Profile: Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice

Entrepreneurs are often typecast as jumping from project to project, but Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice Bars, doesn’t lack follow through, writes Daniella White. Allis has seen the brand expand into 14 countries and lives its message to this day.

 

For Janine Allis an adventurous spirit and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Whether working on David Bowie’s boat or nannying around the world, even before the days of Boost Juice Bars, Allis had a colourful working life. She always knew she wanted to do something different. She and her husband dabbled in publishing and touring comedians, but it was juice that would prove most fruitful.

Despite no formal business training and dropping out of high school at the age of 16, Allis has overseen the massive expansion of Boost. From a single store in Adelaide in 2000, Boost now has a presence in 14 countries and over 200 stores worldwide. Parent company Retail Zoo also owns growing brands Salsa’s, Cibo Espresso and new kid on the block, Hatch.

 

A born marketer

After returning from the obligatory overseas adventure of an Australian 20-something, Allis found work with Village Roadshow, managing the cinemas. Here, she utilised her natural knack for the basics of marketing.

“With marketing, people sort of see it as very much going, ‘OK, well I’m looking above the line or I’m looking below the line’,” she tells Marketing.

“They don’t see it holistically enough because quite often people are in media buying, or they’re in PR, so everyone sort of segments it, but they forget that marketing is simply: find out what the customer wants and give it to them.”

It’s this basic grounding Allis still applies to her brands today. “I find in this business, we look at it very holistically, and I think it’s because of my background of working in the cinemas and being the marketer,” she says.

“I went, ‘OK, my target market is cinema-goers. I need to get as many cinema-goers to know that I’ve got ‘X’ movie on’. Really that’s as simple as marketing gets.

“With that I then went to the local paper and did promotions, got prize packs, all that sort of stuff. I got myself actually quite a decent little portfolio, which actually got me a job working for a company called United International Pictures as a publicist.”

 

Finding the gap

A trip to the US with her husband and three children saw the birth of the idea for Boost.

As a time-poor mother, she was constantly frustrated with the lack of quick and healthy food options. “Most ideas start with, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if ‘, right? Like, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if I had a wallet that could work with my iPhone, so I didn’t have to have a wallet and an iPhone?’ ‘Wouldn’t it be good if, when I went out, I had other choices other than just chips or fries or whatever?’” she says.

“So we went over [to the US], and I saw the category of the juice and I thought that was a healthy option. I didn’t like what I saw in America. I didn’t think it fitted with how I would see a healthy concept being. So I really came back with a smoothie and juice concept in my head, and then literally got the computer out, typed the words ‘business plan’ and off I went.”

She coupled this original idea with an insatiable competitive spirit. From here her idea quickly progressed to reality.

“What drove me was I’m ridiculously competitive. Play cards with me and you’ll know, I need to win; less so now, but back then. So I think when you see those people playing sport who will have that madness in their eyes, that was me, I had the madness in my eyes.”

 

From simple idea to fruition

All of Allis’ knowledge and skills came from on-the- job learning and a natural business mindset.

“My business course was my business. I had a very curious mind and I had the ability to fix things quickly, and problem solving, and puzzles. That’s how my brain worked, which I didn’t realise at the time, particularly because I was just having too much fun at 16 to really find out what the hell my brain was doing,” she says.

“That worked out really well for starting a business from scratch with the systems and processes and everything else that’s required to do a business.”

Allis and her husband opened the first store in Adelaide in 2000.

As she lived in Melbourne, she got her father-in- law to sit out the front of the prospect store site to get a handle on the foot traffic and demographic. She admits their naivety and inexperience in retail led to countless mistakes.

“We did probably a terrible negotiation and it was a crap site. The site itself was OK, but it was a Heritage building, so we couldn’t get air-conditioning to it and Adelaide’s really hot. So you know, there were certainly a lot of lessons in that one.”

Allis puts the buzz around the brand in its early days in Adelaide down to their strong radio campaigns. She utilised her husband’s background in radio and pursued a blanket campaign with SA FM.

“It had like a 72.3% reach of our target market, which is just unheard of. Nothing has that, so we really leveraged that. We were driving in there at six o’clock in the morning giving them smoothies and wheat grass, and really became a friend to the station to try and get people talking about it. It was good in that respect and we had people coming for kilometres for our smoothies and juices because there was just nothing like it, and Adelaide was the first thing. We had long queues, and we couldn’t go wrong.”

 

If you’re not growing, you’re dying

With more than 250 stores worldwide and the growing brands including Salsa’s and Cibo Espresso, the company still maintains a strong focus on radio.

“The majority of our advertising will go into radio, and the main reason is, first, our consumer listens to it, and [second] it’s more powerful; we get more bang for our buck in radio than we do on TV.”

Boost has made a point of being a part of memorable radio promotions.

One of its biggest campaigns saw Allis give away a franchise on Little Collins Street in Melbourne as part of a promotion with Fox FM.

Allis sees Boost’s strong market penetration today as a result of successful promotional activities, largely though radio.

“I think because we understand it so well we can make it 10 times more effective as anyone else,” she says. Boost’s marketing in Australia is now split between a national focus and localised campaigns, which Allis says have long lasting benefits.

“Every single store pays 3% to a marketing fund, and there is a marketing team of 12, so there are designers and ideas, and we do a yearly plan and all that sort of stuff. But, what we also put in a lot of time with is something called SLAM, which is Strategic Local Area Marketing.

“About five years ago we sponsored [the Noosa surf life-saving club] for a tent with a big ‘Boost’ on it. We only did it once, and every time I go down there a big Boost is on there, and I just sit there and go, ‘That was such a good idea’.”

Allis is quick to point out strong promotional activities mean nothing if the customer experience isn’t optimised.

“In stores we make sure that all our managers and our staff have a certain amount of free cards in their pocket. I know that they’re going to give them to their friends occasionally, but I would rather have a little bit of leakage there than a customer getting a bad experience.”

Allis is very mindful of progressing Retail Zoo. This was the reason for the acquisition of spin-offs, Salsa’s and Cibo Espresso.

“If you are not growing, you are dying, you are going backwards. So we have to always find a way of the business growing, and it’s growing in a number of ways,” she says.

“It has to get bigger next year, so how do you do that? Well, there are a number of ways. There’s international growth, which we’re doing, and that was probably a bit slower than what we liked, so we went, ‘OK, well what are we good at?’

“We have a great engine to be able to bolt on successful brands and grow them. So Salsa’s we bought when they were four stores and we’ve now got 50. It’s that type of philosophy and mentality that actually makes us who we are.”

 

Janine Allis the brand

Although her competitive streak is still there, it seems to have toned down since the early years of the company. Now what drives Allis is a genuine belief in the philosophies of her brands. While entrepreneurs are often typecast as lacking focus, Allis has stuck by Boost.

“I see business as like raising children. When you first start a business, it needs all of you. It wakes you up at two o’clock in the morning, it does all those things for you. When they get a little bit older, you’ve got a few more lessons and you know a little bit more too about parenting, and you’ve put a few ground rules down,” she says.

“But, then when they get to the age that Boost is now, I should have enough executives that have been with me long enough to be able to do myself out of a job. So what drives me now is the love of the business and the legacy and the ‘iconicity’ that we’ve created and ensuring that that continues.

Allis has often featured heavily in the branding, considered the face of the brand. While she says she this was not always part of the plan, it came from her understanding of PR and of what makes a great story. “I had already seen the data with our movies. The difference between an actor or an actress coming to Australia and doing a tour or not meant the difference between a success or failure of a movie, so I already knew it. I also understood, having been behind the camera, that the journalists have a job to do. They’re not evil, they’ve just got space to fill and they’ve got to create something interesting, so if I can make their job as easy as possible and give them a good photo, a good story, they might use it.”

Now, more than 10 years on from the opening of the first humble juice bar in Adelaide, Allis stands by her brand and its message.

“I am 48 years old and in the best shape I’ve ever been, because I exercise five days a week and eat mostly really well. I do not go a day without at least one or two juices and smoothies, so I live and breathe my product and I love my product.”