If I had any choice in the matter I would just surround myself with beautiful bonsai masterpieces steeped in history and nothing else. I guess we all would right? Foolishly, I allowed my hobby to become a full time business and that changes the rules of the game entirely. I now have to meet the needs of customers and supply a fickle market at keen prices whilst being ‘competitive’. On top of that I have the government’s cold bony hand in my pocket and bleeding my ingenuity and entrepreneurial endeavours by adding a fifth to the cost of everything I do. Having turned over something like seven and a half million to date it’s become very obvious to me how you make a million quid in bonsai, you start with three million.
In order to keep ourselves afloat we have to work seven days a week and meet the needs of EVERY customer as best we can. That necessitates holding an impossibly wide range of goods including a lot of plants that are not yet the revered specimens I would own from preference. I do still love the creation process in bonsai but considering we have a large six figure sum invested in bonsai tree stock it really would be nice to have a few little treats of my own on the benches but the numbers really don’t work for the business. Therefore I buy material we can add value to and that our talented customers buy to work and develop into something special (often before selling them back to us for double the price). Not that I am complaining but I have now realised my expectations were a little rose tinted at the outset. However there are worse ways to make a living though they may be a lot less stressful.
Having got that lot of my mind it’s time to introduce our first delivery of 2019. There are two more deliveries due this week. This is a lot of (currently) scabby raw material I have bought in for working next winter along with a few better bits I hope to sort out over the next few months. Obviously everything is for sale but it may take a bit of enhanced imagination to really see the bonsai within.
More soon 😉
Following all the changes around here it’s becoming evident that everything has worked out well. Our output is up by more than 20% with no more mouths to feed than before and I have, for the first time in years, time on my hands. Not that I am looking for something to do. If I had a staff of six JUST working on trees eight hours a day we would NEVER get finished, we just have TOO many plants to deal with. I am the only one that actually does any bonsai work around here and so I have to content myself with knowing I can hardly scratch the surface.
Last week I spent my early mornings and evenings sorting out some of the less desirable trees I have laying around. Even after all these years it still amazes me what a couple of carving tools and a bit of wire can do. There’s nothing here worth a dam other than my paltry wages…
Creating bonsai trees from collected material is a skilled process of knowing when to get involved and when to leave alone. Failure to carefully observe your material and act appropriately generally results in a poor outcome. Too much work is every bit as bad as too little. We don’t create bonsai, we can only point our material in the right direction, it’s the tree that creates the real magic when we are indoor eating corn chips and drinking beer. Getting a good start is important and every good start begins in the engine room, under the soil. Once that’s kicking out enough power we can make small inroads with a rudimentary shaping after which we need to step back and let the tree get on with its job. Most of these are rough as guts but there is always a time in bonsai when things APPEAR to go backwards and this is that time. Next work will be much more refined and fulfilling. Sadly many folk have a problem knowing or understanding this first work business so here are a few images to illustrate Day 1 bonsai training.
2019 has started with a bang around here. The bang was the sound of a backlog of Christmas orders hitting my desk. Because we work every day throughout the year orders normally flow through the system largely unnoticed. At Christmas we go into hibernation for a week and it’s always shocking just how many orders get backed up. Whilst this week has only consisted of three working days we have managed to get out something like two hundred parcels including some beautiful bonsai trees and over a quarter ton of various bonsai soils. Next week looks like being even bigger than that so if you have an outstanding order with us please be patient, we’ll be with you soon.
Despite the above the business of running a business still goes on and this week we have seen the return of a few favourite bonsai carving tools that have been absent for a while. Sadly prices are increasing and you can blame your government for that, we have reduced our profit margins to ease the rise somewhat but there is only so much we can do. I have also been busy on new bonsai tree stock and have managed to secure about a hundred and fifty plants so far this week, some nice yamadori, some part trained bonsai and some exciting field grown stock too.
Finally, as ever, the bonsai tree work must go on and I am rushing around getting a lot of trees whipped into shape before spring. There is a massive workload to be completed before re-potting begins in a few weeks time. Monday and Tuesday before we got back to work I had to prune up close to two hundred little trees I have in the ground in preparation for lifting in spring (no wonder I have tendinitis in my right elbow).
Once we got back to work I spent my early mornings and evenings knocking up this sabina juniper. We sold this a few years back but it returned in PX unworked but potted. I simply couldn’t resist giving it a clean up and then one thing led to another…. as it does.
At this time of year I get a lot of people asking when they should begin re-potting their bonsai. Unfortunately I can’t give a straight answer to a question like that because, as with most things concerning bonsai, it depends upon many factors. However there is a simple answer….
This really is my last post of 2018. I think I said that before but now it actually IS. After this I am going on holiday. Well, actually I am going into the other room to sit by the fire with the dogs and a glass.
For me the bonsai year really closes out on the winter solstice (shortest day) and that is today. As of tomorrow we start looking forward to another productive growing season. It might be a very long time until spring but for today I can contemplate the last year, my successes and failures and lay plans for improving what happens next year. I shan’t go out the front gate for the next couple of weeks, we’ll unplug the phone and consign my Mac to a locked cupboard. Peace and quiet is a much underrated commodity these days and something I hold in high esteem.
Here’s a few pic’s of the winter solstice sunrise over my Norfolk dog walking route.
Now, where’s that bottle?
2018 started badly with me having to call out an ambulance having all but broken myself in two. An experience that leaves me weak at the knees even now when I think about it. Just as I was emerging from the dark tunnel of that I got flu for the first time in my life. My Mum always said that every time I got sick I was always twice as bad as everyone else. In this case I would agree, that was rough. Thankfully I have good people around me and so business carried on largely as normal.
Now sitting here on our last day of work in 2018 I can only say I have been humbled by the simply inconceivable success we have had throughout the last year. YOUR support this year has been absolutely wonderful, humbling and incredible hard work all rolled into an amazing experience so from us all here at KB THANK YOU!
Part of my job is surrounding myself with amazing bonsai trees and yamadori. I know it’s tough but somebody has to do it. Loving trees the way I do I find it keeps my little life in perspective, being surrounded by yamadori often five or ten times my age and having beautiful bonsai trees that have had decades of skill and experience poured into them. The responsibility of having to be a faithful custodian of this little treasure chest of magic gets me up before dawn every day.
Even though I have some nice bonsai around me I have to say it’s still what I might call the crap that really floats my boat. There really is nothing I love more than a nasty stump that someone has discarded. I often manage to get these for little more than the price of the pots they occupy. On a buying trip last spring I was given this oak. The top of the tree had died and just a single shoot was sticking out of the base. Even at just a hundred quid, which was pretty much the cost of inbound transport, VAT and a drink for me nobody gave it a second glance. This week I got everyone working hard and so yesterday I slipped off into the workshop to have some fun with my little stump.
Have a great Christmas and a restful holiday and sincere thanks to everyone that made 2018 such a great year. I can hardly wait to open the lid on 2019 but before then I have some special bottles of scotch to drain and a couple of very special cigars to smoke.
Best wishes from everyone at Kaizen Bonsai!
Around here autumn is a good time for me to get some trees worked. This year has been harder than normal because obviously Rammon went on his way and we have also been insanely busy too. I generally spend the autumn covered in dust knocking holes in big deciduous trees but this year I sold them all so I turned my attention to some sabina junipers that just weren’t selling.
I adore sabina juniper but with my sausage fingers wiring them does drive me up the wall. However it is possible with care to create a very tight refined image. Following a subsequent years growth first work junipers can look amazing. Autumn re-potting where necessary will also encourage strong summer growth as opposed to spring repotting which makes them sulk badly.
It’s been a chaotic week or two here. Christmas shopping is in full swing and it appears a lot of folk are getting the drop on spring by ordering soil and pots early too. It’s almost shocking how much stuff is going out the door every day. Thankfully we now have a full compliment of hands to man the tape guns and so we’re doing okay.
My first priority around here is always the trees. It’s practically become a full time job just buying enough stock to keep up with demand. It used to be the case a couple of good deliveries a year kept us going but of late we have been needing a delivery every month. This year we have spent a good six figure sum on bonsai and largely bought up everything we can find (at a workable price) and we are STILL desperate for more stock. Sadly because of that great demand and other global factors we are seeing prices rise quickly, that’s capitalism for you. By and large we are seeing folk buy less volume but better quality and in my opinion that’s how it should be.
This week we had a hundred new plants arrive and have also bought another hundred-odd for January delivery but for now here are some new sabina junipers that are a lot more interesting than some we have seen. Again, not cheap but every one is a keeper in my book.
It’s a sad fact we are all getting older. Having been at this bonsai lark for thirty odd years now I can say with confidence that there is a lot less testosterone flowing around the British bonsai scene than there was twenty years ago. Perhaps that’s the result of flagging middle age or perhaps we are all just a lot less motivated than we used to be. Life has a habit of doing that.
I am constantly ear-‘oled about getting smaller trees. It appears everyone is too old and weak to hump those big lumps about any more. I say “bollocks to all that” as they say, ‘use it or lose it’. Humping big bonsai around will keep you fit and heavy lifting is a sure fire way to stave off the onset of osteoporosis. To that end I thought I should assist in the upkeep of the health of the men of Britain by buying some big trees. Because I am so concerned about my customers health I might even be prepared to offer those trees for the price of an annual gym membership.
So, here are a couple of bargain basement monsters to get you all going. These two fantastic carpinus betulus are available for well under a grand a pop and even less for the pair. I have SO much new stock in the pipeline something has to give go grab a bargain and get fit into the bargain 😉
When I started Kaizen Bonsai years ago my only ambition was to handle a couple of orders a day so that Catherine didn’t need to go out to work any more and I could have a toe in the water of something I cared passionately about. Fast forward nearly twenty years and here we are, having turned over multiple millions, with tens of thousands of customers, handling close to twenty thousand orders a year. Who knew that was even possible in such a small minority interest like bonsai, it’s certainly surprised me. I did create something of a monster and some days it gives me a mauling. I often go a whole week and don’t even get out the front gate. Catherine might not need to go out to work any more but then she pretty much does not go out at all. Kaizen Bonsai is run right out of our home, each day many of your orders are piled up in our living room and so we quite literally live at work which is obviously good and bad. Because of that the whole subject of hiring staff is a difficult one.
Having staff in your family home requires careful selection of the right folk who, ultimately become part of the family. I know a lot of guys who would do a brilliant job but, cranky old me, I could not possibly have them in my house every day. It was, therefore, lucky that we were contacted years ago by Rammon who you will all know. He kind of pushed his way in here initially and over time fitted right in. Eventually we did actually begin to pay him and he has become an invaluable part of Kaizen Bonsai and almost a part of the family. Sadly that is now coming to an end as Rammon will be leaving us at the end of this week. He is moving away and I don’t think six hours commuting each day is really practical so we have to part ways, which is sad.
For such a small company that’s a big deal. Since my daughter Sarah has been with us full time (about a year and a half now) life has been a lot easier for us all, she has really stepped up and taken on a lot of the day to day despatch of orders etc’. Way back when I started I had a deep secret hope that Kaizen Bonsai could become a family business. Whilst my parents have ALWAYS helped out they never really wanted to get involved so that just left Catherine and myself. When Sarah came on board I was thrilled.
This Saturday I will be (in a sense) losing my little girl as she is getting married to Richard of whom I approve entirely and, if you know me, you will know that’s almost impossible. Last time I checked Sarah was in her mid twenties and I have to say it’s about time. Thanks to YOUR support of KB we have managed to help them get set up with a nice little place of their own. Because we lost Sarah’s mum when she was very young Catherine and I have never really been alone. There was no honeymoon and largely because of the pressure of a small business we have never had any form of family holiday, in fact Catherine and I have never had a single night away from home other than for work. However now that everyone is set up and everything is paid for I feel better about the outcome of all that.
So, having said all that it’s pretty obvious what the next episode looks like. Richard joined the Kaizen Bonsai team a couple of weeks ago and will be initially taking over Rammon’s daily workload before hopefully doing a lot more besides (he does not know that yet ;-). This week Sarah is off doing her massive wedding stuff and next week both of them are off for obvious reasons but on 3rd of December 2018 Kaizen Bonsai will officially become a 100% bona-fide family business and will be entirely responsible for the support of the Potters and the Newarks. I am both proud of that and eternally grateful to all of our customers for their support without whom none of this would have happened. We wish Rammon well for the future and I have to thank him for his significant efforts in helping to build Kaizen Bonsai and look forward to future collaborations.
So, I have a new family member in the offing, a new member of staff, a shit load more responsibility. I have a beautiful new blazer, the shirt is pressed, the car is cleaned and despite all the doom and gloom out there I have to say 2019 is shaping up to be a pretty good year already unless of course I get pissed at the weekend and fall down Dad dancing and bang my stupid head.