Cumbrian business tycoon Andrew Tinkler has never been shy of taking risks in his 20-year career.

Starting work as a humble joiner in 1987, he moved into house-building, road maintenance and finally rail maintenance a decade later.

More recently he took over Britain’s biggest haulage company Eddie Stobart and bought Carlisle airport.

But perhaps his biggest risk of all is his attempt to conquer Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Mr Tinkler’s first foray into Eastern Europe was a one-off trip six years ago to the former Soviet State to sell second-hand machinery not needed by his Appleby-based engineering firm WA Developments.

But it did not take long for the father-of-two to realise the potential of the country and in particular its capital Kiev.

“You could see that things were moving fast there and there was a lot of untapped potential,” he said. “We didn’t just dive straight in.

“We spent a couple of years researching the market before deciding what to do.”

Two years ago, his subsidiary company firm WA Developments International took the plunge and bought 3,000sq m of office space in the centre of Kiev.

“We could see that there was a real shortage of office space in Kiev – a city where western firms were setting up bases all the time,” said Mr Tinkler.

“When we bought the units, people were paying in the region of $800 per sq m for office space, now the average price is $2,500 per sq m.

“We’ve sold half of what we bought and are letting the rest.

“The letting market is also really strong,” he added. “The banks have just started offering mortgages and credit cards for the first time over there, which has really pushed the market on again.”

But not content with property development, Mr Tinkler’s company looked at moving into the retail sector.

And eighteen months ago, he opened his first Mothercare store in Kiev. One store quickly became four and there are plans to double that number in the coming months.

Mr Tinkler said: “There’s another five definitely on the way and we had a total of 20 in our three-year business plan.

“We had a well-known French franchise as well but the Ukrainians didn’t take to it as well as Mothercare.”

Prices for imported western goods are high in the Ukraine.

Because of customs and import costs, Mothercare’s childrens clothes generally sell for 30 per cent more in Kiev than in England.

But this has not stopped Kiev’s middle-class mums from flocking to his stores and annual sales from the Mothercare businesses are estimated at £400,000 and rising.

“Western brands are something they’ve never had before in a place like Ukraine and they’re really taking to it,” he said.

“We’re looking at other brands, particularly in the children’s section.

“Sales have increased 80 per cent since the opening of the first shop and one of the two stores in Kiev is recognised as one of Mothercare’s most successful worldwide.”

His business empire in Ukraine is growing so fast that WA Developments International now employs 110 staff in the country and operates a central warehouse in Kiev.

And typical of his approach to business, Mr Tinkler flies out to Kiev in his private jet from Carlisle airport at least once a month to monitor his companies.

“People think that Ukraine is a poor, former Soviet backwater,” he said. “But in reality it’s a booming, cosmopolitan city with a rich history.

“They have some magnificent buildings in the centre on wide, tree-lined boulevards

“We’ve dined in French, Italian and Japanese restaurants and been to some really classy nightclubs and bars.

“At the same time it’s clean and you never see the people from Kiev drunk on the streets, despite vodka being their drink of choice.

“It’s a great place to visit and stay.”

And is this the end of his company’s Soviet expansion?

“We’re already talking to other western companies who might want to expand into the Ukraine,” he said. “And looking to see what we can import from Ukraine to the UK.

“If Mothercare can work, we think other brands can too.

“We’ve got offices there, a good staff and all the right infrastructure in place, so why not?”
By Mark Preskett, News&Star

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