By the time Jimmy Andrew made it to Bochum, the mines were being shut down. But it wasn't coal that drew the former Scottish miner to the gritty Ruhr Valley.
After following his wife to Germany thirty years ago, he went on to found Pulse Fitness GmbH. From it's humble beginning in the small back office in her gym, it's become an international fitness company with turnover topping €5 million last year.
“I think we shall be looking at our best year since the company was founded thirty years ago. The recovery is happening,” he told The Local recently.
But rarely has business been straightforward. “You have to adapt and think on your feet and cope with the unexpected,” said Andrew, who has a phlegmatic approach to life.
He certainly has come a long way from his small mining village in the Scottish lowlands, where had not Margaret Thatcher intervened in his life he would have become a mine manager, played in the local football team and polished his water ski championship trophies at weekends.
Instead, Andrew is the man who brought the spinning health craze to Germany – he imported bikes from Britain selling them by the thousand.
“The UK spinning bike was better made and more innovative than anything the Germans had,” he said.
Coming from East Whitburn, Andrew left school at 16 to work in the mines. His main ambition was to becoming Scottish water ski champion. In 1984 under Thatcher's mine closures he lost his job. He was 22 with a £6,000 payoff in his pocket.
“I went to Greece with the idea of staying two weeks for water ski training. I stayed three months in all, grew my hair and lost my girlfriend back home,” he said. “Greece changed my life. Coming from a little village in Scotland with only 400 inhabitants to a place where there were Greeks, Germans, Italians, French – I had to learn a lot and adapt.”
So began a life as a professional sportsman and trainer that took him to Kitzbühel in Austria as a ski guide.
Next came Kenya and the French-owned Paradise Ocean Village Club as the Chef de Sport. An idyllic setting, but no nightlife. “Evenings it was all couples and baboons with pink bottoms,” he said ruefully.
For entertainment that involved neither of the above, he went to the German club at the nearby Robinson resort. Here he met a dance choreographer Patricia. They became a couple and married. But Patricia wanted to open her own fitness club in her hometown of Bochum, so they eventually left for Germany.
“I asked myself what does a Scotsman with little German do in Bochum in the Ruhr region,” he joked.
He bought two pieces of equipment for Patricia's gym ‘Cheers' and realised from the popularity of the club that the German fitness boom was about to take off.
“All I had was the gym telephone with two lines, one for Cheers the other for Pulse,” he said. “The background noise helped to make everything sound more professional to whoever was on the phone.”
But winning the confidence of German club owners with his ‘Denglish' was not easy. “Germans tend to buy from Germans. But when it comes down to it, people buy from people. It doesn't matter what language you speak. If they believe what you are selling is something you totally believe in you'll get the contract. And you have to like what you are doing otherwise they will see through you,” he said.
Since those days, the fitness market in Germany has grown at an astonishing rate. Analysts estimate the market is worth a potential €550 million year. The German Statistics Office in Wiesbaden reported that fitness training has for the first time become more popular than playing football.
But exports have also been a major reason for the success of Pulse Fitness GmbH and Andrew recently signed a €100,000 landmark deal with a luxury fitness studio in Teheran to supply it with workout equipment.
“My last trip was to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Syria. The Middle East is a growth area for us,” he said.
Surprisingly for a fitness mogul, Andrew's many business commitments mean his main exercise is getting in and out of his concours condition classic MG Midget sports car.
Know someone who's "made it" in Germany? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org