President and Founder of Maui Traffic Control Services, LLC
Client for marketing counseling and selected as participant for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 5A/5B
Raina deVault has spent most of her career working in male-dominated industries, like construction, and most recently as co-owner of a traffic control company. She and her business partner Kapena Au met while working for a general contractor and decided to form Maui Traffic Control Services, LLC in September 2018 after he was laid off.
“Kapena was devasted, hurt and embarrassed,” Raina recalled. “He had worked there since he was 18. He has a good relationship with the owner, so I told him to call and ask if the owner would support him in starting his own traffic control company.”
Thankfully, the idea to branch out on their own was well-received as they were able to get connected to that company’s contracting department for various opportunities as a subcontractor. Raina also worked in sales for a heavy equipment company while helping with the business, and later began focusing solely on Maui Traffic Control Services after she was let go right before the pandemic hit. This transition has allowed her and Kapena to learn and grow the business.
“We protect the lives of the public and the general contractors. We manage the movement of pedestrians, vehicles going through a road construction zone,” Raina explained. “We take pride in our work. Kapena is very, very precise about safety. Safety is our number one goal. He learned from extensive training. He is honestly, in my opinion, the best in the industry. What sets us apart is our attention to detail. We take pride in following the MUTCD [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices] guidelines, so we very much work by the book. A lot of companies will take shortcuts, but that’s not us.”
While Kapena is responsible for the fieldwork operations, Raina oversees the business aspect, including accounting/bookkeeping, human resources, and business development.
Since its inception, the company has grown from two to nine employees. They operate out of a home office in Haiku and now have a base yard office in Puunene, both on the island of Maui, Hawaii. They’ve also been able to double their fleet and purchase additional equipment.
But as part of the small business journey, Raina and Kapena have faced many challenges.
Initially, the company wasn’t a union signatory, so they were temporarily shut down and then went through a six-month process to become union members. They were able to flip the script and turn this into a positive learning experience.
“It allowed me to focus on cash flow and we started diversifying our client base,” Raina reflected. “Kapena just started bidding with everyone. He went and put our name out there.”
Cash flow management is one of the most critical aspects to the success of any company. It involves tracking how much money is coming in and out, which can then be used to approximate how much is available in the future and how much is needed to cover debts and expenses.
Raina explained that cash flow has been one of her biggest hurdles.
“We work with a lot of general contractors and sometimes they don’t pay us,” she said. “We solely depended on that income. I got through that by really honing in on managing our money. That was the biggest challenge for me as the company owner. Also, we had to diversify our client base versus putting all our eggs in one basket, which made meeting payroll difficult. I drained my savings to keep up with our payroll. Now, every payment we get, I save some. I honed in on money management, sought software to help with that, and partnered with a bookkeeper.”
The company also became a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) with the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, which has created new business opportunities.
Women who work in male-dominated fields also face additional challenges, including stereotypes and environments that can make it difficult for them to succeed. Raina has never let that get in her way and continues to pave the way for herself and others.
“In our industry it’s all men, so I’m most proud that as a woman, I’m making it happen,” Raina said. “Being surrounded by all these men in both leadership and non-leadership roles can be very intimidating. I also got through the drama with the union, the pandemic, and the DBE certification process.”
Raina began working with the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center after
Kapena met the Center’s business development manager Marla Momi Musick at a networking event hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration—Hawaii District Office. Marla then introduced Raina to the Center’s marketing counselor Ryan Sweeney, who has been providing guidance and expertise to help take the company statewide via web presence and marketing collateral. Raina will also be taking part in the Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 5A/5B.
“I’m looking forward to being part of a network where we all have the same goals, getting more jobs, getting our name out there, and just being part of it all,” Raina shared.
She and Kapena hope to expand to other lines of business, including equipment rental, hiring for security guard positions, and retailing personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, they want to be able to train more flaggers—who are responsible for traffic control—and get them certified with the American Traffic Safety Services Association.
To current and aspiring women small business owners, Raina offers the following advice: “Stay active in your business’s vision, articulate it relentlessly and passionately, and drive your vision to completion. Just do it today and never give up. Be a do-er and not a dreamer.”