Hi, I’m Dan Prescher. Seven years ago, Warren Ogden relocated to Granada, Nicaragua, but not to retire. In fact, Warren is a few decades away from retirement age, so kicking back was definitely not on his radar. He saw Granada as a new home, not only for him, but for his health and wellness business as we. Now Warren’s gym, spa, and yoga studio, Pure, is a fixture of the Granada scene staffed and used by expats and locals alike. Warren tells us what it was like for him to start a business in Nicaragua, and his insights will serve anyone well no matter what their reasons for looking at Nicaragua in general and Granada in particular. Warren Odgen on this episode of Finding Your Overseas Paradise.
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Read the full podcast transcript here:
Warren, thank you for joining me on ‘Finding Your Overseas Paradise’ today. It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I am especially glad to talk to you because we ran into you and your business in Granada, Nicaragua when Suzan and I were there doing our ‘Blueprint for Nicaragua’ webinar. I’ve been fascinated by that business ever since. First, I want to find out a little bit about you. How did you get from North Carolina to Granada, Nicaragua? Are you a North Carolina native? I know you went to Duke.
Warren: I went to Duke, but I’m from Washington State. I grew up on an island. It’s not known for having a large Nicaraguan population, but as it turns out, I grew up amongst Nicaraguans and they were from Granada. After graduating from Duke, I took the opportunity to go live with their extended family, work for a non-governmental organization, and study Spanish for 4 months, and fell in love with Nicaragua and Granada, and then moved back to the States. 7 years later, moved . . . returned to Granada but this time to lay down roots.
Dan: When was that when you relocated to Nicaragua permanently?
Warren: That was ’06, 2006.
Dan: You’re an old hand there. You’ve been there for 7 years.
Warren: About 7 1/2 years. I’ve seen a change, and it’s been a very exciting place to be.
Dan: Explain the change that you’ve seen there. I know Granada is on the radar for a lot of people thinking about moving abroad or working overseas. What changes have you seen in the community in your 7 years there?
Warren: I observed two major sets of changes; first between 1999 when I was there for 4 months and when I moved in ’06. In ’99, there were very few foreigners. There weren’t very many businesses that catered to retirees or an international crowd. In ’06 when I moved down, there were, and I observed that for nearly part of the 2000’s. Between ’06 and now, there’s been another wave of businesses that have moved in that have made life a lot more convenient, easier. The biggest ones are the supermarkets, because until about 2007 I think it was, we didn’t have a first-class supermarket, and now we have two. Those sorts of…they sound like elemental things, but when you have to drive an hour to get the basic supplies, it really does change your quality of life.
Dan: You have to go up the road to Managua?
Warren: We were driving to Managua when I first moved down. Of course vegetables, rice, and beans you can always get in Granada. There are a lot of things that we’re used to. They’re not major things; essential spices and what-not; things that are pretty basic but just weren’t available in Granada until a couple of supermarkets moved in, in ’07 and ’08.
Dan: Has that significantly changed your overhead there? The cost of living in Granada, I know from experience years ago, used to be very low; compared very well to other places around Central and South America. What’s it like now? Have those stores and the expat population driven prices up noticeably for you guys?
Warren: Not brutally. I’ve seen that in other towns, still, that hasn’t happened in Granada. Of course, the businesses that cater to tourists and expats may be a little more expensive, but it’s a margin that’s not enormous. Let’s say for lunch, you could go and eat at a longstanding Nicaraguan restaurant for the equivalent of $2 or $3, or pay $4 maybe $5 in a tourist area. It’s not a huge difference. The cost of living is still really reasonable in Granada.
Dan: Cool. That is going to get me onto my next subject that I’m really interested in: PURE Gym and Spa is the business that you have started in Granada. I assume you did that because you recognized a niche for this kind of business. Tell me a little bit about it.
Warren: It really was. We did an examination of what niches there were in Granada in ’07 and ’08. The one that matched both a need in the community, a market niche, and something that I was really interested in was the health and wellness aspect of life. It’s a larger aspect of life, because PURE is a gym, a spa, and a yoga studio, so we’re covering everything together. We even have physiotherapists that we bring in.
Dan: Nutritionists and massage therapy. It seems like you run the gamut there.
Warren: We do. We try to create a place that attends to all the basic, of course more preventive, although we’ve got two great physiotherapists that we have on-call. That’s something that I think is important for the retiree population. A lot of folks move down and they’ve got minor issues that they don’t want to turn into major issues, in particular back injuries and whatnot. I think that we’re a support for the retiree community and preventive measures to avoid longer-term back pain and all the discomfort that goes along. Back pain is what we most see because it seems like so many people suffer from back issues.
Dan: When Suzan and I were down there, Suzan mentioned that she also saw a lot of locals in the gym, as well. How is PURE being received by the community, and how much crossover do you get with local customers?
Warren: I think we’ve got a great relationship with the community. The gym is very mixed; we get expats, we’ve got a lot of locals. We have a program for local mothers, a scholarship program. The concept of the gym, gym classes, strength training, that’s part of Nicaraguan culture for a while. There’s a strong, they call it fisioculturista culture. Yoga is a little bit outside of the mainstream, but year by year, people gain a better understanding of what yoga is and what some of the benefits are. The same goes for the other programs that we offer. Pilates classes weren’t something that anyone knew about 10 years ago in Granada, but now, locals are starting to appreciate what these different modalities and different practices can do for you.
Dan: Tell me what it’s like to operate that business there. I don’t know if you’ve tried to open up a similar business in the United States, but I assume you still have to go through the regular flips and twists of registering your employees, of getting your permits, all of that stuff. Do you have a sense of what your overhead would be for the same business in the United States? What is it like doing business there?
Warren: I think a lot of the processes are similar. I did start an NGO, a nongovernmental organization, in the States. I went through corporate registration and all of the normal processes of establishing a business in California. I think a lot of the things are similar. One of the major differences is that Nicaragua is not a litigious society. There isn’t the same need for overhead, for insurance, and legal fees that one has to pay for when establishing a business in the United States. That’s one major difference. A lot of the things are similar.
In terms of hiring, that is also different. In Nicaragua, there aren’t the same processes for… what’s the right term…for certification, for registration as a trained electrician or welder. You have to rely more on other people’s experience with local electricians, welders, and builders, just as an example. That’s one of the things that I really emphasize to people that are considering moving down to Nicaragua, especially if they’re going to establish a business. Come down, take time and get to know the community. Find out who you can trust and who does good work before you try to launch into a major project.
Dan: Reputation is huge throughout much of Latin America. The Better Business Bureau is asking around to people who have used those services before and seeing whose name comes up more often . . .
Warren: Yeah, I think that’s the case.
Dan: . . . and just going with reputation.
Warren: You hear names of those that you don’t want to do business with, and then you hear names of people that you do want to seek out when you need to find someone or have something done.
Dan: In general though, did you find it any more difficult to start that business in Nicaragua than you would have any place else in the world? Did Nicaragua have any special hurdles that you had to climb? I know you’re fluent in Spanish because you spent the time down there and you fit into the community very well. I have a feeling that you’ve managed a lot of those challenges pretty well. Was there anything special about Nicaragua that you had to deal with?
Warren: I think that you’re alluding to one of the major challenges. I’ve only started a business in Nicaragua and the United States, which is my home country, my home culture. My sense is that anywhere that you try to start a business, one of the essential things that you must do is get to know the local culture because you have to adapt, especially if you’re running a business, but even if you’re just moving to a country like Nicaragua. Although Latin culture, Nicaraguan culture, and American culture are not so different if you did a comparison between Southeast Asian culture and American culture; there are major differences. If you want to be successful just living in a place like Nicaragua, you have to learn to adapt and make your decisions in terms of business decisions and personal decisions based on realistic expectation of what you are able to tolerate, what you can adapt to, and what you can’t.
There’s a story of a fellow that moved next to a church in Granada. After a few months, went to the padre and said, “Could you stop setting off the bombas, the loud fireworks, so early in the morning because I hear them at 2, 3, 4 in the morning?” The padre just laughed. It’s not reasonable to expect that a culture of setting off fireworks at 4 a.m., 3 a.m. in the morning is going to change when that’s just how it’s been done for decades or who knows how long.
Dan: Just because you’re losing sleep. I’m in Cotacachi, Ecuador right now and my next door neighbor has a roof dog that has been barking steadily for the last 2 days. It’s nobody’s business but his. That’s just the way things are in the culture. If you don’t get used to it, then you’re not going to be a happy camper wherever you go.
Warren: You can always make strategic decisions to avoid the things that are really intolerable and just laugh and enjoy, and grumble but with a good attitude about the things, like the fireworks, which are just part of life.
Dan: Nicaragua has a completely unique culture, even among Latin American countries. Everyone has a little something unique about it. Nicaragua is one of the most unique Latin American cultures and countries that Susan and I have run across. What is it about Nicaragua that grabbed you? I know that you had early experience with the Nicaraguan community back where you lived. What’s the hook? A lot of people feel it when they go to Nicaragua; there seems to be a buzz about the country now, a really positive attitude. I wonder if you attribute that to something.
Warren: I think there’s an inherent attribute in the culture of playfulness. I find it’s really easy to just engage with anyone from any sector on the street. It’s reflected in the linguistic Nicaraguanisms. There’s so many funny and interesting slang; we call them slang but they’re colloquialisms in the Nicaraguan vernacular that are really amusing, fun, and they reflect the attitude where people just like to interact and play, and make word play. I think that’s really one of the key things.
I really would encourage anyone who wants to live in Nicaragua to take the time to study Spanish, because even the process of learning Spanish or of improving your Spanish is great for beginning to understand, deepening your understanding of the culture because so much is reflected in the linguistic details of a place.
Dan: I studied for a few weeks at Casa Xalteva in Granada.
Warren: Sure. That’s a great program.
Dan: Spent most of the afternoons laughing and telling jokes with the teacher because they were just a fun bunch. That playfulness goes all the way throughout the culture. Warren, what is the best way for people to find out about PURE Gym and Spa. If they want to look it up, if they want to make arrangements to go there when they visit Nicaragua, what’s the easiest way to find out about it?
Warren: We have our website, www.purenica.com. Then you can always write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We just encourage you to stop in when you come in. If someone’s considering doing a retreat, we also do organize retreats.
Dan: That’s right.
Warren: We host people. It’s usually very small groups based in Granada. We really enjoy doing that. Naturally, the focus is on health. We also have roots in the community. Plus, my entire staff are Nicaraguans so it really is a Nicaraguan experience with a health focus to do a retreat with PURE.
Dan: It gives you a feeling for the community itself not just for the health and wellness angle of what PURE has to offer. You get to learn about the community, too, right?
Warren: Right. Typically, mornings and the evenings we have more of a health focus; massage, yoga, and personal training. Then in the middle of the day, we go out and explore. It is one of the fantastic things about Granada, as you know, there are a number of absolutely fantastic parks…
Warren: …and natural features within 20 or 25 minutes; the volcano, Las Isletas, Laguna de Apoyo. That’s generally what we do is go explore these places.
Dan: You’ve also got surf right out on the coast. I know that you do…is it a surf and meditation retreat as well, or a surf and wellness?
Warren: We can incorporate meditation. Surf and yoga.
Dan: Surf and yoga.
Warren: There are beaches about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours away. We’re really blessed that living there; we have a chance to go out there on the weekends. We can also take people as part of our retreats.
Dan: Warren, how old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?
Warren: I’m 37.
Warren: No, I don’t mind.
Dan: That’s one of the reasons that you are active enough to take advantage of all those things that Nicaragua has to offer. What’s your biggest piece of advice for people who haven’t reached retirement age who don’t necessarily need the back treatments and the dietary advice; people who are still active, vital, and want to take advantage of all of this stuff? That’s a demographic of expat that people really don’t concentrate on much anymore. Do you have any special advice for young people who want to try their hand at being an expat and just going out there and doing it?
Warren: I think the key is just to come and give yourself time. Go to places that are centers or nodules for community, like here. Talk to people. There are often short-term jobs. We do a yoga teacher work study for Tai Chi teachers and workout instructors. There’s the WOOF program, which is a program where you can travel and work on organic farms. Go to a place that’s foreign to you and live for a while. You have to budget because you won’t be making money. If you have the intention of doing something like the WOOF program, it tends to be fairly inexpensive and it gives you a totally different experience than just being a…not just. It’s a different experience than going as a tourist just to see. Make a plan to go and to do.
Dan: We actually have a WOOF organic farm up here near Cotacachi, Ecuador. The guys that run it and the people that take advantage of it are some of the most fascinating folks that you’ll ever want to meet. That’s another podcast. I plan on talking to them soon.
Warren, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Best of luck with PURE. What are your future plans for the operation and for yourself in Granada, in general? Is there anything big coming up on your radar or are you just doing the business?
Warren: We have 3 rooms that we’ve been converting into, I wouldn’t say hotel rooms because they won’t be a hotel. It’ll be rooms for people that really want to dedicate some time to taking care of themselves. That’s the big addition to PURE. Eventually…my fiance is studying health and wellness in the States; that’s why we’re here for a semester. Eventually, I’d like to find a business partner so that both of us can go back to school. That’s one of the things that comes up for expats doing business, you have to strategize so that you can come home, see friends, and in our case, we’d like to go back to school so that we can offer more in the future. That’s also something that’s probably good for people to think about when they start a business in Nicaragua or in a foreign country.
Dan: Very cool. Warren, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Warren: A pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.
Dan: You bet.
Transcript by www.speechpad.com.