Supplying The Future

HPM in Hilo back when it was founded in 1921.

As HPM Building Supply prepares to round out its centennial next year, expect brand-new Hale Plus modular homes to address the Big Island’s housing crisis.

Next year, HPM Building Supply will celebrate its 100th year in business in Hawai‘i. Today, the fifth-generation company continues to build on its legacy in the community, which dates back to 1921, when HPM was founded in Hilo.

CEO Jason Fujimoto is the great-great grandson of founder Kametaro Fujimoto. He cites his family’s deep roots in Hilo as the inspiration for the company’s core philosophies that have been passed down through the generations.

“I look to my dad and grandfather and all those who came before me because they carried forth the values that are integral to our mission today,” Jason says. “I have lots of big shoes to fill and am very thankful for the strong foundation I’ve received. I am excited to take the company forward into its 100th anniversary.”

HPM on Kamehameha Highway, where it made its home from 1955 to 1960.

HPM boasts eight facilities across three islands. On the Big Island, HPM has three full-service retail locations in Kona, Waimea and Hilo, along with its corporate and manufacturing operations based in Kea‘au at Shipman Industrial

Park. In 2010, HPM established a facility on O‘ahu, followed in 2012 by the acquisition of Kaua‘i Lumber, opening a second HPM location on the Garden Isle a few years later.

Additionally, HPM’s distribution facility is located in Keaukaha in Hilo — across from the pier, not far from where the company’s first-ever store was built in the now-defunct town of Shinmachi.

Unbeknownst to the family until just recently, Kametaro was instrumental in creating Shinmachi (which, in Japanese, means “new town”). He helped found Shinmachi with a group of 18 fellow immigrant business entrepreneurs who left the plantations to become independent.

A young Michael Fujimoto with his dad Robert Fujimoto.

“Within this last year, we have learned so much about my great-great-grandfather that we didn’t know before,” says Jason.

“We were contacted by a history professor from Nebraska, Heather Fryer, who was doing research for her book about the old town of Shinmachi and its residents. She was able to dig up different shipping manifests that documented his arrival to Hilo from Hiroshima in 1894 when he was just 16 years old.

“He came here all by himself and started working on a plantation, where he learned construction — that led to him becoming a general contractor in the early 1900s. Back in the day, the Big Island was a multi-class society comprised of the plantation owners, the Big Five businessmen and laborers.

HPM’s lumber yard.

“He and the other immigrants left the plantation at great risk to their future to start their own businesses in a town that would be mutually supportive with a self-sustaining community where everyone would take care of each other.”

According to Fryer, HPM was one of the first businesses to be established in Shinmachi. Unfortunately, the town met its demise twice by tsunami in 1946 and 1960. Most of the written records of Shinmachi’s history were destroyed in the natural disasters. Fortunately, several of those original businesses are still thriving today, including S. Tokunaga Store.

Workers build wall panels.

“We learned these new details about our family history in 2019,” says Jason. “It was incredible. We were in the middle of communicating our refresh of our company mission statement. The tie-in with that story and with our vision was serendipitous and coincidental. Now that we know more about the spirit of how and why that town was created, I really believe that spirit still lives on in Hilo today — and the entire Big Island, for that matter.

“This is what inspired us to distill our mission and values as an organization into a succinct corporate culture statement: ‘Enhance homes, improve lives, transform communities.'”

HPM also specializes in custom metal roofing fixtures.

Jason took the helm at HPM in early 2019 from his father, Michael, who served as CEO from 1992 and now serves as executive chairman of the board. Michael’s father, Robert, led the company from 1954 to 1992, continuing to come into the office every day until just recently.

Born and raised in Hilo, Michael never felt pressured by his father to join the family business. He chose HPM because of the company values of inclusiveness, sharing, development and growth.

“It is an exciting place to work,” says Michael. “It’s a company that has always been innovative and progressive in spirit. It’s why we are still here today. My father always encouraged us to change and do things differently.

“One example is our Kailua-Kona branch, which we relocated across from Target in 2001. The location afforded us the concept of a drive-through lumberyard, the first in the state.”

As for the newest innovation being undertaken by HPM, Hale Plus modular homes are small, single-family residences that can easily be added to over time as a family’s budget allows. The concept was born during the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, in which 700-plus homes were destroyed by lava in lower Puna.

In an act of community spirit, HPM converted storage sheds into 20 living quarters where displaced eruption victims could reside temporarily through a program with Hope Services and other organizations.

“Unlike the temporary Puna housing, our small Hale Plus homes include a full bath and kitchen,” adds Michael. “Traditionally, it’s difficult to find contractors who want to build small homes because of the lower profit margin, therefore there has always been a gap in the market for homes of this size.

“We have a couple of prototype homes built already, and plan to launch Hale Plus to the public in 2020. These homes will be built on-island at our factory here and can be quickly transported to a home site for minimal cost.

“In 2020, we will also continue to focus on community projects with Hope Services to address the desperate need for housing for the disadvantaged. We are committed to providing whatever we can to help make a dent in the huge challenge of affordable housing in this state.”