In recent years, garden centers have opened in Kenya to become the place that offers the rarest plants to experienced gardeners.
Two years ago, a relatively new player – Kuzi Trading Company – entered the market with an almost boring approach: selling the most common indoor plants. Spider plants, anthuriums, various ferns, snake plants, succulents, wandering jews among others.
Founded by Katy Barnes and Elvis Kaburi, people first wondered why they would start a business that sells common plants, in a town where roadside florists rule.
Located in Karen, Nairobi, Kuzi Trading is a beginner gardener‘s paradise. With prices starting at Sh350, new plant parents have the opportunity to purchase houseplants from over 80 varieties on display under the light canopy of native trees that spot the business premises.
They are easy to care for plants, harder to kill and can thrive with a little neglect. The collection is hugely grouped by size and location (outdoor hanging plants, bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen) as well as herbs and pet-safe plants.
In addition, there are other gardening accessories. Garden aprons that will allow you to play with the ground with great abandon, fiberglass, ceramics, elegant fabrics and woven pots that will mark your precious house tiles, add sparkle and easy care for potted plants, and organic solutions for pests and diseases.
It’s all 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 are not just a nursery or a garden centre. Our main goal is to show you how to have a plant-based lifestyle,” says Barnes.
All of their products are intended to help inexperienced gardeners live better with plants. “They’re designed to make plants easier to maintain, easier to move around, easier to style for your home and office, and make plants look cool and fun,” she adds.
The plants sold are potted in a way that does not require you to repot, a skill a beginner may not have. They also come in sizes that will allow buyers to purchase multiple plants at once and bring them home by hand, saving the hassle of finding transportation. The pots are waterproof to prevent root rot and lightweight making them easy to move and deliver.
Doubling up as the company’s creative director, she explains; “We are not an old-fashioned garden center or your roadside salesman. We are redefining the way to have indoor plants.
When the company first started operations, plant entrepreneurs say, owning a houseplant was much more difficult. The focus was more on outdoor plants with their heavy terracotta pots. The duo’s lack of houseplants, even though they both worked at a landscaping company, was a testament to the gap in the market.
“Secondly, if someone wanted to try gardening, a houseplant would be their entry point,” says Kaburi. “Thirdly, it was so difficult to get a light pot in Kenya at an affordable price. It is to meet this market and this need that we exist.
The cornerstone 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 12 million shillings.
When they met seven years ago as employees of the landscaping company, neither of them knew anything about plants.
Ms Barnes worked at a British television station before moving to Kenya while Mr Kaburi was a trained accountant. The only plant he knew was the money plant, “a plant that induces a little laziness”.
Their story draws them to their target market. “Everything we know about houseplants is self-taught thanks to the internet, trade shows and fellow gardeners,” says Barnes, now a plant enthusiast.
“We wore beginner’s shoes. We made mistakes, felt the pain of dying plants, and walked the streets in search of a good quality pot. But we also experienced the joy of gardening well done. This is the passion we want to convey.
Most of the initial investment was spent on inventory and setting up the showroom. He was also dedicated to educating customers through blogs and social media, an investment that has since paid off.
“Our education and sharing of our own experience builds confidence in new plant parents. Once they have come here and answered all their questions, they come back and buy another factory and then another,” explains Mr. Kaburi, the operations manager, adding that their customers have between 25 and 45 years old.
Besides new gardeners, their customers are also people looking to give to others, the international community who needs a green perspective for the few months they live, tenants who want to move with their plants and business and restaurant owners who want to bring their spaces to life. The business grew during the pandemic period as people stayed indoors.
Starting out with a team of two, Kuzi Trading now employs 12 people. They have also set up their propagation center which allows them to increase the variety of plants. The company also partners with over 20 skilled craftsmen who manufacture some of their cataloged products.
Their top-selling products in the plant categories are spider plants, “teketeke” waterproof pots, and leather and hyacinth table vases.
“Our goal is to increase our production capacity so that we can meet the demand for our products,” says Barnes, pointing to her favorite plant, mute cane. “I love it because it’s easy to grow, it always has new leaf growth that’s beautiful, and when I walk past it I smile.”