Jamba Juice marks a smoothie 20 years

Juice empire started in San Luis Obispo when its founder had a post-workout inspiration

rrailey@thetribunenews.comApril 16, 2010 

Kirk Perron was 26 when he founded the company that would become Jamba Juice on the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Chorro Street.

Twenty years later, Jamba Juice stores sling smoothies in 22 states, with licensing to put the firm’s brand on clothing, toys and grocery products.

Its founder worked in real estate and grocery chains before opening the first store as Juice Club in April 1990.

“I used to go to Blazing Blenders after cycling and working out, about four times a week,” Perron said. “They became my inspiration for getting into the business.”

Blazing Blenders juice bar was a resident of downtown San Luis Obispo from 1985 to 2006.

Jamba Juice — now headquartered in the Bay Area town of Emeryville — boasts about 740 stores and more than 12,000 employees nationwide. It could add as many as 50 new franchise stores in the coming year, said James White, current president and chief executive officer.

In recent years, Jamba has struggled with profitability and declining stock prices. A new management team is pursuing a turnaround plan to cut costs and expand in-store food offerings and licensing agreements to put Jamba-branded products in Toys R Us, Target and Safeway Inc. stores.

“In the last year, there are a lot of initiatives in place,” said Linda Ozawa Olds, the only one of Perron’s Juice Club team who’s still with Jamba Juice. “There are all kinds of extensions of the brand.”

Last year, she and husband Jeff Olds repurchased the San Luis Obispo County stores, along with several in the Central Valley. In part because of their influence, the corporation has revived the company’s priorities of working with schools, local fundraisers and community organizations, said White.

From Juice Club to Jamba Juice

Perron reasoned that if he bought fruit smoothies several times a week, others were likely to be habitual customers. But not many communities had smoothie shops — Blazing Blenders claimed to be the first in California — so Perron saw a large untapped market.

Starting as a sole proprietorship, he hired Joe Vergara, who had managed Blazing Blenders. Cal Poly business students Kevin Peters and Olds came aboard to help market and franchise.

A second store opened in Irvine in 1993, and a third in Palo Alto soon after. The next year, an infusion of venture capital accelerated expansion.

“We really took a hard look at ourselves and thought, is there any way to improve what we’re doing?” Perron said. “I realized franchising wasn’t the best way to maintain quality.”

The name, they worried, was too generic to avoid knock-off brands skirting trademark infringement. Team brainstorming resulted in a new identity: Jamba Juice.

After a move to the Bay Area, the company expanded more rapidly.

Jamba today

Owned by Florida-based Acquisitions Corp. since 2006, Jamba Inc. is publicly traded (Nasdaq: JMBA). Its stock price steadily increased to a high of $10.89 in early 2007.

But as the corporation struggled to be profitable, investor interest cooled. Two years later, Jamba stock hit a low of 35 cents.

On the rebound — in part because of the efforts of a new management team assembled since late 2008 — Jamba stock closed at $3.23 Friday.

“The stock price is probably the best indication of the lack of profitability, especially during the economic downturn,” Jeff Olds said. “There were serious concerns.”

White and his team are focusing on cutting costs, expanding franchise stores while reducing the number of company-owned outlets and expanding the brand beyond juice.

“We’re transforming from just a smoothie-only company into a good-for-you, active lifestyle brand,” said Susan Shields, chief marketing officer.

In an effort to increase sales among loyal customers, Jamba stores have added breakfast foods, such as oatmeal, hot beverages and prepackaged salads, sandwiches and wraps.

College campuses are prime targets, while expanding partnerships with school lunch programs is another high priority.

Jamba is also preparing to add an international market in the next year, said CEO White.

“Twenty years is a milestone,” he said, but “I think we’re in the early stages. We view this as a global brand.”

Perron, who left the board of directors in 2006, makes San Luis Obispo his home while traveling the world more than half the year.

“Nothing would make me happier than to see Jamba outlive me,” he said. “I’m rooting from the sidelines for them.”

Jamba Juice milestones

1990: Opened as Juice Club

1995: Changed name to Jamba Juice

1997: Opened first store outside California

1999: Added 98 stores in merger with Salt Lake City-based Zuka Juice

2006: Sold to Florida-based Acquisition Corp.; Jamba Inc. listed on the Nasdaq exchange

2007: Signed first licensing agreement with Nestle

2009: Began serving food products

Celebrate Jamba Juice

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the original Jamba Juice store at 17 Chorro St. will hold a ceremony and plaque dedication at 11:30 a.m. Monday. The store is planning several anniversary promotions, including giving away free 16-oz. smoothies between 12:20 p.m. and 5 p.m. that day.

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