Michael Tam

Photo from Karen Winpenny

For 52 years, Martin & MacArthur has been Hawaii’s fine furniture maker, and CEO Michael Tam has been expanding the company since 2008, a time when Hawaii’s economy, like the national economy, dipped.

“We found that, even though it was a recession, that was a great opportunity for us to expand, because we had a clear vision of what we wanted to do,” explains Tam, who was featured here Sept. 9, 2009. “We were able to open significantly more stores. We had two stores and now we have 11.

“We also were able to change the entire merchandising mix in the stores and the entire company.”

Martin & MacArthur is known for its koa wood furniture sets, such as the famous Queen Emma set.

“What we’ve seen is that our furniture sales have continued to grow slowly, and we’ve been able to increase the number of craftsmen working at our furniture workshop from 15 to 30. The apprenticeship program at the company also ensures that the art of woodcrafting gets passed down from generation to generation,” Tam says. “During a time when there have been a lot of cutbacks and layoffs, especially among craftsmen in Hawaii, we actually doubled the number of craftsmen working for us.”

The craftsmen at Martin & MacArthur make each piece from scratch, whether it’s furniture and home furnishings or personal accessories, such as cell phone cases.

“Very often people love our koa furniture, but they don’t have the need or opportunity to buy a new bed or dining room table,” Tam explains. “People are looking for personal accessories or home accessories, including photo albums, wine stands and clocks.”

These smaller pieces are made from the shorts that result after koa furniture is made.

“We get pieces that are anywhere from 4 feet and smaller that we cannot make furniture out of anymore,” he says. “But it’s still beautiful wood, because we hand-select the koa from private plantations on the Big Island. Now we are able to use all of that wood to create smaller things, even down to the size of bookmarks and money clips.”

And each piece of koa is no ordinary piece.

“We want to make total use of this beautiful resource that we have.” Tam also is looking to make paper from the wood shavings for greeting cards. The fact that Martin & MacArthur is utilizing every inch of koa wood that goes into its workshop means that people can have an affordable piece of koa in their possession.

“You can buy one pair of sunglasses and buy another in a different style,” Tam explains. “You also can buy different rings and watches, and this allows them to have a variety of different pieces and use koa as a fashion item.

“What we’re trying to do is revolutionize the use of koa so it’s not only thought of to be used as bowls and furniture, but it’s also a key material used in fashion.”