Koi dealers, who are able to talk in-depth about their koi’s strengths and weaknesses, are better equipped to get top dollar for their best koi. If this is not an area of strength for you, you may be letting a significant portion of your profit margin walk out the door.
While customers, particularly those new to pond keeping, may say they are not interested in higher quality (higher priced) koi, if you let that discourage you, you are missing a great opportunity. Very few pond keepers start out expecting to pay even $50 for a koi much less $300 or more. Yet, many dealers have built a very profitable business selling koi in this price range. How have they accomplished this?
The key is understanding what you have to sell and how to explain it to your customers. The language of koi, using terms like kiwa and sashi, was created by Japanese breeders to identify improvements in quality, in order to get more money for their koi they are selling. If you are not using the same tools you are just missing the boat.
If you just groaned, take heart. We are here to help you get command of what to look for, and what it is called. If you can learn just a few attributes of koi, and point them out to your customers, you will be well on your way to making your koi sales department a lot more profitable. Once you can identify the better quality koi in your inventory, and explain why they are better to your customers; they will pay you more for them.
#1. To illustrate, let’s start with the king of koi, the Kohaku.
When looking at a Kohaku, you are looking at a white koi with red patches or plates as they are often called. These red plates should be spread attractively across the upper back and sides of the koi, with red on top of the head, leaving a white face to achieve the most attractive look.
Since most customers focus on the patterns of koi when they start shopping, you have an opportunity to point out features they most likely have missed, to move them into better quality koi. With Kohaku, start with the red. If a koi has the same even color red on all its plates that is worth noting. If it fades towards the back or on the shoulder, that is a negative.
#2. Second is the white, often called the ground.
The Japanese term for the white ground is shiroji. The key is for it to be snow white, particularly on the nose. If the white is bright and clean, the hi will pop as well.
#3. Sheen and luster is key as well.
If a koi has a good sheen or lustrous look, point it out. That is often a sign of both a good blood line and a healthy vigorous koi.
#4. Kiwa describes the edges of the red plates.
When the edges of the pattern is crisp and sharp, that is known as good kiwa. If the edges are blurred or soft, the kiwa is not good, and this detracts from the clean overall appearance of the koi.
#5. The only exception to this definition is on the leading edge of the red where a row or two of white scales overlap the red scales.
In younger koi, the white scales can be translucent, and you can see the red of the scale below it, showing through. This is called sashi. (saw-she). As long as it is evenly distributed and not more than two rows of scales, this is not a problem for the koi.
#6. Odome describes the area of the body between the rear end of the dorsal fin and the beginning of the tail.
A Kohaku should have white on the body where it connects to the tail. Optimally it will balance evenly with the white on the nose.
#7. So far we have talked about the terms used to describe a koi’s strengths.
There are also terms that describe problem areas or weaknesses.
#8. If a koi has a red marking that is small and lighter in color than the main plates that is called second hi.
While a minor fault, this detracts from the overall look of appearance of the koi.
If you see a small black spot, usually smaller than a single scale, this is called a shimi. Shimi’s can appear seemingly out of nowhere on a Kohaku. This small scale does not make the Kohaku a Sanke unless it becomes substantially larger, and preferably you would want more than just one black spot on a Sanke.
#9. As the name notes, the hi on a good Kohaku should be the same color from head to tail.
It is not uncommon for the hi towards the tail or across the shoulders to get a bit thin looking, like it only got one coat of paint instead of many. This detracts from appearance and thus koi with solid hi are more valuable.
#10. The white of a Kohaku is surprisingly important.
You might think quality is all about the pattern and the red, but if you look at two Kohaku side by side, one with bright snowy white scales and skin, the other with a yellow head or body, the difference is dramatic. The clean white skin makes the red really pop out at you. The koi looks healthy and vibrant.
#11. Second hi is the term used to describe areas where there is light red on a few scales in an area that is otherwise white.
This can be on the body or the head, and detracts from the overall appearance of the koi.
#2. You will notice that some Kohaku have red heads.
Most breeders cull koi with entirely red heads, but some do not. For the most part they are not very attractive.
#13. Kohaku have white eyes with a touch of blue in them.
If the eye is red, that is less attractive, like a bloodshot eye. On an otherwise beautiful koi it is overlooked, but it is something that is usually a negative.
#14. A Kohaku’s fins should always be white.
Any red in them detracts from the clean crisp appearance and lowers the value. Red extending from the tail into the fin is very unattractive, and seen in lesser quality koi. On better koi you will sometimes see red extending up into the dorsal fin on the back. This would separate two otherwise equivalent koi’s value a bit.
#15. One particular bloodline of koi has shown a tendency to have a small bit of red in one pectoral fin.
Since this is minor, if it is seen in an otherwise beautiful koi, it is not considered a big negative. If there is red on both pectoral fins that is a bigger problem.
Now that you have identified these visual elements of the Kohaku, the next step is to sort your koi with this in mind. Find the koi that have these qualities and group them together and observe how that tank of koi compares in overall appearance to the tank of the lesser quality koi. If you have enough of each, it should be obvious to you that the tank with the better koi is a more attractive display. Whenever you group good quality koi together they seem to enhance each other. You should have no problem putting a higher price tag on the koi in the tank with the select koi.
When a customer asks you why some koi are more expensive than others, you now can show them exactly why. They are clearly of better quality, and intrinsically more beautiful. Higher quality koi (dare I say “Show Quality”) koi are much more difficult to produce, and there are far fewer available, which also makes them more valuable – but they are certainly worth the cost.
Learn the language of koi, and your bottom line with thank you.