Jochen Schweizer’s life is still a construction site.
Every day on the way to and from work, the stuntman-turned-entrepreneur visits one of his most spectacular construction projects: the Jochen Schweizer Arena, an adventure park in Munich.
The pool for the surfing wave, a recreation of a similar manmade wave in Munich, has already been lined with concrete. And the 50-meter-high vertical wind tunnel, where visitors can enjoy indoor simulated skydiving in a glass cylinder, is also finished.
But elsewhere, things smell of glue, scaffolding has been erected, and there’s cement as far as the eye can see. It’s hard to believe that the opening is scheduled for March 4. “It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster,” the businessman acknowledges.
The arena is Mr. Schweizer’s most daring investment so far in his bid to see half a billion euros in revenues within five years. Does he worry that something could go wrong or the “solid double-digit million figure” could prove to be a failed investment? The question is almost an affront to the kayaker and former stuntman, who made bungee jumping popular in Germany.
“In three years, I achieved everything possible. But it’s not my destiny to be a TV judge.”
“Whoever embarks on an undertaking is faced with uncertainty. But only in uncertainty are there opportunities,” he says.
Business is better than ever – especially since Mr. Schweizer became a familiar face on television.
For several years he was a judge and investor on the hit TV show “Lions’ Den,” the German version of the “Dragons’ Den” shows in which people pitch new business ideas to a pnel of successful entrepreneurs. “In three years, I achieved everything possible,” he says. “But it’s not my destiny to be a TV judge.” So he left the show, having reached his goal of using the prime-time exposure to increase brand awareness for his adventure and experiences group, Jochen Schweizer Holding.
According to a study by the market research institute GfK, 70 percent of 20 to 59-year-olds are familiar with the brand – a 30-point lead over its biggest competitor Mydays.
Mr. Schweizer’s group is already the biggest provider of outdoor adventure activities in Germany. In 2016, revenues from gift certificates and events rose from €85 million to more than €100 million. And largely due to the arena, growth prospects for 2017 could be in the double digits. Mr. Schweizer is hoping for 300,000 paying guests per year and expects the arena to achieve revenues in the double-digit millions.
Ahead of the opening, 50,000 gift vouchers have already been sold. Surfing the artificial wave costs at least €35 per hour; skydiving in the air tunnel goes for €50. And there are plenty of bars and restaurants.
The centerpiece of the arena is the skydiving facility.
When in the mid-1980s an Israeli Air Force pilot first used a propeller to create a facility for flying on a stream of air in the desert, Mr. Schweizer immediately traveled there to try it out. Since then he has opened similar facilities such as the one at Botrop, where Tom Enders, the chief executive of Airbus and an enthusiast parachutist, has also trained.
Mr. Enders and Mr. Schweizer are cut from the same cloth. And so Mr. Schweizer and Airbus decided to build a high quality energy-saving facility with an encircling air flow near Munich. Mr. Schweizer was anxious that someone else could take the first test flight, while standing by, waiting for word that the facility was finished. But the employees knew their boss – and gave him the first go.
Mr. Schweizer is demanding; he expects perfection and limitless commitment. It becomes quickly apparent that the affable, chatty entrepreneur can change his tone when a job applicant unwittingly backs her car into his marked, personal parking space. “If I’m a square, then it’s about my parking space,” he admits.
With a lot of creativity and a certain amount of toughness, Mr. Schweizer has made his group of companies a major player. For a long time, the provider of gift certificates profited from the fact that many recipients never actually redeem their coupons. But then Mr. Schweizer noticed that he earned more from customers who do redeem them, are satisfied and then go on to buy gift certificates for others.
The entrepreneur continues to have big plans. There are further projects in such cities as Berlin and Lucerne. And he wants to expand globally.
Mr. Schweizer will soon turn 60. Are his energies slowing down? “No way,” he says. His life isn’t so stress-filled. At 6 a.m. he sends his colleagues a few e-mails then does some yoga, followed by breakfast with the family and a drive to the construction site: “Growing older isn’t so bad, especially when you consider the alternative.”
Axel Höpner is Handelsblatt’s Munich bureau chief. To contact him: email@example.com