20.02.14 | Posted in People I Love
Entrepreneur and franchise queen Janine Allis talks to Emma Isaacs about building a company that boasts $250 million in sales a year.
It’d been a few years since I’d last seen Boost Juice founder, Janine Allis. Back then, she appeared busy and in a rush, the demands of her business clearly dominating her life – a woman on a mission for sure. The Janine Allis I met this month on a rainy Melbourne day was an entirely different woman. Just back and refreshed from a yoga retreat in Bali, she spoke slower, walked slower, and seemed calm and completely at ease. We met at Retail Zoo’s headquarters, the business that comprises four brands (so far): Boost Juice, Salsa’s Tex Mex, Cibo Espresso and Hatch Chicken. The offices are a true representation of the ‘zoo’brand. There are gorillas, lions, zebras, and other exotic animals looking down at you from the walls, and a simulation of a Boost Juice store in the middle of the space – mango magic anyone?
A simple upbringing
Janine grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and describes her childhood as “just a very simple, basic upbringing”. The youngest of four kids, Janine admits her entrepreneurial skills weren’t born at home. “I think it took my grandmother three years to understand that no, my bookkeeper in the business was not my boss”, jokes Janine. “I come from a family where, if you got a job at Myer, you’d made it.” Describing herself as “not at all career competitive”, all she wanted to do was travel. “I had this real thirst for adventure, leaving Australia and seeing what the rest of the world was doing. I was working three or four jobs so I could earn enough money to get on an airplane for as long as I possibly could which ended up being six or seven years. Eventually, I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore.” Janine met husband, radio executive Jeff Allis, when she was 28 and they were married within eight months. By 1999, the couple had had three children and Jeff’s work took him to the US for a trip. Janine decided to join him there and on that trip, she couldn’t stop thinking about her next move. “I was on maternity leave and that’s when I had the time to think ‘do I really want to go back to work again and work for a salary?’ I was having a look at what was in the market and that’s when I noticed the juice and smoothie stores pumping.” The category had been growing rapidly in the US for about seven years at that time, and Janine immediately saw the gap in the Australian market. “I certainly could not think of anything healthy that I could get in a fast paced environment. I have always been really conscious of my health and what I put in my mouth, so it sat very comfortably with me.”
The birth of Boost Juice
Jeff continued on with his job while Janine threw herself into researching the concept, and in 2000, Boost Juice was born from Janine’s kitchen table. Despite being based in Melbourne, the first Boost Juice bar opened in Adelaide, a strategic decision that proved to work well. “Logistically, the options were better to start in Adelaide. We’d researched the market and found that starting in a smaller market offered less financial risk,” Janine says. Like most businesses, the early days were a struggle. When the first store opened Janine had three children, her youngest being seven months. And then in 2001, they had to sell their house to reinvest in thebusiness because the bank wouldn’t lend them any more money. All that changed though when they signed a deal with Westfield to open 18 stores in shopping centres around the country. “Jeff came in and went ‘We’ve got to build it [the business].’ We didn’t have much infrastructure to do it. I drew the first five stores to scale, so it was very hands on the whole way. We had a rule at one point that we weren’t allowed to count the store numbers. If we counted them it would seem like an enormous job.” Janine credits Jeff as a natural born marketer, and says she has different strengths. “I am a builder. If you have nothing, if you literally have nothing but an idea, you have to go build it one system at a time, one store at a time. Every single store has a system. Where do you put the fridge? Where do the ingredients go? Where will the staff stand? Everything from what size scoop you need, to getting the ice cubes hollow … the detail never ends. “Quite often entrepreneurs tend to get bored very quickly and fail because they haven’t dealt with the detail. Strategy is only five per cent of success, and the rest is execution of the concept.” If success is based on execution, then Janine has executed superbly. The Boost Juice business, which started with that one store in Adelaide, reportedly now grosses well over $250 million in sales each year and has over 270 stores in Australia, Chile, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, UK, Thailand, India, Estonia, Malaysia, Germany and Russia. Every year they use over six million bananas, five million oranges and three million apples.
The right team
Janine believes she has got to where she is by surrounding herself with the right people. “The key thing is to surround yourself with great people and I was very fortunate to have my mum being a huge help with the kids, so if I had to go interstate, they would stay at mum’s house. I was really fortunate to have that as a huge support. For two years I worked from home so that meant when the kids walked in I was there. I’m great with anything that can save me time, like shopping online. And when we moved in to an office I made sure it was three kilometres away from the house I lived in. I wanted to be able to go to a soccer game and I wanted to see the kids, so I could go to a Christmas pageant or whatever else – it enabled me to be as effective and efficient as possible.” Janine says that this time management has also been a big key to her success. “Someone once called me the queen of available time, so I would get into a taxi and go ‘how long is the trip – half an hour? Great, I can make two calls.’ You’re setting yourself up to succeed that way. Sometimes it does go wrong though. You have those days where the moon must be on the wrong orbit, and you take the kids to school and there’s no school that day and you think ‘oh my God, I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed today’.”
Rinse and repeat
With Boost Juice being such a runaway success, Janine and her team were keen to emulate the model. “We often do strategy meetings and in one we said ‘we’re a marketing company’, but then we actually really looked at the business and realised we have a fantastic infrastructure and actually we’re a business that can grow successful concepts and make them huge. We knew we could achieve growth with our international business but also needed something more. By then, we had these great hungry executives and we kind of needed something else to be able to retain these amazing people and give them a challenge.” Enter the newer brands that would certainly provide that challenge. “We’ve got Boost Juice and Salsa’s Tex Mex. We acquired the Italian concept called Cibo Espresso which is a fantastic high quality coffee concept out of Adelaide and we’ve also got Hatch Chicken, which is a concept we’re really excited about.” The hard work has rewarded Janine generously, but she’s philosophical about the journey. “The first time I hit the Young Rich List I hadn’t taken a salary for three years and we were having cash flow issues at the time,” Janine laughs. “I think I went shopping that day and my husband saw all the shopping bags and said ‘what are you doing?’ and I said ‘don’t you know we’re rich?’” jokes Janine. “For me, success and money has nothing to do with a number, but what I think financial independence gives you is freedom. You get to ask questions like ‘do I have to deal with these people? No. Do I have to sell? No. And to not stress about paying school fees or the mortgage is great – I’ve been there and there’s no fun in that. Money buys things, but not happiness. Am I any happier that I have a stone benchtop in my kitchen as opposed to Laminex? No, but what makes me happy is that I can do what I want to do, and not what I have to do.” Janine, now 47, admits that life hasn’t always been so smooth, and that turning 40 was a pivotal moment. “I started a lot of things when I turned 40. Literally from the age of 32 to 41 I didn’t even put my head up to breathe. I was literally all about work and fear and hitting walls and going to retreats for a couple of days to put myself back together again. I was trying to be the best mother I could be with all the stresses of everything else. It was probably when I turned 40 that I seemed to take on a new path and whether that came in the form of yoga which I’m addicted to; or surfing which I also took up and am really crap at … It was a combination of a lot of things that I had the bandwidth to start which led to me being a little kinder to me.” Janine is also grateful for the adversities she’s faced over the years. “Every time we’ve had a low point, it’s resulted in a quantum leap in growth and the business has been much stronger for it. At the time you might be rocking quietly in the corner, but with hindsight, you go ‘thank god that happened because the business is stronger for it’. I’m thankful for those tough times because without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and where we are today is a very good place.”
This article was first published in Latte, the Business Chicks magazine for Premium members. It is reproduced here with full permission.