Pandemic doesn’t stunt Kennewick entrepreneur’s growth
“We do weddings. We do bonsai trees.”
Not the typical services you might see offered together, but Brandon Andersen, owner of Bonsai Audio, has found a way to marry the two successfully.
“Bonsai stands for an aesthetic. It’s a small work of art that’s also alive,” he said.
The Kennewick man’s lucrative business providing DJ and other audio and video services to events came to a screeching halt in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in an eventual pivot to sales of bonsai trees.
“I realized I can’t trust DJing, I can’t trust in events,” said Andersen, after he found his usual bookings of 50 summer weddings were no longer possible due to state-mandated shutdowns.
He also frequently worked the nonprofit circuit.
Andersen had already named his business after bonsai trees, holding an affinity for the art since he was a teen.
“I wanted people to feel assured that each individual event was deliberate, had an aesthetic and an attention to every detail,” he said.
By the end of 2020, Andersen wanted to have something to focus on to not only keep his business afloat, but also to provide some self-care when dealing with the burdens and isolation of the pandemic.
After failing to find a large supply available locally, he began looking into what it would take to become a bonsai importer.
“Most people find there’s not a large return on investment in bonsai since they often have to grow for at least six years before they’re sold,” Andersen said.
He started working the phones in hopes of turning into a direct bonsai supplier and managed to line up a shipment in Florida.
Yet Andersen ran into a snag when he discovered juniper bonsai trees require a refrigerated truck to ship in the winter, and this shipment needed to cover thousands of miles at a likely hefty expense.
Call it chance or good fortune, the company called back to tell Andersen they had a truck driver whose route would go through the Tri-Cities carrying a shipment bound for Canada. This allowed Andersen to order his first couple pallets to sell locally just before Christmas.
‘Cobra Kai’ boost
Interest in bonsai sprouted quickly as people found the plants a unique gift option and also due to popularity of the campy Netflix series, “Cobra Kai,” based on the 1980s classic, “The Karate Kid.”
In the TV reboot, the main character offers a bonsai tree with the sale of every vehicle from his car dealership.
Andersen’s trees are about 6 to 8 years old and range from $40 to $60 for local purchases. He sells mainly through his personal Facebook account, his Bonsai Audio business page or at some of the drive-thru markets frequently hosted by CG Public House in Kennewick.
Caring for bonsai
Andersen includes a pamphlet with directions for bonsai care, finding that most people accidentally kill the plant by providing it too much attention.
“The best solution is to have a bunch of them so you can do a little to just one of them every day,” he laughed.
Bonsais must live outside, and contrary to popular belief, do not need regular trimmings.
Andersen suggests just once a year the bonsai owner either trim, train the growth or manage the roots – but not all three.
The constrictive pot is what makes bonsai an art form, stunting the plant’s growth to prevent it from growing to full size.
Andersen said if left to their own devices and out of a pot, his juniper bonsai would grow in the same way juniper is most often found in landscaping.
While the plant sales don’t come close to replacing the 100 bookings Andersen and his Bonsai Audio team used to work annually, it’s given him a sense of purpose while he looks for his next big thing.
Andersen also is considering a run for Kennewick City Council.
He’s the director of communications for Leadership Tri-Cities and is helping the nonprofit solicit applicants for its next class.