The juicy secrets of my success: Lessons from Boost Juice founder Janine Allis

janine-allis

Source: Women's Agenda.

Janine Allis is not your typical entrepreneur. She admits that for the first part of her working life, her entrepreneurial spirit was “dormant”.

As a teenager, Allis refers to herself as “Miss Average”, never the stand-out student, she went to a technical college and left a few months before her 17th birthday. Before starting her own business, Allis had worked in 30 jobs, travelled the world and had a baby.

Growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Knoxfield, Allis’s new book The Secrets of My Success and the Story of Boost Juice – Juicy Bits and All details her adventures from start to finish.  After leaving school, Allis took up a job at an advertising agency before trying her hand at modelling and embarking on a six-year overseas adventure, which saw her working on David Bowie’s yacht.

After her days cruising with the rich and famous, Allis created the iconic Australian juice brand Boost, alongside her husband Jeff in 2000. It’s never easy starting a business and, like all new owners, Allis has faced a number of challenges along the way, including managing fast growth, developing and evaluating business processes, and responding to unwarranted criticisms of the products.

These lessons and more have informed Allis’s business and saw her named as the Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year in 2004. SmartCompany spoke to Allis about the Boost Juice journey and her most valuable business lessons.

Blending a great team

Like most, Allis hasn’t always been lucky in love, but in 1995 she was introduced to her “soul mate” Jeff Allis. As well as being “partners in life”, they became business partners and in 2000 opened their first Boost Juice store together in Adelaide.

“Finding the right business partner is one of the hardest things to get right and when you find out you’ve got it wrong, run away quickly. Partnerships are incredibly destructive if they’re wrong, but if they’re right it’s great,” she says.

Prior to starting Boost, Allis had the misfortune of going into business with a group of men (starting the juice store Sejuice), who did not respect her thoughts or value her work.  Through this experience she quickly discovered the hardships of working with an unsupportive team, but it was this experience which inspired Allis and her husband to start a business on their own.

Allis says Jeff’s support has been crucial to her success.

“The most influential person in my life has definitely been my husband. He has an amazing faith in my ability, but he’s also really critical,” she says.

Throughout the Boost journey, Jeff and Allis’s skills and qualities complemented each other’s. In her book, Allis writes Jeff’s attitude kept her calm and sane when business was difficult while she became the “problem solver”.

“If it’s wrong, it’s just dysfunctional. You need to have a partnership in every capacity, a partner who is 100% supportive. I was lucky and had a partner who was perhaps even more foolish than I was and backed me 100% of the time.

“Having the right partner at home is vital,” she says.

Another important ‘Jeff’ in her life was former Flight Centre executive Geoff Harris.

“Geoff Harris taught me a lot about the business side of things and how to structure a business. From his own experiences running Flight Centre he knew what to avoid.

“For me, success or failure has been down to the people I’ve surrounded myself with. Some people are only half full, they live in fear. But as an entrepreneur you need to find the people that say ‘give it a go’. Find people who support the idea, have started their own business intelligently and are ahead of the curb,” she says.

Success is also determined by how well you build your team of employees and Allis says Boost would have been “very difficult, if not impossible” to get off the ground had she hired the wrong people.

“What comes first is attitude. You might not be the most educated, intelligent, or qualified person for a role, but you might be that someone who has the drive and a twinkle in their eyes, but didn’t have the chance to have the education.

“There is a lot you can teach, but attitude you can’t,” she says.

Allis says the best teams are a mixture of different personalities who fit together to compensate for each other’s weaknesses.

A good mix, Allis says, should consist of the leader (efficient, focused, ambitious), the thinker (analytical, unassuming, well organised), the doer (hard-working, patient, keen to get the job done without fuss) and the emotional creative (social, energetic, high maintenance).

In order to maintain the right mixture of people, Allis says she was selective not just about her employees, but also her franchisees.

“Some of the people we got in didn’t have the experience, but they had the drive. Getting the right franchisee is just as important as having the right employees.

“If you get the people wrong, you can’t even get started. You must have the right people to go on the journey with,” she says.

If you’re having difficulties with a team member, Allis says to consider their qualities and your own, and learn where the problem is arising, before trying to devise the best response.

Janine Allis

Boost Juice founder and Shark Tank investor Janine Allis

Understand your customer

From the outset Allis and her husband set out to understand their customers and build a people focus within the business.

Before even opening their first Boost Juice store, the pair started researching the market to discover the best locations.

On instruction, Allis’s father-in-law sat outside the eventual King William Street store in Adelaide with a pen and paper and recorded the number of people who walked by and details such as gender and age group.

Allis says even now, the only sites with real consumer data are shopping centres and collecting initial consumer data if you’re a street store is best done the old-fashioned way.

“On the street, the best way to do it is sitting there with a pen and paper and then crunching the numbers. You’ve got to work out how many people walk by and the trends. You cannot do enough research.

“There is a balance between research and analysis paralysis, but the fundamental research is incredibly critical to your decision,” she says.

In the book she writes starting in Adelaide was “brilliant” as this enabled them to tinker with the business, perfect the recipes, the processes and the store before opening in a larger city.

Allis’s biggest mission when the business first started was customer experience.

“Nothing was too much trouble. I wanted Boost to be the business other businesses strived to be regarding customer service. My dilemma was how to find out if we were not delivering on the customer experience, so we could then change what we were doing.

“With every single complaint, it became my personal challenge to convert that customer into a raving fan. I did it, every time – by thinking as a consumer and keeping it simple,” she says.

When it comes to perfecting the customer experience, Allis says to ensure the staff is well trained and good communicators.

“The biggest thing people need to focus on is the staff interacting with the customers. You should focus on internal marketing and training staff. It’s often an invisible expense which isn’t tangible and so training gets forgotten,” she says.

To further this interaction, Allis says staff should talk to customers and have an open line of communication.

“Talk to the customers. You should constantly have an open dialogue and make sure it’s easy for them. Every single one of our stores has an email address and a 24-hour response policy,” she says.

Marketing, Allis says, should also be targeted to the consumer.

“For us in the early days radio was a good and effective medium at the time. But now there are all sorts of things such as advertising on Catch-up TV, YouTube or Facebook. All of these mediums are quite effective, but you’ve got to understand your target market and work out where they are and then go there.”

Ultimately, Allis says stores need to invest in marketing to make their brand known.

“There is no point having a great store if no one knows about it. Make sure you’re utilising the new technology and people know you’re there. Work out your target market and how to connect with them,” she says.

Evaluate and build upon your processes

Once Allis had set her sights on starting Boost Juice, she acquired the necessary skills to run the business.

“I started by purchasing a copy of QuickBooks, an off-the-shelf accounting package. And I arranged to get a QuickBooks expert into my home to teach me how to use the bloody thing. I had no real idea about accounting, but I was determined to know all the technical aspects, so I would know my business inside and out,” she writes.

Processes form the foundation of a business and Allis says they need to be constantly evaluated and re-developed to respond to new challenges.

“People underestimate what people call the boring stuff associated with the business. Sometimes people don’t put enough importance on the process. If you find yourself repeating a comment to employees or customers, then a system could be in place to make this easier.

“I became an Excel queen. I spent my whole time thinking about what was wrong and putting in place systems to stop these things happening again,” she says.

If you’re not a creative type, Allis says you should partner with a person who has these skills.

In order to manage Boost’s fast growth, Allis says these systems were vital. The systems which had served them so well had to be evaluated in 2004 when problems arose and things started to unravel for Allis.

Store sales were increasing year on year by 30%, the business had boomed, but with the fast growth came issues for new franchisees. Because of the popularity of the stores, franchise partners were on-selling their businesses for four or five times the original price. To help manage the new franchisees, Allis enlisted the help of Baker’s Delight co-founder Lesley Gillespie. Together, they implemented a new system for the franchisees to report their financials and learned how to train the new franchisees.

At the same time, Boost were the subject of a misleading A Current Affair program, which said the franchise added sugar to their drinks, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission started investigating juice bars and the Bondi Council started blaming Boost for the rubbish in the local area.

Allis says these experiences provided a number of lessons, but the most effective solutions came from “picking up a mirror and looking hard into it”.

“We had gotten complacent, arrogant and reactive. Growing over 100 stores in four years meant we had also started to show some cracks internally, including in our staff training and systems. We just were not attacking every part of the business – so that’s exactly what we did,” she writes.

“We broke each part of Boost into simple pieces. We began to get back on our toes and think proactively, reviewing and changing how we reported, cutting $2 million in expenses and building a strong profit centre mentality in the business.”

This system Allis has continued to redevelop as the business has grown. The juice chain has now spread globally, with stores now throughout Asia, Europe, South America, South Africa and the Middle East.

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