At the opening of our first Boost store, all I felt was excitement. It happened on King William Street in Adelaide at 11.15 am and, to my great delight and shock, over 50 people were waiting to come in. We had queues going out the door! With no marketing! (That was planned for later.) I could not get the smile off my face. I couldn't believe the number of people so I asked one of the customers how she'd heard about Boost and its grand opening.
She asked, ‘What opening?' and then explained that there was a bomb scare next door and the building was evacuated, and ours was the only cafe on the street not affected!
I laughed so hard. A bomb scare is no laughing matter, but we had one of the strongest launches ever in our very first store!
Launching Boost was that little bit easier because I could build on my previous experience. I used most of the same suppliers, so I simply got the same terms I had already spent hours negotiating. I was having fun, doing the business the way I wanted to do it and not having to go through committees to get decisions made. Because of this, every process was so much easier, from designing uniforms to choosing product names to the creation of the products themselves.
We still made some mistakes in those very early days. We worked at the logo and deciding on the look and feel of the first store — but, I can admit, we got this terribly wrong. The colours we chose were not what you see today — the store looked more like something the Adelaide Crows might choose instead of a vibrant juice bar. (This colour scheme was mostly Jeff's doing — but more on that later!) Jeff's negotiating of our first site was also a bit flawed. The store had no air conditioning in a state that regularly has days over 40 degrees. And because the building was heritage-listed, we couldn't make any structural changes. So we spent the first summer running around getting portable air-conditioning units so that the smoothies and staff wouldn't melt.
For the next 12 months, I was forever on a plane to Adelaide (with three little kids at home, the youngest being one). I visited Adelaide once a week, then less frequently as the business got up and running. Nine times out of ten, I took one of my children with me, while Jeff was at home with the others. I was very fortunate that my mum was also there to help out — she would come over to our house to look after the children. Without her consistent help, I just would not have been able to cope. I wanted it all — kids and a career. I made sure I got it, but had to work hard for it.
We were also extremely lucky to find a great manager for that first store. A real diamond in the rough, Sharryn did not have any retail experience, but she had the passion and drive we needed and this was clear even when we interviewed her. When looking for a store manager, most people hire someone with an enormous amount of retail experience, and so I was often questioned why on earth I hired a person who had never worked a day in retail in her life — not to mention while I was living in another state. My reason was simple: she had that fire in her stomach that we needed. She had determination and she understood what we wanted to achieve, and, like us, she did not have a history of bad retail habits. A sign of her determination emerged when she told us she was a champion speed water skier. You need enormous mental resilience and courage to be successful in her sport, and these were just the skills I was looking for. At 6 am, Sharryn and I were up promoting smoothies and wheatgrass at SAFM, the leading radio station in the state. We also collected email addresses to use to increase our brand awareness, and called members of this email list The Boost Club. Back then, this approach wasn't used that much so it was powerful, because people did not get a hundred marketing emails each day like they do now.
Young businesses are usually hungry for funds so cash is usually in short supply — and this was certainly true for us. This meant we were always looking for the most cost-effective option for everything. We needed to look at what resources we had available that might help, and that did not cost the earth. We were lucky that at Austereo Jeff used to get free CDs from the music companies, and these ended up becoming our prizes for joining The Boost Club.
We did everything we could to get our brand out into the marketplace. But we also wanted to use The Boost Club to create a sense of community around the brand. Every month, we would have great offers and competitions, as well as providing health and fitness tips, and this continued as our brand expanded. And I was involved at every level — I personally typed our first 10 000 Boost Club names into the database.
When you're starting something from thin air, you have to oversee every little detail: from the distance the blenders should be apart (so they don't blow up) to making certain the managers have a checklist. This kind of attention to detail was not Jeff's strength — it was mine. I was in my element but I still felt a tremendous amount of pressure at a very micro level to get everything perfect.
My biggest mission was ‘the customer experience' and nothing was too much trouble. If the customers did not like a drink, we would change it. 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. We needed the right mechanisms in place, so we started with the idea of detailing on every store wall the experience the customer should have. We called this the Boost Guarantee — every store still has one, and it covers everything from the kind of ingredients we use, and our focus on friendly service and healthy living, to giving people a reason to smile.
We then invited people to tell me, personally, if we did not get it right. This gave us a chance to change a negative customer experience into a positive one. Aussies generally are not big on complaining, preferring just to walk away, but I invited them to do so and made it easy for them, thus allowing us to find out how we were measuring up. 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. At the end of the day, people know that things can and will go wrong. What made the difference? We acknowledged any mistakes, and then fixed the problem. Right a wrong — simple. My customer experience mission gave our customers a reason to choose Boost and still keeps them coming back today.
From the beginning, we were never going to be happy with just one Boost Juice store; we thought big from the start. Thinking bigger made us act bigger, and this influenced suppliers and landlords to believe in our vision, give us good prices and take us seriously. It turned out that starting the first store in Adelaide was brilliant. We were able to get the concept right without the eyes of the larger cities on us.
After the first store, I took total control of the brand look and feel. I realised the first store's design was terrible because I was using other people's views, mainly Jeff's. The new look for the brand actually originated from a massive picture of sliced tomatoes I saw in a store in Singapore. I know it may seem odd, but the picture was beautiful and it really showed the life essence of this fruit. So we experimented with other fruits — I had our photographer cut oranges, lemons, watermelons and so on. He then stuck the images on glass and let sunlight come through. The effect was amazing — the simple beauty and life of the fruit was captured in the photos. We used these photos as the core of the design concept; we chose the colours from the fruit and the early stores all had 3-metre images of sliced fruit all over them. The design was a winner — and, needless to say, Jeff will now openly tell you that he is not the one to talk to about design.
I gained many lessons from setting up our first Boost stores and over the following 12 months.
Jeff and I decided to franchise quite early, although at the time neither of us knew much about franchising or how it worked. Our vision was always to grow the brand and we realised we had a small window to do so before bigger players came into the marketplace. We just wouldn't be able to hire enough quality managers to expand that quickly — and that's where franchising offered us the solution we were looking for.
Through a friend of a friend we stumbled upon Rod Young, who was just opening a franchise advisory business after having worked in franchising and business his entire professional life. We were his very first clients in his new venture and he became a small shareholder in ours.
Our first meeting with Rod was before we had completed a full year of trading. I remember this because Rod explained we would need figures for a full 12 months before we could begin franchising. Even so, we were clear on our direction. It was 2001, and this would be the road we headed down.
Keep in mind, I was learning on the go and had three young boys at home; every day presented a new set of problems to solve. Thank heaven for my mother! Not long after we had made the decision to start franchising, Jeff (who looked after leasing) came home one night with a smile like the Cheshire Cat. I knew that grin; it comes out when he has done something that he knows will freak me out — and he had! He had just signed an 18-store deal with Westfield, complete with a $5 million liability in our names! Like most early (okay, mid) thirtysomethings with a young family, we had no money. After a seven-second calculation, I knew the equity in our house was not worth one tenth of this figure. We needed to open 18 stores within 18 months and, at the time, we only had two stores open. This deadline didn't just give me a little kickstart; it exploded me into the world of franchising — without a parachute.
But, despite my initial shock, franchising did work for us — massively. We had so many franchise enquiries we could barely manage the load. Fortuitously, we'd recently hired a very young head of human resources (HR), Jacinta Caithness. (At the time, we still worked out of our home and on her first day, Jacinta was greeted at the front door by Molly, our massive Great Dane. I could see in her eyes that she was wondering whether she should stick with the job or make a run for it. Thankfully she didn't run, and I immediately stopped letting Molly greet recruits.) While Jacinta started as our HR manager, she quickly became our franchise manager, and she did an amazing job recruiting the right people for our franchise businesses. On the leasing side, I also worked closely with Kristie Piniuta, a lawyer who would later come to work for Boost.
The business grew from strength to strength, and we were able to employ some other key people to help run it. I still proudly take my hat off to our young team in the early days, and I'm amazed at everything we achieved together and the number of daily problems that we solved. The success of the business was a real credit to them. I was in my thirties and my team was in their early twenties: Kristie Piniuta, a lawyer; Naomi Webber, an accountant and our savvy CFO; and Jacinta Caithness, the franchise manager.
Kristie had a large care factor and a thirst for knowledge that helped keep us out of trouble. When I first met her, Kristie was a junior lawyer working in the leasing department of a law firm. I would spend hours with Kristie going through the leasing contracts line by line, asking her to explain exactly what every clause meant. After she came to work at Boost, Kristie went from only looking at property leases to needing to know everything related to business law. She was in her element. Through diligent research, she ensured that every decision made was the correct one, creating order and building a strong foundation on which this fast-moving beast of a business could grow. Very early, we had good corporate governance, unusual for such a small business at the size we were. We have made many mistakes in our business, but, largely because of Kristie, fulfilling our legal requirements was one thing we got right. And this was a critical part of the foundation of the business.
Because of an earlier hiring error, Naomi was presented with an absolute mess to fix (which she did). Naomi was a young accountant recommended by Geoff Harris (more on him later) and we hired her as the CFO. The accounts at the time were in a terrible state but, to Naomi's credit, she built up a strong team and after many months of all-nighters she got the accounts back in order. Accounts tend to be that boring area that entrepreneurs think of as unimportant, but not having correct numbers and clarity on what your business is doing means you're running your business in the dark. The numbers tell you exactly where to put your focus, which team members are thriving or struggling, and, more importantly, give you a solid business in which you can trade. Naomi helped give us that clarity.
And Jacinta, a woman with no franchising experience, learned all aspects and helped make the franchising tactic a success. Jacinta had great tenacity in achieving the required goals, no matter what it took. I remember her telling me once, 100 per cent seriously, that she did not understand why people missed deadlines. She rationalised that if your head was going to blow up if you missed the deadline, you would make sure you met it. So, really, no-one could have a reason for missing a deadline. From that time onward, we had a saying that something was a ‘head-exploding deadline'. The other saying that got us through those times was ‘eat that frog', from the book of the same title. Every day it seemed there were hard calls to make, and no-one likes making hard calls, no matter how tough that person seems. So we often referred to those days as ‘eat that frog days'.
Seeing Jacinta develop over those years was incredibly rewarding. While at Boost she achieved AFR's Boss Young Executive of the Year award as well as the Telstra Australian Young Business Women's Award, both of which she deserved in spades. I have travelled many frequent flyer miles with Jacinta over the years, setting up Boost internationally. From meeting with sheikhs in Dubai to looking for sites in the snow in Estonia, it has been a remarkable journey.
Together, Kristie, Naomi, Jacinta and I worked out the problems as they occurred. All of us were learning and doing things for the first time, but we had an enormous care factor to get it right. It truly was girl power! And in the high-paced growth of Boost, we never would have achieved what we achieved without the strong girl power from these three young, smart, passionate women. We often laugh that a year at Boost was like working five years anywhere else. It was both scary and exhilarating pulling the business together and we had a ball. Many nights were spent with pizzas working into the early hours of the morning. Sitting at a round table with these women, there was always a feeling that any problem could be solved, and when we all went in our different directions in the business we all knew that no-one was going to drop the ball — we would achieve what needed to be achieved.
Everyone in my small initial team played numerous roles. We had to — we didn't have a team of people sorting out the various solutions to problems. We all wore various hats: the accountant, the secretary, the publisher, the negotiator and the cleaner. We did everything behind the scenes. For the first two years, I worked from the kitchen table at home, while my first two employees (a PA and a part-time bookkeeper) used the dining room.
Having the business operations in my home also allowed me to be around for my three boys. I have always been a great believer in the idea that children should be in your life, not you in theirs, and they will have a richer life because of it. That is how I resolve the guilt that comes from being a working mum. But I also had a secret weapon (then and to this day) — my mum, Joan. I honestly could have never achieved the level of success I have without her. People call her ‘Saint Joan' for good reason — it's with her help that I manage to maintain a balance between home life and the passion for my businesses.
Almost every day, Mum drove from Boronia to my house in Malvern East, a 60-kilometre round trip, to help me with my children. Not only did she do the drive and dedicate her life to helping me, but she also did this without trying to produce any guilt in me whatsoever. When I told her in a moment of guilt that I was asking too much of her, she told me that she loved every minute of it and it made her life complete.
I remember a day when I was in Sydney and Mum called to ask what time Jeff was getting home to look after the kids. I didn't know, so I told her I would call her back. I eventually got hold of Jeff to discover that he was in Brisbane for two days. (Nothing like great communication between the two of us.) I then called Mum back to let her know about my incompetence — that neither Jeff nor I was within 1000 kilometres of her and I was not going to win mother of the year that year. Mum just laughed and told me the kids would be fine.
Mum also had that ability to not cross from the grandmother role into the mother role. The second I walked in the door, she would defer to me for everything. She is the perfect grandmother and, for me, the perfect mother. She has eleven grandchildren — and four great-grandchildren — and has a special bond with each and every one of them. So much so that at Christmas every single one of them flies from interstate to Melbourne, bringing their current boyfriends and girlfriends with them, for Mum's Christmas lunch. Mum didn't know what she got when I was born. Even now, she openly wonders where I came from. But she has been the most amazing support for me, and I love her from the bottom of my heart.
If my mum is the perfect grandmother, my father is the perfect grandfather. I take my hat off to him for being able to sit for hours and hours playing games with his grandchildren, letting them paint and even plait his hair. He has a great attitude to life; he is 85 and still umpires cricket and plays golf twice a week.
The business would also not be the success it is without Jeff — he has been with the business every step of the way. I lean heavily on him for advice and guidance. Particularly in the first couple of years, I was terrible at firing or counselling people, so I used to go to him for anything that was confronting. His greatest attribute was his absolute confidence in what we were doing and in my ability to pull it off. When I walked in the door completely stressed, he would calm me and tell me everything would be fine. This was largely because he was such a ‘big picture' guy he had no idea of the day-to-day problems or cash flow. His full-time job allowed him to only keep his thumb on the macro picture, and sometimes stepping back and looking at this bigger picture was exactly what I needed. Twenty years on, he is still my best friend. Together we make a wonderful team, in business and in life. Jeff unlocked many things in me that helped create Boost.
At the end of 2001, we had survived our first year of trade. We had four Boost stores, including one in Melbourne's Jam Factory (a popular shopping and entertainment complex). Boost had reached the point where the business was truly taking over the house. I was using the kitchen and dining room as offices, our master bedroom was the CFO's office, and Jeff and I were sleeping with the boys in their rooms. Jeff used to complain that the only action he got was me doing the laptop dance, as I typed until all hours of the night. I remember walking past the dining room one day, looking in the room and realising I'd reached the point where I hated not getting away from the business. I was working seventeen hours a day. For my sanity and for my family, I decided Boost would have its own proper home. Up-and-coming, young businesses need a great deal of cash, so moving from my home to an office was a huge step financially, but it was also a big decision emotionally. While the move meant my boys would no longer be running under my legs while I was talking to suppliers or working out a solution for a customer, I had really enjoyed still being so close to them — and there is nothing like a child's hug any time of the day.
In 2002, we thought it would be a good idea to join forces with our competitor, Viva Juice. They had four stores and we had four stores. At the time, I was feeling things were getting over my head. The business was taking over my life and I needed some of the work taken off my hands.
We met with the owner of Viva and discussed a deal. Perhaps not surprisingly, they wanted more than what we thought was reasonable; in hindsight, though, not being able to merge the two businesses was the best thing that could have happened and it was a real turning point for me. I realised I had no-one else to turn to — the net didn't exist. It was up to me to nail this business. Jeff was great with securing new sites and helping me develop the marketing plan, but the nuts and bolts were all on my plate and we had everything on the line. I loved what I was doing and the adrenaline that came with running a new business. I was not always 100 per cent confident in what I was doing — okay, that's an understatement. I was not even 50 per cent confident in what I was doing — but the reality was I was the biggest expert out there in this specific area. I had no-one else to approach and I just had to work it out along the way. (More to come on the Viva story later.)
It was also around this time that the media really started to get interested in the Boost story. Basically, it felt like I was two people — I had Janine, the founder of Boost Juice, and me, the person who was employed to get PR for Boost Juice. I had to see ‘Janine' as a tool to use to get people to understand what Boost Juice was about. Through my experience at UIP, I had sat through dozens of hours of interviews, and one thing I learned was that you have to be yourself — you cannot fake it. So that is what I did; I was just me, in all the interviews. I was always honest and transparent, and told the truth about Boost's journey and any mistakes along the way. What made talking about Boost easy was that I was (and, of course, still am!) genuinely so passionate about the company and the brand, so it was my favourite topic to talk about.
As time went by, and with each problem solved along the way, perhaps inevitably I evolved into a more confident businesswoman. During those early years, I made sure that I understood every aspect of every decision I made. To me, the fact I cared so much about the business justified my behaviour. I painstakingly took the time in every area to come to the right decision, from dealing with the franchising and trademarks to working on supplier relations. I was obsessed with the business. We rarely used outside companies for areas such as franchising, legal (where possible), marketing or advertising, because I wanted to make sure everyone who worked on something for Boost had 100 per cent focus on Boost at all times. I was a total control freak, needing to know everything. I found it hard to trust that the job would be done well by other people. The reality at the time was no-one on the team, including myself, had been in the business long enough to know exactly what to do all the time. Back then, it would stress me to my core if I went on holidays because I thought the business would fall apart. Clearly it did not; we had great people doing great things.