“Running your own business is great, but be careful what you wish for,” warns Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice. “I wanted a part-time job so I could spend more time with my kids. I ended up working 17 hours a day.”
Allis may have somewhat inadvertently created a brand that is now has 240 franchised stores stretching from Melbourne to Portugal, covering many places in-between, but she is no stranger to radical career changes.
Prior to starting Boost in 2000 with her husband Jeff, Allis had a variety of jobs, none of which could be called dull.
Not the standard entrepreneur
Whether it was being a cinema manager in Singapore, an ad executive in Melbourne or, brilliantly, head stewardess on David Bowie’s yacht, Allis had a meandering route to Boost that, she says, aided its foundation.
Allis, who left school at 16 and is now the head of a $130 million turnover business, is proof that there is no conventional path to entrepreneurship.
“My life has almost been in clumps, really,” she says. “At 21, I wanted to travel and have an adventure and at 29 I thought, ‘Right, I’ve got to start a career.’
“What has helped, I think, is that I’m a person who says ‘yes’ a lot. I’m a sponge for drawing in new information and experiences.”
“I think anything you do in life can give you skills for business. My travels taught me all kinds of things, whether that be problem-solving, conflict management or emotional intelligence.”
Giving the career a Boost
Given her prior 180-degree career changes, it’s perhaps not surprising that Allis doesn’t view starting Boost as a huge, terrifying leap into the unknown.
While in the US, she noted the established market for healthy juice bars. She felt she could not only replicate the offering in Australia, but also do better.
“There were a number of big players in the US and while I liked the category, I didn’t like the players,” says Allis. “I didn’t want to just rip them off blind.”
“I used a bit more commonsense than that, as well as some the marketing skills I had. I just picked up a pen and paper and started sketching how I’d like the stores to look like.”
The look and feel that Allis went for is evident 10 years on – fresh, colourful and little ambiguity about the product being sold.
“Look at Jamba Juice (US juice chain),” she says. “There’s timber everywhere when you go in. There are no pictures of fruit and you wouldn’t know what it was from the outside.”
“We tell you what we are. We have pictures of apples 20 times the size of actual apples. I had a clear vision for the business and that is a vision of what I’d like to see as a consumer.”
Building the brand
After pulling together $250,000 from friends – “They believed in me, rather than just the concept. I think that’s what you invest in – people,” Allis says – Boost opened its first outlet in Adelaide in 2000.
So how did Allis turn the business into the success story it is today?
“I wasn’t sure I was a success for years,” she admits.
“I had no idea of failure or success. It was just a big learning experience. It was just about solving problems as they came up, then understanding the cyclical nature of the business, then trying promotional activities and seeing what worked.”
“When we had stores to open in order to grow, I’d focus on what we had to do today to get there. So, if you have a store to open in December, start planning in May what you need to do. Always work ahead of yourself and then you will be ahead of your cashflow.”
“In the early days, I knew that we had to be first in mind for consumers. We had to be the leader.”
This was achieved through a blanket radio marketing coverage – aided by the fact that Jeff had a 22-year career in the radio industry – and a large PR component. The bright colours and youthful feel of the brand stood out so well that it had 94% market recognition in just four years.
Allis holds strategy meetings every six months to ensure the business is on track and, in the business’ formative years, soaked up as much information as possible from mentors.
Allis turned to Geoff Harris, co-founder of Flight Centre, and Roger and Lesley Gillespie, founders of Bakers Delight for advice. “They were great people to chat to along the journey,” she says. “You can’t be arrogant and pretend you know everything. You need to be honest about what you don’t know and use teachers who know more than you.”
A reoccurring theme with Allis is people. The conversation on how Boost Juice made the grade invariably ends up centred on its people.
This focus on the flesh and blood of the business has been trumpeted in high profile ways by Allis.
Not only has Boost Juice run TV ads that espouse its virtues to Gen Y workers, Allis even appeared on Channel Ten show Undercover Boss last year, donning a wig to work in a Perth store before dishing out feel-good help to the outlet’s struggling franchisees.
“Starting a business is great, but it’s all about the people you do it with,” she says. “It’s so important to have the right people in the right roles. You are always learning about your employees – they may be great for five years and then something happens.”
“We’ve had account people who stuffed up the books.”
“You need to know what you want and set clear outcomes for everyone. At interview stage, we have questionnaires that we get people to answer in a six-minute telephone conversation, to work out their attitude.”
“You need to be intuitive to work out if people fit into a group or not. At the same time, you don’t want just one type of person working for you. You need to work out your weaknesses and hire around them.”
Gen Y cheerleader
Allis has no time for employers who bemoan Gen Y staff as feckless and workshy.
“We’ve got 5,000 people working for us and 4,590 of them are Gen Y,” she says. “That youth and enthusiasm is what the business is built on.”
“I’ve had enough of people slamming Gen Y. Good God, they were better than we were at that age. In the 80s I was driving around in an open top Beetle with Lifesavers hanging out of the back.”
“You have to get the culture right. At the moment I’m wearing torn jeans and a top I wore to yoga. The finance guy is probably in board shorts right now.”
Allis may seem like she takes a relaxed attitude to business, but the reality is somewhat different. She calls herself a “control freak” that has ensured that Boost has well-regimented back-end systems, allowing her to spin off a second business, Mexican chain Salsa’s, two years ago.
The focus on people doesn’t come at the expense of the cold, hard numbers, either. Further international expansion is planned for Boost after a sell off of shares to US private equity firm The Riverside Company last year.
“You should read your financial numbers like you read a book – that’s where all your answers will be,” she says.
“We may have casual dress here, but it isn’t casual performance. You expect customers to get a certain experience and so you fix the training and incentives to get that. You don’t settle for mediocrity.”