Over the past few years, garden centres have opened up in Kenya gearing to be the place that offers the rarest of plants for experienced gardeners.
Two years ago, a relatively new player – Kuzi Trading Company - entered the market with an almost boring approach: selling the commonest of houseplants. Spider plants, anthuriums, varied ferns, snake plants, succulents, wandering Jews among others.
Founded by Katy Barnes and Elvis Kaburi, people initially wondered why they would start a business that sells common plants, in a city where roadside florists rule.
Located in Karen, Nairobi, Kuzi Trading is the beginner gardener’s paradise. With prices starting from Sh350, new plant parents have an opportunity to buy houseplants from the over 80 varieties displayed under the light canopy on indigenous trees that spot the company’s premises.
These are plants that are easy to look after, harder to kill, and can thrive with a little bit of neglect. The collection is enormously grouped according to size and location (outdoor hanging, bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen plants) as well as herbs and pet-safe plants.
Additionally, there are other gardening accessories. Garden aprons that will allow you to play with the soil with great abandon, fiberglass, ceramic, stylish cloth, and woven pots that will mark your precious house tiles, add flare to, and ease of care to potted plants, and organic solutions for pests and diseases.
All of this is part of the founders’ strategy to make owning a houseplant possible, fun, and effortless for the inexperienced gardener.
“Kuzi is a houseplant and homeware company. We’re not just a nursery or a garden centre. Our main drive is to show you how to have a lifestyle with plants,” says Ms Barnes.
All their products are to help inexperienced gardeners live better with plants. “They are designed to make plants easier to look after, easier to move around, easier to style for your home and office and make plants look cool and fun,” she adds.
Sold plants are potted in a way that does not require you to repot, a skill that a newbie may not have. They are also in sizes that will allow buyers to buy multiple plants at a go and carry them home by hand, doing away the hassle of looking for transport. Pots are waterproof to keep root rot at bay and lightweight which makes them easy to move around and deliver.
Doubling up as the creative director of the company, she explains; “We’re not an old-fashioned garden centre or your roadside vendor. We’re redefining how to have houseplants.”
When the company started operations, the plant entrepreneurs say, owning a houseplant was a lot harder. Focus was more on outdoor plants with their heavy terracotta pots. The duo's own lack of houseplants even though they both worked in a landscaping company was a testament to the existing gap in the market.
“Secondly, if someone wanted to try out gardening, a houseplant would be their entry point,” Mr Kaburi says. “Thirdly, it was so hard to get a lightweight pot in Kenya at an affordable price. It’s to cater to this market and need that we exist.”
The foundation stone of Kuzi Trading is the duo's experience as first-time plant parents – the good, the bad and the ugly – the resulting passion and an investment of over Sh12 million.
When they met seven years ago as employees of the landscaping company, none of them knew anything about plants.
Ms Barnes was working at a UK television station before moving to Kenya while Mr Kaburi was a trained accountant. The only plant he knew of was the money plant, “a plant that encourages a bit of laziness”.
Their history draws them to their target market. “Everything we know about house plants is self-taught from the internet, trade fairs and fellow gardeners,” says Ms Barnes, the now plant enthusiast.
“We’ve worn the newbie's shoes. We made mistakes, felt the pain of plants dying and walked the streets looking for a good-quality pot. But we’ve also experienced the joy of gardening done right. This is the passion we want to pass on.”
Most of the initial investment was spent on inventory and setting up the showroom. It was also spent on educating clients through blogs and social media, an investment that has since paid off.
“Our education and sharing our own experience bolsters confidence in new plant parents. Once they come here and have all their questions answered, they come back and purchase another plant, then another,” Mr Kaburi, the director of operations says adding that their customers are aged between 25 and 45.
Besides new gardeners, their clients are also people looking to gift others, the international community who need a green point of view for the few months they’re around, renters who want to move with their plants and owners of businesses and restaurants who want to add life to their spaces. The business grew during the pandemic period as people remained indoors.
Beginning with a team of two, Kuzi Trading now employs 12 people. They’ve also put up their propagation centre which allows them to increase plants variety. The company also partners with over 20 skilled artisans who make some of their catalogued products.
Their best-selling products in the plant categories are the spider plants, the ‘teketeke’ waterproof pots and the leather and hyacinth table vases.
“We aim to increase our production capacity so that we’re able to meet the demand for our products,” Ms Barnes says showing off her favourite plant, the dumb cane. “I love it because it’s easy to grow, it always has a new leaf growth which is lovely, and when I pass by it, I smile.”