Author Topic: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???  (Read 8662 times)

jtucker

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How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« on: September 14, 2011, 04:17 PM »
Hi All,

It seems like many members of the forums lament the fact that there are no good bonsai nurseries near (insert town/city/region here), and I'm wondering what some of the nurserymen/women have to say about what one has to do to be successful in the bonsai nursery business.

Do you have to supplement "real" bonsai business with busting out a bunch of sticks in pots for the mallsai shops? Do you have to branch out into some other specialty? Is a strong web with internet commerce a must?

Do you have to be (or have the blessing of) a big name, Japanese-trained artist?

Maybe what are some of the business-model flaws that have led to the closing of nurseries that you've seen?

I have no plans on starting a new business venture any time soon, but there's always that dream in the back of this young man's mind...
 

Treebeard55

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2011, 05:59 PM »
Bloomin' good questions! I've considered the idea of setting up a small operation myself to grow pre-bonsai, after retirement. My lovely wife came up with the idea, if memory serves.

Not being a professional yet, tho, I will just say this for the moment. It seems to me that the biggest challenge is the fact that the market niche is deep but narrow. While bonsai is becoming better known in this country all the time, bonsai practitioners are still only a tiny slice of the population. Outside the big cities like Chicago and LA, we're often spread pretty thinly. In all of northeast Indiana there are only enough bonsai people to support two smallish clubs, and one of those is still touch-and-go.

It appears to me that only in or near the large urban centers are there enough bonsai people within shopping distance, to give a new bonsai nursery much of a chance.
 

Owen Reich

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2011, 09:03 AM »
This is a question I have pondered for the last few years as I plan to build one in Nashville, TN.  The ones that I have studied here and in the States have a solid customer base of locals or mail order service.  Finding a niche seems to be effective.  I work at Kouka-en in Osaka and our main focus is Kokufu and Taikan-ten worthy trees.  The latter is held in Kyoto and is far closer to us.   We maintain, buy, and sell clients' trees and ownership of a given tree may change on 3-5 year cycles as after entering the Kokufu especially, the value increases and the tree needs to be cut back and restyled.  As for America, the game is a little different.  I know less about America as the system of specialization in Japan is a lot easier to understand.  We just don't have the depth of highly refined ancient material (yet).  Yamadori to me is crucial for American bonsai progression as it can bridge the gap on time.  Being well trained definitely can't hurt as the possibilities for making and refining trees well is easier the more techniques and training programs you know. A hopeless stump can become a quality tree with the right vision.  I too would love to hear some insight from professionals that have been in business a while.  I feel the large shows will definitely help the bonsai business in America.  Offering so many classes, vendors, etc in one place allows for more networking.  This is one thing I really like about Japan.  The pros here cooperate generally and there's a "code of conduct" so to speak that is usually followed.  Long-term relationships and goals are very important.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2011, 09:06 AM by Owen Reich »
 

Zach Smith

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2011, 09:42 AM »
Hi All,

It seems like many members of the forums lament the fact that there are no good bonsai nurseries near (insert town/city/region here), and I'm wondering what some of the nurserymen/women have to say about what one has to do to be successful in the bonsai nursery business.

Do you have to supplement "real" bonsai business with busting out a bunch of sticks in pots for the mallsai shops? Do you have to branch out into some other specialty? Is a strong web with internet commerce a must?

Do you have to be (or have the blessing of) a big name, Japanese-trained artist?

Maybe what are some of the business-model flaws that have led to the closing of nurseries that you've seen?

I have no plans on starting a new business venture any time soon, but there's always that dream in the back of this young man's mind...
I have been in the business on three separate occasions over the past 23 years, with my latest venture designed to carry me into and through my retirement years.  Most bonsai nurseries' success appear to be driven by a few factors: the likes/dislikes of the owner, geographical location as it applies to the various species grown for bonsai and whether or not they thrive in the business's locale, and more mundane considerations such as time, financial wherewithal and business savvy.

I think the key to the bonsai business is, Do you love bonsai?  If you don't, and if you are in it only for the money you will surely be disappointed.  This is not to say that you can't make money in the bonsai biz, only that it's not a good primary motivator.  What I've found is that, in addition to allowing me to experience a bigger population of trees I want to own for varying periods of time, I really enjoy providing high quality material to serious artists.  Bringing a bonsai to a high state of development is extremely rewarding.  My role as the nurseryman is to start this process along and then "turn the tree over" to someone else to continue it.  What more could you ask for from a hobby?

There are all sorts of bonsai businesses out there, and certainly some that supplement the "real" business with other items to enhance revenues and profits, but this is certainly not a requirement in every case.  It would depend on what the owner needs to get back out of the business in terms of income.

Zach
 

John Kirby

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2011, 08:38 PM »
Best way to end up with a million dollars in the bonsai business? Start with $2,000,000.
 

T-Town Bonsai

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2011, 08:47 AM »
Best way to end up with a million dollars in the bonsai business? Start with $2,000,000.


John you made my day and Carolyn gives this answer a thumbs up. 

If you start a bonsai business, keep your day job or have a spouse that has a good job. 
 

Zach Smith

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2011, 09:07 AM »
Best way to end up with a million dollars in the bonsai business? Start with $2,000,000.


John you made my day and Carolyn gives this answer a thumbs up. 

If you start a bonsai business, keep your day job or have a spouse that has a good job. 
We did both.  Not sure what that means.   :-\
 

jtucker

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2011, 11:43 AM »
So for those of you that went into the business, did you start your business from your home then migrate to a separate location, or maybe still doing things from your backyard? I know there's a million different configurations here: my condo has a "yard" that I could spit across, so there's no way I could imagine running a business from it!

Also, what Owen said about the "code of conduct" in Japan brought up and interesting point. As we all know, clubs are made of people, and people don't like each other a lot of times. I would think a goal of a nurseryman is to stay above the fray of snarkiness that can go on at the local club level. I imagine if x-nursery allies themselves with y-personality in the club, that could potentially hurt the business?
 

Owen Reich

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2011, 02:20 AM »
Sure.  I feel human emotion and ego are part of any artform.  Jealosy, pride, inferiority complexes, etc.  make exhibitions and other events all the more fun.  While this stuff is unfortunately inevitable, a bonsai professional should rise above the fray be objective.  I often have to stop myself from expressing my opinion here as strong statements are better expressed in a more subtle fashion.  The "code of conduct" is for pro - to - pro relationships like members of the  Kansai-Shibu for central Japan.  You have to be a member to attend local auctions and hear about collections becoming available.  The "code" does not necessarily apply to relationships between pros and customers ; ).  At least with us, long-term customers are given better deals and we are more likely to buy trees back from them as well.     
 

Treebeard55

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2011, 08:57 AM »
... I think the key to the bonsai business is, Do you love bonsai?... Zach

Zach, I believe you've hit on a very important element. The first example that came to my mind was Bill Valavanis, but there are others, of course, including some (I'm sure) that I've never even heard of here in my little corner of the Midwest
 

Zach Smith

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2011, 01:06 PM »
... I think the key to the bonsai business is, Do you love bonsai?... Zach

Zach, I believe you've hit on a very important element. The first example that came to my mind was Bill Valavanis, but there are others, of course, including some (I'm sure) that I've never even heard of here in my little corner of the Midwest
That's what comes through with the successful nurserymen I've met, Steve.  You see "labor of love" often with those that tend not to deal in the high-volume "commercial" material.  From my own point of view, it's what's driven me into the business three times now, despite some serious personal roadblocks along the way.  As I tell my students and visiting customers, there really isn't anything else like bonsai.  And this is only said by those who are into it.  And that's another thing I love about bonsai, that sort of understanding amongst us.
 

John Kirby

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2011, 03:48 PM »
I always love the philosophical conversations about the Bonsai Nursery business. It is a tough business, it requires a lot of discipline and it requires the ability to develop a customer base with deep pockets. Lots of folks have tried and few have succeeded without having ancillary services- tree styling, sitting, etc.

The biggest problem I see with most Bonsai Nurseries is that the owners frequently don't really do bonsai........

John
Von's Gardens
 

Treebeard55

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2011, 10:09 AM »
... The biggest problem I see with most Bonsai Nurseries is that the owners frequently don't really do bonsai........
John
Von's Gardens

For me, that's a crucial factor in deciding whether or not to give them my money.
 

Don Blackmond

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2011, 03:21 PM »
Location is the key because the demand is not present for most parts of the USA.  There really are very few people who know what bonsai is, and the number of people willing to spend significant sums of money is even less.  Throw in the fact that western ingenuity has taught us the "why pay for it when I can make that myself" attitude, and it makes it really difficult to operate a bonsai business.

You can be successful.  Find a niche.  Specialize by species or size or yamadori or stumps or something else.  Do fewer things but do them really well.  If you love it, you will be persistent and your attitude will be reflected in your work.

Now, having said all that, let me suggest something for readers to consider.  Support your bonsai businesses.  Bonsai in the USA is struggling.  Every year more bonsai businesses close because people are not willing to pay enough to make it worth doing.  It takes a lot of time, effort, and, yes, money, to develop good bonsai.  If the demand is not present, the supply will go away.  Sure, there will still be bonsai available from hobbyists, but the quality and availability will suffer.  A friend who imports tells me that the USA has just now closed importation from Japan entirely, and will close other inlets as well.  Soon, there will be no way to get bonsai legally from out of country, and it would be a shame if the USA growers/businesses had given up by then.
 

Attila Soos

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Re: How to run a successful bonsai nursery in the USA???
« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2011, 04:54 PM »
If we look at the restaurant business, the failure rate is about 60%. This means that 3 out of 5 restaurants fail after 3 years.

Does this mean that there is no market for restaurants, or that people don't eat out enough? No. It just means that you have to be really good to succeed.

Bonsai, of course, is very different. But the message I am getting from these failure rates, is that being "average" is not good enough, in any endeavor.  You have to be a great business person, as well as a great bonsai professional, in order to succeed as a business.