All In The Family
SISTERS EUNICE SOEDA AND MARGE FUNASAKI ARE CARRYING ON THE FURNITURE BUSINESS THEIR PARENTS STARTED 68 YEARS AGO IN WAIPAHU — DISCO MART. THAT’S SHORT FOR DISCOUNT
Sisters Eunice Soeda and Marjory “Marge” Funasaki (both formerly Yamamoto) recall completing homework assignments atop TV consoles and washing machines at mom-and-pop shop Mid-Town Radio. Their father Toshio’s electronics and appliance business opened in 1947 near the sugar mill in Waipahu where he worked and will celebrate its 68th anniversary in November.
“When most of us are thinking about retiring, Dad decides to open up another business when he wasn’t really sure how successful it was going to be,” says Funasaki. Thus, Disco Mart was born in 1972 and offered discounted furniture to Toshio’s existing clientele.
Soeda recalls her dad saying that selling furniture is somewhat easier than selling appliances and electronics.
“He would say that selling furniture is good, it’s easier,” she explains. “With radio or TV at that time, if a part breaks you have to replace it, there was a lot more service involved there.”
Toshio successfully ran Mid-Town Radio and Disco Mart along with wife Yoshiko, who passed away in April at the age of 93.
“We put in the paper, when she became ill, that she was retiring,” recalls Soeda. “That way we let her customers know that she will no longer be in the store, not because she didn’t want to work.”
Toshio passed away back in 1992.
Eunice and I never thought we’d be in the business,” admits Funasaki. “In fact, we were so sure we didn’t want to be in the business.”
The sisters did their own things for a few years — both as school teachers. Funasaki taught on the Mainland and Soeda taught in the Ewa Beach area.
But as the saying goes, “Never say never.”
Funasaki returned home to find no available jobs in education, and Soeda took a leave of absence after having children.
Eventually, both found their way to the family business.
Nearly 40 years ago the sisters took over all operations, and this change of pace was challenging but definitely more interesting.
“When I first was on the floor and customers came in, I used to perspire,” says Soeda. “They would ask me questions I cannot answer. I was so nervous.”
The sisters and the companies joined Nationwide Marketing Group decades ago, and say it was one of the best choices they could have made.
“We’ve become competitive,” says Funasaki. The group consists of mom-and-pop stores just like Disco Mart, but act as one entity when buying.
“We’re considered a ‘big guy’ now as part of the group,” adds Soeda. “And we are still looking at keeping up to date on everything. Otherwise, your business can fall just as quickly because you’re not on top of it.”
Gone are the days of shopping where your parents shop. According to Soeda, it’s now more like boyfriend-girlfriend.
“At first it’s appearance, right?” she poses. “You’re not going to be attracted to someone that’s dirty. It’s first impressions and then you start looking at the details.”
It is, she says, the same when shopping for furniture or appliances.
“That’s where salespeople need to educate the buyers that it’s not only appearance, it’s a little bit more than that,” she adds.
To keep up-to-date with tastes and trends, Soeda and Funasaki attend a big furniture show twice a year to buy and research.
Since the sisters took over the company from their dad, the philosophy of good business hasn’t changed.
“It’s still serving the customers in the best way possible,” says Soeda, “always making sure you meet the customers’ needs.”
For the most part, all electronics and furniture stores sell the same products, but what makes the difference is a passion for what you do and caring about customers as if they’re family.
“If a customer walks in and says, ‘I want that dining set,’ it’s easy, right?” poses Soeda. “But I don’t feel very satisfied with that sale because I didn’t sell the product. The customer came in and chose.
“It’s very easy, but it’s not rewarding to me. I feel a lot of that is missing in today’s business.
“But because of that one element, maybe, we’re still in business.”
For Funasaki, it’s that their customers feel comfortable enough to share their lives with them.
“I feel so honored,” she says.
As far as where Disco Mart is heading, Funasaki and Soeda say anything can happen.
“Our children are doing their own thing, they have their own careers,” Funasaki explains.
“But so did we,” Soeda chimes. “And then we got into it, so you never know.”
Never say never.