A Day At Kaizen Bonsai

Everyone who knows me will confirm I am a glass half empty kind of a fellow. I have found that hoping for the best and preparing for the worst has worked for me. Now that I am getting older the world is increasingly more confusing and seems to have no place for the values with which I was raised. I increasingly feel like an outsider and judged by comments from some of our “special snowflake” customers I think they would like to see a tyre put over me whilst being doused in gasoline and set on fire. When did the world become such a hateful place? We do bonsai because it offers a solace from the maddening world and helps us connect with the eternal rhythms of life. However it appears to me that bonsai is becoming a competitive blood sport.

Thankfully most of the folk we do business with are decent and understanding. Kaizen Bonsai is run from our family home and there are just three of us involved and my parents (well in their 70s) do half days and home work for us. This time of year is exceptionally busy, coupled with a cold I collected in Belgium, yesterday for instance was a typical day……

4.30 am start with two hours of emails and web site updates.

6.30 to 8am outside in freezing temperatures working on a new maple

8.00 to 9.30 down to the warehouse to collect a ton of soil and a quarter ton of pots

9.30 to 10.30 packing parcels and humping soil

10.30 to 11.30 back to the warehouse to receive a delivery of two tons of soil products

11.30 took delivery of a car for my daughter that we bought unseen off Gumtree the previous evening. Her old car detonated and I have no time to go shopping for such things, spent half an hour figuring out how to put gas in the stupid filler neck from a can

12.00 to 12.30 dealing with someone ripping off our web site and attempting to offer our products to customers for 60-80% off. At the same time spent half an hour trying to get a typo corrected by Ryanair (don’t fly with them!)

12.30 to 16.00 Packing parcels, humping soil, web updates, purchasing stock Loaded the days parcels and a half ton of soil into the carriers van

17.00 to 20.30 Packing parcels, preparing goods for sale, assembling carving tools

20.30 First meal of the day washed down with a half jar of moonshine put a smile on my face

21.00 Fell into bed in my clothes

3.30am Up and repeat.

That’s a fairly typical day here and of course that was just me, Catherine did much the same. She also spent the last two weekends working from 10am to 11pm preparing VAT for the last quarter. We really could do with another member of staff or two but there is not anywhere near enough profit in what we sell to do that. So, to that end you will be seeing some changes here at Kaizen Bonsai. We will be reducing our offering and services over the coming months because if we carry on like this there is no future. Expect to see items disappearing from our web site. This year I have also stopped doing demonstrations, there will be no workshops and we are no longer open to visitors. If you are reading this and happen to be a very skilled business consultant or a person in need of some very hard work in exchange for minimum wage or less give me a call 😉


Today’s soil (van is completely full) ready for mixing and packing.

All of this is moved several times before it leaves later in the day. Watch out for Vito’s story coming soon.



24 thoughts on “A Day At Kaizen Bonsai

  1. Dude,

    Those guys trying to scam you are a*$£holes. And sounds like a rough old day.

    I bought my first trees from you this summer from you and I have to say they bring me some serious amount of joy. Your service is amazing. Your videos are inspiring and I’m glad you exist!

    I don’t have a lot of money and spend an unnaturally large amount of time gawking at the “Exceptional” trees. But I hope you try and keep some of the smaller trees available for the not so wealthy.

    Keep punching. You’ve got a loyal band of customers.


  2. This is one of the best bonsai blog I have read. Also so many good advices from your customers and friends here.

  3. Thats a shame to hear Graham. Kaizen Bonsai is top of the charts when it comes to Bonsai in the UK, and probably Europe. Down-sizing your catalogue is an excellent idea, with maybe more focus on intermediate to advanced aspects as there are other places namely eBay that beginners can buy ‘beginner’ items like indoor trees etc. Its a damn shame about the workshops, but maybe you could offer a bonsai nursery day, weekend or week, where folk experience the ins and outs of running a nursery (lets face it, we’ve all dreamed of it). Working on some of the glorious yamadori you have on such days might be the only time some folk can, so whether you charge or work out a board and breakfast deal i’m sure folk would love this. The amount of information and knowledge you have can be transferred in general chit chat and just being around the nursery itself will inspire. Maybe when folk come to collect trees they are offered the chance to work a few with you in exchange for tea, biscuits and conversation for a few hours. It takes me 2.5 hours to get to you, so is more like a day out, so I might as well make a day of it. Does your no longer open to visitors apply to those that make appointments?

  4. Hope you will continue to produce your brilliant bonsai soils and fertilisers and wish I could help but am too far away and too old.

  5. Just wanted to say Graham, how much I have enjoyed the trees I have had from yourself over the last few years….They are all still going strong. I have used a little wire, a little pruning, a little green dream and a constantly changeable watering approach.
    Someone who came around to the cottage the other day and happened to go into the area where I keep them commented how lovely they were. In the main they have been the cheapest end of what you sell but nevertheless they are what they are- nice trees in pots. Thanks, Dave.

  6. Your blog post nearly made me not make the order I planned to do.
    But what’s a business without orders?
    Just take the time you need. The red banner on your site should be clear to anyone. 🙂
    (I couldn’t find the “budget kaizen soil mix”. That’s one of the changes I assume. Makes sense.)

  7. Hi Graham
    Whilst I can’t offer too much in physical help, your blog really hit home with the trials of running a very successful, albeit small, business.
    All I can do as a most satisfied customer of many years standing is offer my continued custom and on occasions such as this, express my gratitude and support for the service that you provide.
    Personally I would highlight my regret for the absence in the future of you superb video demonstrations. They have provided invaluable advice over the years, unsurpassed by anything else I have seen on the web
    Keep up the great work – I trust your glass will be filled for many years to come

  8. Hi Graham, I also follow blog and store . just placed my first order being sent to west coast Canada. the website is very well done. I worked 12-14 hours a day for 23 years and feel your thoughts. I just know it’s great to have people like you and family doing an awesome job.

  9. Hi, Graham. The pine tree I bought from you recently was the most beautiful tree in a world (for me, it was). Im a doctor; bonsai brings peace of mind, indeed. So, please, keep going in any capacity you can mange. Thank you for your service.

  10. Hello Graham: I hope things are going better these days. I will still pray for you & family. Someday these younger kids will wake up and start understanding that hard working will pay off better and see what hard work makes you as a person. Graham you are a Knight in Shinning Armor for us New Bonsai Hobbies . Please Don’t give up the Videos to show us your side of the UK Bonsai world ,some of us like to have all kinds of style in the Bonsai design tree world. My prays will always be there for you. I am behind you any time email me I will listen for you. Come to American I will help you. a friend here in American Greg be safe in your traveling

  11. Hi Graham,

    I read your typical day, the hard work you put in, some ungrateful customers remarks would leave any one speechless and create self doubt when they do it consistently. I will share my experiences with you and hope it helps if you can emulate any of it and apply to your business.

    I own and run a very successful Chartered Accountancy practice and reading your blog it felt just like what I used to do. In my experience it is 20% of customers causing 80% of problems (the 80/20 rule). The most staff I had was back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s twenty in all and a partner. In the summer of 1992, at the height of the recession I was very close to losing my business. I decided to get rid of the partner and eight staff and packaged all the trouble maker clients and gave that as a parting present to the out going partner and eight staff. The next day they set up a new practice.

    A year later when the practice accounts were completed, with reduced turnover, fewer staff and me as a sole practitioner, made more profit than the previous year. The bonus was I got to keep it all instead of having to share with a partner. The cost of servicing the moaners and groaners exceeded the fees we were charging. That’s the power of 80/20 rule. Get rid of 20% and focus on the 80% of the good customers you have and you will be rewarded for your efforts by people who respect and appreciate the service you provide.

    There are other strategies you can implement and I will be happy to help.
    Just ask.

    Keep your chin up, you are much loved and respected in the bonsai community.

    Best wishes

    Iqbal Khan

    PS. I love bonsai and you may know me by mikbonsai.

  12. I have my own business and what you say resonates. My health has been deteriorating over a period, which adds another layer. I have been ‘backing off’ work commitments and I think what you are doing sounds necessary. Do what you feel is needed, we out here respect you and want to see a ‘glass half full’ appearing hopefully. Hard times, hard measures, but I am sure I speak for many when saying we want to see you prosper and continue to show the world what a brilliant thing bonsai are. I do not have massive funds so am small fry in your world, but wonder what I would do without your remarkable team.

  13. Catherine might appreciate this more than you but on my semi retirement, the day I unsubscribed from the VAT system was wonderful!.
    Please keep up the good work up though even for a penny pinching pensioner like me who so appreciates that even your smaller customers get excellent service.

  14. Hi Graham,
    Sounds like the same hours I did when working in the milk delivery industry.No social life what so ever. Only good thing about it, I used to pass many skips! Now retired and able to spend more time with my beloved bonsai and gardening. I hope you won’t miss out on some of the major events around the UK this year. An event without a Kaizen Bonsai stand will be a hollow occasion. I’m sorry I too have burdened you further this week with my orders. Let’s hope that you will soon wake up from that horrible dream and realise life is not so bad after all.
    Chin up.

  15. Hi Graham,

    Stella work. I have been ordering things from your site over the last 6 months or so………once I discovered the youtube videos and it’s a first class service. Your collection of yamadori has me coming back to the site day after day. I only wish I had more to spend! My fingers are crossed for you for a more prosperous and less manic new year……

    Best regards,

  16. Totally understand where you’re coming from – Pity I live in Australia… I would absolutely hump soil and pack orders from dawn till dusk for less than minimum wage! I don’t like dealing with the public – (in retail for more than 30 years! I know snowflakes, special and otherwise)
    You do what you need to to have a life.
    Sorry you don’t have the resources to do what you want, but happy you are gonna pull back and look after yourselves a bit.

  17. Graham No you can’t stop Demo, How us newbie going to learn Bonsai UK in USA . If I was not married for 32 years I would love to help and learn. You see Graham my father told me to give 110% at your job all the time. Well Dad was right and after just 21 years running CNC, building Hydr.Hose I lost my job and to young to retire. Have you thought to come to American? Well I will still watch your work and love your style. May God Watch over you. a friend from American Good luck Greg

  18. Please be reassured that most right thinking people value your knowledge and experience to help them develop in this amazing connection with nature.
    I am saddened to think that anyone would seek to con yourself and us your customers by scamming the website but it’s almost something to expect in our world today.
    As for the need to reduce your services and the number of items on your website, I think I speak on behalf an awful lot of grateful customers, The Kaizen website is THE place to go for anyone – young or old, new or experienced to buy good quality trees and material, watch brilliant demos on every subject concerning Bonsai you can think of, and see the skills of others like Ramon and Kevin Willson.
    Long may you and the team continue!

  19. Hi Graham, having your own successful business means working like a dog. I truly understand how you feel. My suggestion is to get rid of the people who are not understanding, the people who have downgraded Bonsai into a blood sport. You don’t need that type of clients. It is sad that you will be reducing your offerings and there will be no more workshops but a man has to do what a man has to do.

  20. Wow ! That makes Noelanders weekend look like time off for good behaviour.

    In all seriousness – your words illustrates how much blood, sweat and tears goes into running your own business these days.

    You are building and amazing brand with the very best products and customer service. I hope you will be rewarded by being able to squeak the margin up a little – you all deserve it.

    If I can help, please just ask, although I am not close nor good at humping soil…..

  21. I would like to thank you for your excellent work. Your e-shop is great help for me as bonsai enthusiast here in Czech Republic. Great service, thank you very much.

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