Shelton Higa, CEO SAH
When Shelton Higa started SAH, Inc. with partner Ashlee Matsui in 2009, his priority wasn’t to create one of the biggest or fastest-growing companies in Hawai‘i. Shelton was focused on delivering outstanding design and construction work in Hawai‘i. The rest was just a bonus.
Born and raised in Hilo, Shelton has worked in the construction industry since high school. He started out freelancing for contractors and small construction companies, picking up part-time work painting houses, building fixtures and repairing odds and ends around town. His hands-on, get-it-done personality served him well during those formative years. Shelton excelled at finding solutions, improvising fixes and doing whatever it takes to get the job done right.
After high school, Shelton moved to O‘ahu with his girlfriend, Ashlee Matsui, who was studying psychology at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Shelton’s arrival couldn’t have been better timed. A development boom in 2003 created opportunities for part-time work with several big companies.
Shelton’s expertise grew to include project management and on-site work at towers and large-scale development projects.
“We’re still on a referral basis. No advertising, no commercials, no paid promotions—we do good work and if they like to, we ask people to tell their friends or business partners about us.”
By 2005, Shelton had developed a reputation for quality work. Referrals from clients and co-workers provided ample new business to supplement his part-time work, and he enjoyed the autonomy and efficiency of working on his own. What started as a handful of side projects—building out bathrooms, laying new flooring and tile work—blossomed into a portfolio of 30 clients in just a few months, on top of his industry day jobs. “It was mostly friends of mine or my family who hired me at first, but then they started telling people they knew and the circle increased,” Shelton recalls. “Then it included brokers and realtors looking to repair or improve houses they were selling on the market, and small business owners who wanted to fix their plumbing or build out a new bathroom. The calls kept coming in.” With the referrals pouring in, Shelton decided to start his own business. He founded SAH, Inc. in 2006 as a sole proprietorship dedicated to the small-scale projects he was taking on. It was a risk to go from steady work with bigger construction companies to running his own venture, but the decision paid off. Just two years later, the global recession hit Hawai‘i hard, slowing large-scale development across the state. The bigger construction companies contracted and jobs with them were hard to come by. Luckily for Shelton, home renovations and other small-scale residential work were still in demand. Homeowners were still paying for bathroom and kitchen upgrades. No matter how bad the economy was performing, Shelton was able to ride through the downturn.
Since then, the growth for SAH, Inc. (an acronym for Shelton and Ashlee Higa, who were married in 2013) has been steady. The company has grown from four employees in 2009 to 30 employees in 2015. Shelton projects he’ll have about 50 employees on payroll by 2016. At any given time, Shelton and his team are working on upwards of 30 projects simultaneously. In addition to taking on smaller projects, such as drywall, tiling, and electrical work, the company has begun building out commercial building lobbies and storefronts. “And we’re still on a referral basis,” Shelton says. “No advertising, no commercials, no paid promotions. We do good work and if they like to, we ask people to tell their friends or business partners about us.” Shelton starts his day at 5 a.m., answering emails and catching up on paperwork from home. At the office, he meets with his project managers to coordinate the workload. Most of his day is spent meeting potential clients, performing site surveys, developing price estimates for services and visiting his employees and contractors to see how the work is coming along. Shelton’s goal is to continue to grow the company and to one day become a household name built on a reputation for quality work and attention to detail.