Innovation was Neal’s calling card

Neal Skinner, founder of EZ Price Mart, in Majuro in this Journal file photo from 2005.
Neal Skinner, founder of EZ Price Mart, in Majuro in this Journal file photo from 2005.

GIFF JOHNSON

Neal Skinner, who developed EZ Price Mart into one of Majuro’s most successful businesses after starting out selling goods on outdoor tables, died this past weekend in the United States after an extended battle with cancer. He was 68.

Neal sailed into Majuro in 1979 on his yacht Snowdrop, working first with Kirt Pinho and then Robert Reimers Enterprises, for whom he worked on Mili Atoll raising giant clams.

When he returned to Majuro he started selling goods in my backyard on folding tables!” said Uliga resident Matt Holly. “After a period of thinking and pondering, he asked to start a business in my front yard, starting EZ Price — the first store being the remnants of the first ‘QuickStop’ restaurant building we dragged on a trailer down the main road (from its Delap location).”

Matt continued: “Twenty-five years later, you have the current EZ Price Mart, employing over 100 workers and setting the standard for imports, sales, and the best employee relations on the island.”

Neal moved in many directions at once, taking on an increasingly busy role in the community. A talented musician, you could find him in jam sessions at multiple events. He would pop into people’s offices in Majuro with his latest idea, enthusiastically tossing out possibilities for action. In recent times, he talked about his interest to launch a new business in Chile.

When it came to the Uliga community, home to EZ Price Mart, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He enthusiastically joined in numerous Uliga events, including major donations and involvement in setting up a community park at the former tennis court area — a development much appreciated by local kids but ultimately undermined by urbanization.

There is no way we would have been able to make and show our Marshallese language films without Neal’s help,” said Microwave Films producer Jack Niedenthal. “He always provided the sound for our Majuro showings, and he always sent guys along to help setup the system as he knew how important sound was for us. Each time we released a DVD of one of our films, Neal always had EZ Price buy enough of the DVDs to get us into the black for our self-financed productions.”

But Neal’s support to these many locally-filmed and produced movies didn’t stop there. “He always came to our showings, he never said “no” when we requested help, and he allowed us to use his store, EZ Price, in a few of our movies,” said Niedenthal. Rest in peace from all of us who very much appreciated your kindness and your generosity that you always managed to show in a large way toward our entire Majuro community.”

Beginning in the late 1990s, Neal also pioneered use of alternative energy at EZ Price, to the point where island-wide power outages were meaningless for the store that was largely self-sufficient from sun and wind power.

When I first started working for the Ministry of R&D in the Energy Office he was one of the members of the Energy Task Force,” said Angeline Heine-Reimers. The group was focused on increasing awareness about clean energy at a time of the global energy crisis in 2008 that resulted in the RMI government issued a state of emergency.

“He was always willing to help whether it was donating something or volunteering his time to help for an event like the Energy Fair,” she said.

Read more about this in the September 8, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.