Jamba Juice, this year’s Optimas Winner for Competitive Advantage, is a leading retail purveyor of blended-to-order smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices, healthy soups, and breads. Even the company’s name shouts, "Have a good time"; jamba is a West African word that means "celebration." Visit its Web site (http://www.jambajuice.com) and you’ll encounter an array of oranges, strawberries, celery, and bananas swirling across the computer screen like a tornado.
Founded in April 1990 by CEO Kirk Perron, the store first opened as Juice Club in San Luis Obispo. By 1993, Juice Club had opened two additional stores. And by 1994, it had nearly quadrupled its size, with 11 stores in operation.
In July 1995, the company relocated its home office to San Francisco and introduced its new store concept, Jamba Juice. Today, there are approximately 300 stores in 15 states. Most are located in the western region of the United States, including Hawaii.
With 4,000 employees, mostly part-time "team members," Jamba Juice is growing faster than customers can say Kiwi-Berry-Burner.
"We’re a high-growth company, and the competition is fierce," says Chris Baer, vice president of human resources. "HR’s main challenge is people--finding and keeping them." That’s no small feat in the smoothie market, estimated to be a $400 million industry.
Two years ago, Jamba Juice ranked number 38 on Inc.’s 1998 list of 500 entrepreneurial superstars. Moreover, some business analysts believe that the smoothie market may replicate the growth of specialty coffees witnessed in the early 1990s.
Given those hopeful predictions, Jamba Juice achieves its competitive advantage through a well-shaken formula. Human resources attracts candidates by marketing its popular food line, slush-fun culture, aggressive recruiting strategies, and entrepreneurial opportunities for its protein-boosted managers.
The company’s values are further articulated in the acronym FIBER, which promotes fun, integrity, balance, empowerment, and respect.
Marketing health, energy, and fun.
What’s a smoothie anyway? With names as perky as Razzmatazz and Mind Over Blueberry, the 24-ounce drinks made with fruit, ice, yogurt or sorbet, juices, and nutritious supplements called boosts are served by part-time "team members"--mostly high school and college-age students. Jamba Juice promotes these "meals" as refreshing alternatives to greasy burgers and fries.
Among health-conscious baby boomers and Gen-Xers, the word is getting out. Last year, for example, the company was featured in several national publications about the smoothie craze, including The Wall Street Journal, Pacific Business News, Menu Masters, Restaurant Business, and Entrepreneur magazines.
In one article, a Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst was quoted as saying that smoothies and juice drinks tap into "a healthy living concept" in which aging baby boomers seek the "Ponce de Leon effect."
But Baer says that Jamba Juice customers come in all shapes and sizes, even physically fit toddlers.
In other efforts to market its brand and culture, CEO Perron often appears at high-profile events. In January, he joined the festivities at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, blending smoothies for the likes of Hollywood celebs Courtney Cox, Kevin Spacey, and John Singleton.
Another way that Jamba Juice promotes its product and culture is through a campaign called "Jamba Wellennium." Visitors to the Jamba Juice Web site can sign up for a special sweepstakes established through a partnership with California-based fitness chain 24 Hour Fitness. Winners get a Precor elliptical fitness crosstrainer, a lifecycle trainer, or a one-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness. And to further spread the gospel of wellness, the Jamba Juice site has established links to "Friends of Jamba," including such do-gooder e-tailers as Wholefoods.com and Earthsave.com.
Clearly, the promotions help Jamba Juice expand its customer base. But HR has its sights set on fruitier rewards. In a no-unemployment market, they’re desperately seeking qualified applicants as managers and part-time team members. Says Baer: "When you’re in the recruiting business, you’re only as good as what you did yesterday."
Recruiting is a 24-hour job.
Baer takes her own words seriously. On her office wall, she posts red and green tags to designate which jobs have been filled and which jobs are still open. The visual reminders, she says, are a fun way to track HR’s real-time hiring goals and achievements.
A lot of individuals who might have been attracted to the food industry in the past now have more options open to them: the high-tech industry, for one. Like many other companies, Jamba is looking for younger employees who are knowledgeable, outgoing, and friendly. "That could be challenging to find in this economy," says Baer.
Also, recruitment today is very different than it was even two years ago, says Andrews. One of the biggest HR lessons he learned after switching from retail to the food industry four years ago was to change his attitude. In the past, recruiters considered individuals as liabilities if they left a job after a few years. Today, mobile employees are often perceived as being entrepreneurial. "I’m not going to look negatively anymore at someone who’s changed jobs in four- or five-year stints," he says.
As Jamba Juice expands its operations nationwide, human resources works closely with the company’s real estate committee. As soon as a new store is identified, HR begins its proactive search four months before an official opening. The lead time allows HR to find, interview, train (general and assistant managers undergo a five-week intensive training program), and place new managers onsite before they open for business.
Searches are conducted through a variety of methods. The trick is to switch tactics when they don’t work.
For example, at the beginning of 2000, Andrews ran recruitment ads for general managers in Southern California. One major newspaper included a box ad that said Jamba Juice was hiring general managers. The company fax and e-mail addresses were provided. HR received numerous responses from candidates in the Los Angeles market. By contrast, the ads in the Bay Area reaped fewer than a dozen responses.
"So we had to be more aggressive in this market," says Andrews. That’s when HR listed Jamba Juice on every recruiting Web site it could identify. One of them is called restaurantrecruit.com--a site to which aspiring managers in the food industry often surf. After clicking on to the site, job-seeking candidates can go directly to a Jamba Juice link to view some of the benefits offered would-be managers. If more information is sought, one is encouraged to send an e-mail.
Clearly, younger candidates who fit the Jamba profile are very savvy on the Internet. "They go to the Internet before going to the Sunday paper," says Andrews. The advantage, of course, is that recruiting is occurring 24 hours a day, and sometimes Down Under.
With the ease of a mouse-click, individuals have responded from as far away as Australia, England, and France. If not seeking a job, some of these global Jamba Juice fans have even inquired about opening up individual franchises in their neck of the woods. But Jamba Juice currently does not offer such business opportunities, only partnerships with nontraditional venue operators (at airports and universities, for example) and co-branding alliances with select retail and service-oriented companies.
Having identified the actual job candidates, however, Andrews and another HR colleague then conduct 30-minute phone screens. It’s a weeding-out process, even though one would not expect a low-energy candidate to apply. "Believe me, I’ve had a lot of very dry conversations," says Andrews.
Over the phone, he asks a lot of questions. A red flag, he says, is when someone complains ad nauseam about his or her last job. "I want to find someone with a sense of humor and someone who thinks the glass is half full," he says.
Work ethic and personality are premium assets. After phone screening one candidate for district manager, Andrews arranged for the person to fly in for a face-to-face interview at the company’s Support Center in San Francisco. What made the difference on the phone was that the job seeker didn’t just talk about checklists and audits, although that was important.
"He got excited about his store visits to Jamba Juice. And I’m looking for people who want to stick around for a few years."
Make managers feel like owners.
Another important area for Jamba is the retention of its branch leaders. As incentive to its managers, HR created a unique retention tool called the "J.U.I.C.E. Plan." According to Baer, this idea was born a couple of years ago. HR knew that in order to keep good managers, Jamba Juice would have to create a retention tool that was atypical of the smoothie and juice industry.
To encourage the store operators to provide outstanding customer service and deliver above-industry profits, HR established the following objectives:
• Attract and retain best-in-the-industry general managers.
• Retain each manager in his or her store for three years.
• Increase the loyal user base.
• Provide general managers with meaningful financial gain for improved profitability in their stores.
• Maintain a 50 percent cash-on-cash return for the company.
The program was officially launched in October 1997 with five of Jamba’s best general managers. And on the basis of successful tests, HR then rolled out the J.U.I.C.E. plan to the entire chain in August 1998.
How does the plan work? Baer explains that the general manager receives a percentage of the store’s cash flow for a bi-period, predicated on how they run their businesses. "Our managers drive the success of their stores and whether they collect on the J.U.I.C.E. Plan," she says.
In addition, the general manager’s ability to increase year-over-year sales allows him or her to have money accrue in a "retention account" over a three-year period. Once the manager has been in his or her store for three years, the bonus is paid.
"We just had 14 people who’ve accrued more than $10,000 for their retention bonus," says Baer. "If you build the business well, a lot of it is going to come back to you. So we try to put our money where our mouth is." All employees in managerial levels, she adds, receive stock options.
And if a general manager completes a three-year term and then decides to recommit to the company for an additional three years, he or she is given a three-week paid sabbatical. General managers also can receive a $1,000 bonus upon promoting an assistant manager to general manager.
Have these incentives worked? According to Baer, Jamba Juice’s turnover among managers is 8 percent lower than a year ago.
As for profits, since its founding 10 years ago, Jamba Juice has reportedly raised $47 million through private stock offerings. Sales for last year were projected to reach $150 million.
That’s a lot of pizazz for a berry fast-growing company. Wanna jamba?
Workforce, March 2000, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 44-48.