HONOLULU Most tourists in Hawaii want to see Kilauea Volcano's spectacular flowing lava, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and the miles of unspoiled beaches.
They also end up seeing plenty of ABC Stores.
With 37 convenience stores within a one-mile radius of Waikiki, sprinkled among the beachside hotels and the Gucci and Prada stores, ABC Stores are tourist havens filled with everything from souvenirs to sunscreen.
"You can go in there and get sunblock, your breakfast, your Gatorade, whatever you want," said Joshua Caron, of Rochester, N.Y. "I think it's cheaper than places in the hotel. Those places are crazy expensive."
There seems to be an ABC Store on every block in Hawaii's famed tourist district. Four are visible at the corner of Kalakaua and Seaside avenues alone.
"It seems like there's one every hundred feet," said Todd Campbell, of Ventura, Calif., who bought sushi rolls, papaya and water for a day at the beach with his children. "I've been here four days, and I probably have been in here 10 times."
Despite the saturation of stores, including several ABCs on the same block, every location has a steady stream of customers. There are also ABCs on the other Hawaiian islands and in tourist destinations as far away as Guam and Las Vegas.
"We sell convenience and value," said Paul Kosasa, ABC's president and chief executive, who runs the 40-year-old chain owned by his parents, Sidney and Minnie. "It doesn't seem very logical (to have so many stores), but the fact that we have products that customers want and actually need, we've become a very needed service in Waikiki."
There are only two 7-Elevens in Waikiki compared to ABC's 37 stores.
"I never think we own the market because we don't," Kosasa said. "When you see the amount of stores we have, it's easy to think that, but there is a tremendous variety of retail and entertainment and restaurants for the visitor."
But tourists can't seem to get enough of ABC's beach mats, bodyboards, chocolates, hats, books, postcards, T-shirts, macadamia nuts, beer, Kona coffee and various kitschy Hawaiian souvenirs and trinkets such as coconut bras and $5 dashboard hula dolls.
"Their tastes are wide and varied," Kosasa said.
ABC also sells more macadamia nuts, sun-care products and souvenirs than any other company in the state, according to the company's Web site.
Since the first ABC Store opened in Waikiki in 1964, the company has grown to 67 stores spread across the Pacific Rim. The ABC chain produces sales of more than $150 million per year from its 55 stores in Hawaii, seven in Guam, three in Las Vegas and two in Saipan.
ABC also plans to add about 12 more locations in Las Vegas and possibly expand to Florida. But the company isn't in a rush to expand even though it has the business plan and capital to do so.
"We can only open stores when we have the right people to staff it," Kosasa said. "Customer service is extremely important for us. We won't open them up just to pop them up. We pride ourselves on creating a great experience to our customers, so that limitation is really a human resource limitation."
About 80 percent to 90 percent of the roughly 900 ABC employees are full time, which is rare in the convenience store industry. Full-time ABC employees get everything from medical benefits and a 401(k) plan to profit sharing and bonuses.
"It's a higher cost, but it reflects the company's philosophy of taking care of employees," Kosasa said. "We have never laid off employees in the history of the company."
ABC is careful to select the right employees and not expand too fast.
"That's the quickest way to ruin a reputation," Kosasa said. "It takes so long to build a reputation, but it's so short to ruin it. Like Enron."
Sidney Kosasa, 83, operated seven Thrifty drug stores around Honolulu before coming up with the ABC concept on a trip to Miami Beach. He noticed the tourists preferred shopping at local convenience stores instead of high-priced hotel shops.
The first thing Sidney Kosasa did was create a name that everyone could remember.
He eventually closed his Thrifty drug stores because of increased competition from larger chains. Meanwhile, the ABC chain flourished with Waikiki, becoming a popular stop for tourists.
ABC has found a successful formula in luring tourists into its stores. Everything is carefully orchestrated including the lighting, product placement and the gentle Hawaiian music playing in the background.
"It's always a challenge to capture a customer's desire. We continually work on that," Kosasa said. "How a store is decorated, the placement of products, the right lighting, the music, how the cashier smiles you need all those elements working together to make it work."
While ABC sells different products in the various cities, some Hawaiian-themed products are sold in all the stores, including tropical aloha shirts, macadamia nuts and hula dolls, which may seem out of place in Las Vegas.
"People save all their lives to travel to Hawaii because it's exotic and a desirable place," Kosasa said. "Maybe they can't make it to Hawaii, so the closest thing is oddly enough a retail store called ABC Store. They can take some of that experience with them even though they're not in Hawaii."