Ja­nine Al­lis

Since open­ing her first out­let in 2000, the Aus­tralian en­tre­pre­neur now has more than 500 Boost Juice, Cibo Espresso and Salsa’s Fresh Mex stores glob­ally. The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Re­tail Zoo at­tributes her busi­ness suc­cess to look­ing within.


You’ve said you didn’t grow up with money. What did you learn in your child­hood that ul­ti­mately be­came use­ful in busi­ness?

I grew up in a lit­tle bub­ble. It was a ru­ral area with dirt roads and no pub­lic trans­port so you’d walk the six kilo­me­tres to school and back. And it was a rough school. There was no Year 12 and univer­sity wasn’t dis­cussed – or any­thing else, re­ally, other than go­ing into hair­dress­ing or be­com­ing a sec­re­tary. In some re­spects, hav­ing a rel­a­tively lim­ited out­look al­lowed me to not have pre­con­ceived ideas about what work or the real world should be. At 21, I packed my bags and went over­seas for six-and-a-half years — a mas­sive learn­ing curve for a se­ri­ously naïve girl.

It must have been in­ter­est­ing com­ing from that back­ground to work­ing as a stew­ard on David Bowie’s yacht.

As far as I was con­cerned, if you were fa­mous you were su­per­hu­man. But what you dis­cover, serv­ing and liv­ing with fa­mous peo­ple ev­ery day for weeks, is that Pa­trick Ste­wart is not the cap­tain of the star­ship En­ter­prise, you know? The fa­mous, just like the fish­er­men I’d come across, are hu­man: flawed; nice or not so nice. So when I en­tered the busi­ness world, I never looked at any­one as be­ing more im­por­tant than some­one else.

Have your ex­pe­ri­ences in­flu­enced your par­ent­ing?

I’m very con­scious of not mak­ing my four chil­dren en­ti­tled brats and en­sur­ing they value the dol­lar. I ap­pre­ci­ated my first car be­cause I worked at Tar­get to get it. I think kids are too soft and I can’t stand it at schools when ev­ery­body gets a par­tic­i­pa­tion award and ev­ery­thing is so con­trolled – it’s ridicu­lous. Some­times you lose and some­times you win. Many times, Jeff [Al­lis’s hus­band and Re­tail Zoo ex­ec­u­tive chair­man] and I have trav­elled at the front of the plane with our kids up the back be­cause we think, “You can’t just get ev­ery­thing. We worked hard to sit at the front of the plane. You need to work to get there, too.”

Do you let them make their own de­ci­sions?

Look, I’m a fixer. I want to fix things. When my son, who is now 26 years old, went through the teenage years and had chal­lenges, I kept try­ing to fix ev­ery­thing. What I dis­cov­ered was that the best thing I could do for my son was to do noth­ing for him. And he has blos­somed into the man I al­ways dreamed he would be.

When you were con­sid­er­ing open­ing your first Boost Juice store in Ade­laide, you had your fa­ther-in-law sit out­side the site to see who walked by...

I man­aged cin­e­mas when I re­turned to Aus­tralia but I had never hired any­one. My busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence was as a nanny and a stew­ard. But I did know my num­bers. I knew the store’s rent and the prod­ucts’ costs. So my won­der­ful fa­ther-in-law lit­er­ally counted how many women, aged 25 to 34, and how many men passed by. The poor man would go, “Oh gosh, how old is she?” It gave us at least an un­der­stand­ing that, yes, this might work.

Was there a mo­ment when you de­cided to scale the busi­ness?

We never wanted one [store]. We didn’t have the cap­i­tal so we had the fake-it-till-you-make-it at­ti­tude of con­vinc­ing land­lords to give us 20 sites and we’d some­how work out a way to fund them all. I didn’t know whether our sales were good, bad or in­dif­fer­ent. My youngest son was seven months old; I had a two-year-old boy run­ning around and an­other boy at school. I didn’t have time for any­thing other than get­ting the job done. But when we opened our first store in a shop­ping cen­tre [in Mar­ion, South Aus­tralia], we saw the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the con­cept: a kiosk that could fit into 16 square me­tres. We went, “See where that palm tree is? We’ll put it there. You see that set of chairs? Let’s put it there.” Be­cause of the small foot­print, we had the flex­i­bil­ity to grow quickly. In four years we grew from zero to 100 stores.

What was the big­gest chal­lenge early on?

Prob­a­bly that point where you haven’t got the money to hire enough peo­ple of cal­i­bre. I used to read a lot of books about McDon­ald’s, Star­bucks, Flight Cen­tre and any busi­ness that had been suc­cess­ful in Aus­tralia. With­out ex­cep­tion, it was a lumpy ride. There are times when you have to think of it as a bat­tle where you at­tack your­self as much as any­one else to achieve what you need to.

Would you do any­thing dif­fer­ently?

I’d do noth­ing dif­fer­ently be­cause of where we got to even­tu­ally. But I think I’d tell my young self: “Have more con­fi­dence. Don’t just blindly fol­low so-called ex­per­tise, be­cause no-one knows your busi­ness like you do.” And you need to un­der­stand that if some­thing goes

up like a rocket, you have to pre­pare for it to go down for a pe­riod of time. Sales were de­clin­ing in 2004/05 and the first thing you do is blame the fact that traf­fic is down in shop­ping cen­tres or the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment or any­thing else ex­ter­nal. It’s only when you look within that you re­alise, grow­ing that quickly, train­ing, qual­ity and cus­tomer ser­vice had dropped. There were times when I could have rocked qui­etly in a cor­ner be­cause of the stress. But only by look­ing within do you have the abil­ity to fix the busi­ness.

Did you ex­pe­ri­ence pangs when you de­cided to sell most of your stake in Boost Juice?

I never got hooked on the per­cent­age I owned. I got hooked on con­trol. I don’t own the per­cent­age I used to but the per­cent­age I own is a lot more valu­able than it has ever been. You come across busi­ness­peo­ple who are so caught up in mak­ing sure they have 70 per cent or what­ever that they dam­age the growth of their busi­ness. I be­came an ex­pert in share­hold­ers agree­ments. You can con­trol a busi­ness with five per cent if that’s how it’s writ­ten in the share­hold­ers agree­ment.

What did you no­tice early on about pri­vate eq­uity?

I would say to any­one look­ing at pri­vate eq­uity: suc­cess gives you free­dom. If you’re suc­cess­ful, the pri­vate eq­uity com­pany that buys into your busi­ness doesn’t want to touch it be­cause they might break it. There are also some who want to change things be­cause of ego. The best pri­vate eq­uity firms go, “We know what we’re good at and we’ll help you in those ar­eas.” For ex­am­ple, we’re al­ways con­sid­er­ing ac­qui­si­tions to bring into the Re­tail Zoo fam­ily so we look to our pri­vate eq­uity part­ners to do the ne­go­ti­a­tion, the due dili­gence and the exit. With­out these pri­vate eq­uity busi­nesses, how do busi­ness founders ever have an exit? Jeff and I came from no money, we sold our fam­ily home and we put ev­ery­thing on the line to grow this busi­ness. Of course there are div­i­dends but at what point can you ac­tu­ally re­alise some of the hard work in a fi­nan­cial sense?

As a “shark” on Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion show

Shark Tank, you must feel var­i­ously frus­trated and in­spired by the con­tes­tants pitch­ing their busi­nesses to you...

Some­times you do roll your eyes when a con­tes­tant says, “I’ve got no sales, no proof, my friends think it’s a good idea and I want a mil­lion dol­lars.” What planet? I put peo­ple in one of two cat­e­gories: VERB (Vic­tim, En­ti­tled, needs to be Res­cued and Blames the world) or SOAR (So­lu­tions, Own­er­ship, Ac­count­abil­ity and Re­spon­si­bil­ity). When you come across some­one who says, “These were my prob­lems and this is how we dealt with them,” it’s great be­cause busi­ness is about be­ing a fan­tas­tic prob­lem-solver.

“There were times when I could have rocked qui­etly in a cor­ner be­cause of the stress.” JA­NINE AL­LIS

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