Our story starts with an entrepreneur. Someone who gets things going. It’s early 1982 and the hero of our story is, among other things, overseeing operations at 18 cinemas—including in the Swabian town of Heilbronn, Southern Germany. As today, back then sweets were sold at the box office with the stock of gummy bears, drops and chocolate bars managed using a system of index cards with varying degrees of organisation. Even back in the 80s, this was a rather antiquated way of tracking supply and demand. While there were more efficient solutions out there, they weren’t readily available, so our entrepreneur gets in touch with the Technical Advisory Service at the University of Applied Sciences in Heilbronn—a popular point of contact for resolving technical issues at the time.

And this is where the professor comes into play. The two are well-acquainted, they’ve supervised a number of diploma students together. The search begins for someone clever enough to code the management software, and they soon single out a mechanical engineering student. 24 years old. Fascinated by computers. Just a few weeks later, the program is ready and it works! The professor starts to wonder about founding a business that would market software applications. Or to be more precise, technical calculation software. It would be groundbreaking as there was nothing like it on the market at that time. Only in university labs. The three men—entrepreneur, professor and student—are convinced that computers are the future. Could this be a business opportunity? The entrepreneur thinks so. So does the professor. The student is definitely along for the ride. Commercial expertise, technical intellect and untapped ambition. Gerhard Schick, Professor Klaus von Jan, Ralf Klenk. The founders of Bechtle. That was 1983.

The three founders of Bechtle (from left to right): Professor Klaus von Jan, Ralf Klenk, Gerhard Schick (photo from 2013).

First company building in Heilbronn's City-Süd-Center.

We need a name.

Having a business idea is a great start, but it’s only half the battle. What should we call it? This is where things get stressful. What about taking their own names? Klenk-Schick-von Jan GmbH. Too complicated. Maybe just the initials, KSJ, then? Or JKS? Perhaps not. Maybe something made up? Something totally modern and creative? Absolutely not! It’s the simple things that make all the difference. That’s always been the case. The three quickly agree on what makes a perfect name for the company. A family name would be good. That comes with an innate sense of trust. Something with a Swabian ring to it—after all, both the company’s founders and its customers are rooted in the southwestern region of Germany. The name also has to begin with a letter towards the beginning of the alphabet, to increase visibility in business directories. That would also put them right at the top of supplier lists. Not a bad thing either. So the pragmatically minded entrepreneur Gerhard Schick peruses a list of staff working for his company at the time. he doesn’t have to thumb past the letter B as his eye falls on Hans-Joachim Bechtle. A cinema employee. Perfect. Done. Name found. Perfection can be as easy as that.

It’s official!

On 21 July 1983, 09:00, four men find themselves at the notary’s office. For a few minutes, the company’s namesake is also a shareholder as is required by German law when a family name is used. Hans-Joachim Bechtle receives the 1,000 DM compensation previously agreed and is no longer part of Bechtle GmbH. He does, however, play a very special role becoming the company’s very first customer. Even before the shop in Heilbronn’s City Süd-Center opens to the public, he purchases ten DSS S 1/1" diskettes and for 60.53 DM plus 14% VAT. Much later, he joins Bechtle as a service technician. The Apple IIe running the confectionary management program since 1982 is still in his study today.

Apple IIe.

Ralf Klenk, first employee and managing director, together with Friedrich Hild, CAD design engineer, in the first Heilbronn commercial building.

Always think ahead.

Things don’t have to run smoothly right from the start. You just have to make sure you stay the course. Bechtle’s business model filled a gap in the market. With software developed at the university that no-one else is selling and clear signs that the computer is the future, there was plenty of scope to combine the two. To start, Bechtle focuses on developing and marketing technical calculation software, for example an application specially designed for sawmills. The program is highly complex, expensive and, ultimately, impossible to sell. Then comes a software solution for tool management—planned down to the tiniest detail with smart features, but hard to use and probably ahead of its time, it’s a flop. As the saying goes, third time’s the charm. And so it proved to be. The Bechtle Practitioner Software (BPS) is a hit, calculating cogs, shafts and screws. The product is well-designed and sales aren’t bad either, but it can’t quite match Bechtle’s other line of business. The real breakthrough comes with the sale of hardware. Originally planned to be a secondary source of income, computers, monitors, printers, accessories and standard software are all flying off the shelves. The PC age is here. The market develops apace and with it, Bechtle. It’s like the Gold Rush with demand far outstripping supply. Being in the right industry at the right time combined with a boundless will to succeed. This is where Bechtle is born.