Janine Allis, founder of retail giant Boost Juice, chats with Claire Armstrong about how the simple idea of selling juices and smoothies grew through sheer grit and determination from her kitchen table to an international empire. But the down to earth mother of four’s path to entrepreneurial success has been far from ordinary.
Words CLAIRE ARMSTRONG
Trying to lock in a time to interview Janine Allis, it is plainly clear her life remains a whirlwind of commitments, despite her repeated insistence she has discovered the elusive work-life balance. But when your history is logging 17-hour work days anything less could easily be considered blissful.
Fresh from interstate travel for the filming of Channel Ten’s latest reality hit Shark Tank, Janine breezily declares her investor role on the prime time show kept her interstate for ‘only three weeks’ and with a visit from her daughter and husband and the opportunity to connect with her sister, it was almost like a holiday.
Janine is no stranger to travel. An adventurer at heart, she has an unwavering nerve to try and explore anything life throws at her. The self-proclaimed ‘Miss Average’ student never finished high school and never attended university a day in her life, instead setting her sights on exploring the world, complete with cliché blue backpack. She left behind her suburban Knoxfield family home in Victoria in the 1980s after telling her mum she would be home in three months (she came back six years later).
“Life took me on a journey in those years, there was no planning and I left home very naive about the world and people, but my travels taught me so many life skills whether that be problem-solving, conflict management or emotional intelligence,” she says reminiscently.
Janine – who is currently ranked at number 24 on the BRW Rich Women List – is proof there is no conventional path to commercial success (and even if there were she probably would have hiked around it).
From a junior role in an advertising agency, to becoming the house model for sports brand Adidas, an aerobics instructor, door wench at night clubs, a camp counsellor in the USA, a nanny in France, selling time share in the Canary Islands to working on David Bowie’s opulent yacht in the south of France, Janine’s younger years meandering through an eclectic mix of jobs taught her more about the business world than any classroom.
"I have always been a great believer in the idea that children should be in your life, not you in their's, and they will have a richer life because of it. This is how I resolve the guilt that comes from being a working mum."
“Anything you do in life can give you skills for business,” she reveals. “I believe people need to have a life full of experiences to find out what they’re really passionate about.”
Janine’s first zealous awakening was Motherhood.
At 27, she returned home from abroad with a two-year-old son Samuel in tow, feeling like a failure for mistakes and misjudgements that left her financially and emotionally downtrodden. But rather than sink in self pity, Janine set a steely focus on finding a career to support herself and her young son.
Janine’s fun-loving spirit, headstrong determination and inquisitive nature often lead her to say ‘yes’ to opportunities as they presented, and landed her a role with Village Roadshow in Melbourne, which spring-boarded her to Singapore, only to return to Melbourne as a publicist with United International Pictures (all this despite no experience in management or public relations).
Her quintessential Aussie give-it-a-go approach to life also lead her to meeting and marrying the man of her dreams, Jeff Allis, who at the time was head of programming at Austereo, Australia’s biggest radio network.
Janine candidly explains the fast-paced romance, moving in together six weeks after their first date, engaged after four months, married after eight months and expecting their first baby, Oliver, after 12 months.
Janine - who is currently ranked at number 24 on the BRW Rich Women List - is proof there is no conventional path to commercial success (and even if there were she probably would have hiked around it).
“We are complete opposites,” she laughs. “But we respect each other’s abilities and when it comes to our expertise his weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are his strengths; we complement each other perfectly and are a great example of when you get the right team together anything can happen.”
Just nine months after the birth of Oliver, the couple discovered they were expecting another bouncing bundle, son Riley, pivoting their ambitions on taking control of their destinies. A dabble in publishing and touring comedians failed to get the juices flowing – until the concept of bringing juice bars to Australia was presented.
The self-proclaimed 'Miss Average' student never finished high school and never attended university.
The revolutionary idea was sparked after the notable success of the juice and smoothie industry in the United States. As a mum of active kids and a bit of a health nut, Janine saw the Aussie market was seriously lacking healthy fast food options despite the warm climate and health conscious outdoorsy lifestyle. Fresh juice bars were something she knew she could get excited about.
“I wanted to give my kids something quick and healthy when we were out and about but there was only fatty, sugary, empty calories as far as the eye could see,” she says.
Janine and Jeff trialled the juice concept with several business partners, throwing open the doors to Sejuice on Chapel Street in Melbourne. But lacking internal support and respect the experience quickly soured and a lesson in the hardships of working in an unsupportive team was realised. In true Janine style this failure only spurred and inspired her to create her own brand, own style and vivacity.
And so Boost Juice was born, inflaming Janine’s primal steadfast passion.
This year marks sixteen years since the first store opened its doors on King William Street in Adelaide, even though Janine and Jeff were living in Melbourne juggling the responsibilities of three young children, Samuel (6), Oliver (2) and Riley (7 months) across two different states.
“His weaknesses are my strengths and my weaknesses are his strengths; we complement each other perfectly and are a great example of when you get the right team together anything can happen."
“It is difficult to run and grow a business when you have kids, you don’t want to be an absentee mum,” she says. “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,” she writes in her book The Secrets of my Success. “That is how I resolve the guilt that comes from being a working mum.”
Janine describes a life in the early Boost days having very little time for herself, working ridiculous hours and multiple travel, professional and personal commitments, few friends, no hobbies outside of the business, yet her high achieving determination to make it work was evident.
“I was constantly ‘on’, there was no sitting down and watching TV or leisurely going out to dinner; my life in the early days of Boost wasn’t segregated – work, life, parenting was all jumbled in together,” she recalls. “You can make it work, you just have to set yourself up to succeed and well, you might also need to ask your mum to help look after the kids.”
She excitedly divulges the breakneck speed of her growing empire which rocketed from zero to 100 stores in four years, earning her the prestigious Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award in 2004.
“It was like riding a train going really fast. You just don’t realise how fast while you’re on the journey, but it’s exactly how we would have wished it would be.
"My kids are my priority. I have never been a canteen mum or on the parent council and at one time I did feel guilty about it. But there are other mums who probably want to do it and will do it better than me and it isn't what I want to spend my time doing."
“And when we needed to grow the business we sold the only asset we had, the family home, and moved our three kids into a rental. We were completely committed to the success of Boost Juice. We couldn’t let it fail. It was exciting, addictive, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.”
Today, Boost Juice stands as a monolithic retail phenomenon with some 350 stores throughout Australia and in 12 countries around the world, growing at a rate of 30 stores a year. It has also been joined by Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill, Cibo Espresso and a trial of Hatch, a fresh approach to takeaway chicken, under the umbrella of parent company Retail Zoo, of which Janine wears the hat of executive director.
Janine jokes she has always been too busy building the business in its upward trajectory to spend much time scoping the competition.
“When you copy something, you can’t innovate. But when you create a brand, you can have fun with it.”
She has the same ideology when it comes to parenthood and her family. She has always made the decisions that were right for her, even if it raised some eyebrows.
“I had an epiphany when I was in South Korea on business to have another child,” she muses. “Whether it was due to this need to nurture something because the womanhood side of me had been lost in the daily grind of the man’s world of business or because I was 39 and the biological clock was ticking loudly, but I knew I wanted another baby.”
It took three years for this epiphany to come full circle. Janine was 42 when she became a mother for the fourth time to her first daughter, Tahlia. Her eldest son was 16. The journey not only required a vasectomy reversal and four rounds of IVF, but was swept up in Janine’s dizzying life holding the reins of the Boost Juice steam train, taking the first steps to diversify the brand and also a director of the Hawthorn Football Club.
“The birth of Tahlia gave Jeff and me time to reflect on what was important in our lives,” she says. “In 2007 Jeff took over as CEO of Boost Juice and I stepped down from the daily dues of powering the business along.”
"When we needed to grow the business we sold the only asset we had, the family home, and moved our three kids into a rental. We were completely committed to the success Boost Juice. We couldn't let it fail. It was exciting, addictive, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time
And in 2010, the couple made a deal with private equity group The Riverside Company.
“Selling part of my fifth child was an excruciating experience for me,” she says. “However, I knew it was the right move to make on a very personal level and we maintained over 25 per cent of the business.
“My kids are my priority. I have never been a canteen mum or on the parent council and at one time I did feel guilty about it,” she muses. “But there are other mums who probably want to do it and will do it better than me and it isn’t what I want to spend my time doing.
“I think people need to see their life in totality and do what is best for them. If you would rather spend your time meditating than helping out at the school canteen don’t put the pressure on yourself to please other people, it won’t make you a better mum, a better wife or better person. You need to do what makes you happy in life.
“If you are unhappy with your life, stop, and make a change. You always have the power to change. Do what you love.
“My family and being fit and healthy are key to my happiness.”
She’s at a point now, she says, where she can finally appreciate her own success, balance work and family, take time out for yoga and surfing and share her wisdom with others by putting her mind and energy into projects like Shark Tank, writing books and blogs including mentoring as a Linkedin influencer and in her spare time, take her daughter to her Year 2 classroom.
The love-life philosophy that Janine created for the Boost Juice brand is one she clearly lives by too.
Claire is a journalist of eight years across a range of publications and mother of two beautiful girls. She has a passion for all things parenting and a love of sharing stories about the parenthood journey.