Occasionally, both in person and on social media I come across discussions on ‘the price of koi’ or rather how the current marketplace is behaving. The argument seems to be that koi prices are on the up, what one could buy three years ago for £1000 would cost considerably more now and that buying quality koi is becoming increasingly difficult. Within the debate are two subtopics one being that maybe to battle the prices, it is better to go to Japan in search of new purchases oneself. The second is that some people believe the prices aren't on the rise, that it's the koi dealers becoming greedy and their increasing profit margins are responsible for the hike in prices.
Firstly, koi prices are definitely on the up, quality koi cost more now than they did a few years back and koi of all qualities seem to be more expensive. (Why this has happened is a different topic entirely). So we can instantly dispel the myth that the general price rise is down to the koi dealers getting greedy.
Buy in Japan?
In my opinion for hobbyists wishing to purchase new koi at a better price, I don’t think a trip to Japan solves the problem. Although a wonderful thing to do, the idea that it works out cheaper, is somewhat a nonsense. Bare in mind that before you buy any koi you have to recognise the cost of the trip (let’s say £1500 for the week). So unless you are wishing to purchase koi for serious money, or your looking to stock a whole pond, it doesn't really work out ‘cheaper’ to buy your koi direct from source. Then of course come the risks involved with shipping and quarantine… literally anything can happen. But the trip will be amazing nonetheless and something you will never forget. As a side note, be aware that once you’ve been to Japan, you’ll find that buying Koi in the uk is never the same again...
So let’s say you stay in the uk and look to make a purchase from one of our many koi dealers. People want value for money, they want some guarantees and they want quality - they also want to feel like the koi is worth the price tag.
The discussion seems to get rather muddy around the term ‘profit,’ which is seen as a horrible dirty word. Here are a few things one might hear bounded about.
"X's koi are too expensive because they’re making too much profit."
"Y who offers similar koi to X are cheaper because he is making less profit”
"Z's koi are far more expensive than both X and Y, but he’s not making much profit - the koi are just worth the money…”
The truth is I don’t think anyone (dealer or hobbyist) can form a decent argument about ‘the price of Koi’ based on how much profit they THINK a dealer makes. Only the dealer knows that - although I’d go as far as saying that most dealers don’t TRULY know that either!
Hobbyists say - “they’re making too much money,”
Dealers say - “I’ve got to cover the trip, staff, rates, vat, shipping, risk etc.”
- I’ve heard it all many times before, neither are wrong. All dealers are different and all koi are different.
Truth is, profit is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether a dealer makes 25% or 500% on their purchase price as long as the Koi is worth the price tag.
I repeat, the Koi must be worth the price tag.
THE TRICKY BIT.
The actual process of valuing any koi should involve considering, in great detail, what that koi may become, what it can achieve. This process involves an ability to judge the true quality of any given koi - an ability to get a feel for a Koi’s future, good or bad. This is what breeders have to do and it's is a rare skill that not many posses. It’s complicated, so very complicated. Hence for a dealer, it's much easier to put X% onto the purchase price or price the Koi by what they think they can get. Pricing koi is hard, I can say that from experience. It involves a mixture of skill, experience and sheer luck - and even then you get it wrong.
The breeders chance it too by the way...for example:
A buying party walks into a fish house in Japan and ask for prices. The breeder says these two ponds are available and in this pond the koi are 30,000yen each and in the other pond they are 50,000yen each. An hour later a different party go to the same breeder to enquire and receive a completely different price.
Don’t forget the price is today’s price only. Tomorrow could be totally different. Different day, different buyer, different price. Likewise if you were to get a singular higher quality koi in the bowl don’t expect that price to be the same every day for every person.
I repeat - Different day, different buyer, different price.
This creates a very strange and complicated marketplace, there is certainly no standard and the prices are affected by so many factors. Dealers who travel to Japan will be paying varying prices and therefore so do the hobbyists. The good dealers (of which there are many) try very hard to ensure that year on year their koi in the various price brackets represent the quality and value that their hobbyists have become accustomed too.
This is no easy feat and it isn’t always possible.
So how do hobbyists go about purchasing koi, of any level? The lesson to learn and the mindset to accept is that you, the hobbyist, are in charge of seeking what you deem as value for money. If you feel a Koi isn’t worth the price tag, don’t buy it. Remove the risk. If someone else wants to buy it, or buy it for three times more than what you are willing to spend,
so what. That’s not your concern, walk away.
The lesson here is that the Koi wasn’t worth it to you.
Let’s say there's a koi you didn’t purchase because you didn’t like the price. Later in the year you see the same koi for sale in one of the infamous ‘koi sales events’ for 50% less than the price previously asked. If you now think the koi offers value for money, make the purchase. If it annoys or concerns you that the koi is now 50% cheaper than previously advertised ask the dealer why it is now so cheap. You’re allowed to. If you don’t like the answer, or don’t trust them, steer clear and never darken their door again.
A Koi’s value is personal to each individual based on your experience, knowledge, keeping skills and what you think you can achieve with said Koi. Therefore you have to be the boss, it’s very muddy water. Unfortunately you can only learn this by trial and error, listening to others and trusting your gut. It can be a long process and an expensive one if you don’t keep your eyes open and learn from mistakes.
Avoid the sharks and the bangers - a bit like buying a used car!
Part of the widening dilemma is that both parties are hunting for value for money, dealers and hobbyists. The dealers are hunting for value in Japan but that doesn’t necessarily mean the value will be passed on to the hobbyist... The hobbyists are hunting for value among Koi that have already gone past at least two pairs of eyes. Breeder and dealer. Not easy, but it can be done.
See, it’s complicated!
Shop around, go and visit dealers all over the country that suit your needs, get a feel for what they do via their websites, then go check them out. Find the ones you like then stick to them. Treat dealers like you’d treat the breeders of Japan, check them all out. Hunt. I hear people say all the time “oh I can’t visit them, they’re too far”
- if you’re looking for a specific koi, no dealer is too far…Hunt!
Let’s say you like and trust three particular koi dealers, just ask them to keep you in the loop. I’m sure they’ll oblige. Then it’s a case of going to see whatever they have in that shipment that ticks your boxes.
Remember dealers will also push for a rush of sales upon landing a shipment, understandably they want to start recouping their outlay asap. But try to avoid the frenzy. I used to hear the phrase ‘the good ones sell first,’ all the time in the Koi world. Which leads Koi hobbyists to believe that it’s a race as well as a hunt. It also tends to mean initial prices can be a little higher in some cases to take advantage of the surge of interest in ‘the new stock.’ However, whilst there is some truth in this saying, in my experience, the ‘pretty ones sell first’ is far more appropriate and there have been many, many times when serious quality koi get overlooked and linger about! So the temptation to rush is best avoided.
The prices will continue to rise as long as people are prepared to pay them. Simple. It’s not all doom and gloom though, just be prepared to do less buying perhaps and more hunting, which can never be a bad thing. A truly expensive koi is one you no longer want in your pond! Know what you want and what you can achieve with your skill level and system. Develop your own sense of value and taste, by making friends in the hobby and sharing thoughts, because that’s all you’ve got, remember you are not alone. Once you develop those skills the crazy prices that some koi seem to be retailed at will melt away because you’ll be solely concerned with what represents value to you.
Because ultimately that’s all that matters, crazy stupid prices or not.