Janine Allis: From Bowie’s barmaid to $230m businesswoman
t’s a “beast” of an Australian business that devours 49 million blueberries and three million bananas each year, and was partly inspired by royalty and rock stars.
Boost Juice Bars was founded by Janine Allis, an energetic mother-of-four, who opened her first outlet in Adelaide back in 2000.
Today the company’s empire stretches across 400 stores in 13 countries, with global sales of more than 300m Australian dollars ($230m; £146m).
Not bad for a self-confessed “control-freak” from Melbourne who left school at 16.
As a teenager, Janine’s ambitions lay far beyond the suburbs of Australia’s second-biggest city. Instead of wanting to go to university, she juggled three jobs to pay for an overseas adventure that would harden her to the battles she would later have in business.
It was 1984, and she announced to her family that she was heading abroad for a few weeks to follow the well-worn backpacker trail.
Janine’s global travels ultimately led to her spending two years being a stewardess behind the bar on David Bowie’s private yacht, mixing with the late Princess Margaret and a bevy of celebrities, including Robin Williams.
She was to return to Australia as a young mum with a two-year old child, almost seven years after she had left the country on her travels.
“What travelling taught me was great tenacity, and to think on my feet,” Janine explains at her firm’s headquarters in Melbourne.
“When I worked for Bowie it taught me that there are good and bad people whether they are rich, poor, famous, or the local farmer. So it was a really good insight into humans when you travel.”
Other jobs came and went, including being a publicist for a movie company, and an unsuccessful venture into publishing, which she describes as “a mug’s game”.
Janine also toured Australia with comedians, but that had the unfortunate punch line of not making any money.
It was in the late 1990s that the seed for her global juice enterprise was sown.
Inspired by her time mixing with the rich and famous, Janine says she decided that she “didn’t want to work for anyone”. Instead she wanted to be her own boss, and to “control my own destiny”, to try to make something special from her life.
David Bowie and his wife Iman
And on an immediately practical note, she was on maternity leave for her third child at the time, and thought that being her own boss would give her greater flexibility.
Inspiration for what the business would actually sell came from a trip to the US, and a desire to do something healthy.
She says: “So I was in America, and I saw the category of the juice and smoothies was just starting to hit its stride.
“And coming back to Australia there was nothing that was healthy, and the increase in obesity was absolutely in line with the fast food increases.
“So I thought wouldn’t it be great. Wouldn’t it be great if I could create a product that could make being healthy easy?
“And so with my zero business experience, other than being a nanny and a stewardess on a boat, that didn’t really help, I wrote the business plan and off I went.”
A new century saw the first Juice Boost bar open in March 2000. Janine chose to open it in Adelaide rather than Melbourne because she determined that it would be easier to see if the concept worked if she tried it first in a smaller marketplace.
Backed by bank loans, and Janine and her husband Jeff – who also helps to run the business – putting their house forward as collateral, within four years the company was operating in every Australian state and boasted 100 outlets.
It was, by any measure, a rapid expansion, and there was more to follow. A study trip to Washington DC to learn about the rewards and hazards of doing business overseas resulted in the firm’s first foreign branch in Chile, which opened in 2006.
Others followed, including at the Trafford Centre in Manchester, England.
Promoting itself as “a healthy alternative to fast food”, Boost Juice Bars now has stores in China, India, Germany and South Africa.
Recalling those fast-moving years in the early 2000s, Janine has admitted that her creation did balloon far too quickly.
The mistakes, she explained, were “all self-inflicted”. The company had grown too fast, didn’t have sufficient infrastructure and, for a while, the customer was neglected.
But, like an errant child, the firm was brought back into line, and part of Janine’s success is a maternal attitude to work.
“Often I look at my business as a child. When you first start a business it is at the incubator stage, it needs you 100%,” she says.
Her children are today aged 24, 18, 16 and six, but Janine concedes that there were often times when the pursuit of profit trumped family life.
“You’ve got this beast which is the business that is completely sucking your time and energy, and people go ‘I want life balance’, but to make a successful business you have to give your soul to it.”
Finally, after 16 years she has the balance she has craved between being a mother and a self-made multimillionaire, yet the urge to expand remains.
Motivation of fear
Today Janine’s umbrella company Retail Zoo is backed by a number of private equity firms.
Its other businesses include Mexican-style restaurant chain Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill, which has 54 outlets in Australia, and coffee shop business Cibo Espresso.
She says: “Businesses are either doing one of two things; they are going up or down. They are not staying the same, so our job is to find growth.”
When not doing the day job, Janine has become a business mentor, and is a familiar face to viewers of Australian TV show Shark Tank, which is the country’s version of business pitching programme Dragons’ Den.
She puts her success down to one primal emotion.
“The number one thing that motivated me going through my business career was fear,” she says. “[At one point] we had liabilities of more than 20 million Australian dollars, and so we actually sold our family home to put all of our money into the business.
“So there was no plan B, which in some respects helps because it gets too hard. It is like climbing Everest… you had to keep going to the top.”