toys to souvenirs from $1.99 and up. Wooden tables cost around $2,000.
He added that many of the products are made locally, with some produced by the company.
"The stickers, we make here. We hand-braid the shirts. The candles, we make ourselves. The soap, our mother-in-law makes," Castro said.
His girlfriend, and co-owner of Island Cutie, Jayna Park, also carves soaps.
"We even buy our coconut oil from the Adas in Inarajan," he added.
Castro said running a small business is no easy feat, as he encountered difficulty with merchandising and management when starting up.
A huge part of staying successful is the way the customer is treated, he said.
"You have to do customer service and the customer is always No. 1. They're the one giving you the revenue."
Castro said he treats the customers like family and shares stories of Guam's culture and heritage with them.
Even with the economic problems Guam is facing, Castro's business is doing well. The secret? Always looking for something new.
"I try not to concentrate on one item. I try and concentrate on a lot of items," Castro said. "I try to make it and bring it in. I try to visualize what people want. I see what customers want and try to get their opinion."
The variety of items brings in both locals and tourists, just as Castro planned.
Recently, Castro started negotiations to open two shops at Andersen Air Force Base. He said a number of his customers are military personnel or visitors from the mainland. Because he already sells a good amount to the military base, he looks forward to what this opportunity could bring.
"It will be two stores -- one for candles and one for local carvings," Castro said.
He said the mall store won't suffer from the expansion, because he will continue to bring new items in.
"I'm expanding with carvings from Indonesia, carved glass tables," Castro said. "I've got a lot of unique stuff coming in."