“Yeah, but how ‘live a dream’ when the product is ‘generic’? I am not in Luxury, Lifestyle or Fashion!” That’s how some clients respond when we talk about giving their brand meaning beyond the material. – Well, how about a ‘juice bar’ that feels like it stole Abercrombie & Fitch’s fire and expands as if this was a new idea…
Around 2000, Kasper Basse an athlete and healthy nutrition freak – he is the youngest karate black-belt in Denmark at the time – comes back from US and Japan trips, inspired by Starbuck’s modern coffee house empire, the emerging fresh juice trend and the fact that the US giant did not serve it… or so goes the founding legend.
Fact is that Basse opened up a coffee and juice bar in an upscale furniture store in Copenhagen in 2002, calls it ‘Joe & The Juice’ (J&TJ) and starts to serve concoctions that are ‘juicy’ in more than one way: Besides their fresh fruits and ‘sexy’ names like ‘Hangover Heaven’ (apple, elderflower, mint), or ‘Sex Me Up*’ (passion fruit, apple, ginger) it’s the buff bar boys and the cool vibe, which attract most of the attention from the get go.
In the meantime, J&TJ have 180-plus stores and ‘going for a juice’ has become an alternative break ritual for the urban crowds of Scandinavia. At the end of 2016 US private equity firm General Atlantic joined Danish Valedo Partners to help push the expansion to North America. Seven stores have already popped up in New York and San Francisco in just a few months and Miami and Los Angeles are about to open. Basse sees over a hundred US stores on the horizon in the near future.
What makes him so confident might surprise many marketers and retailers but not those familiar with the principles of ‘Un-Selling’ and ‘Living The Dream’ of our Ueber-Brand model: “Everything we do, we do to challenge, inspire and develop our young people,” Basse told Restaurant News. “Everyone else always talks about customer focus. We don’t. We focus on our people, 100 percent.” One of his early collaborators Lars Bo Hansen thinks that this focus on “the organization as family” makes the brand “shine from the inside out” and his new investor says that “the thing that stands out, is the chain’s early ability to thrive in multiple markets in different parts of the globe, a rarity for a restaurant company.”
Creating a Myth Through a Brotherhood of Juicers
J&TJ is about “travel, interactions, spreading love, communicating the brand, building personality … and adding even more fantastic experiences to our portfolio” writes one of Joes’ juicers – Izak Hyllested – on the the J&TJ blog. “We want to preach what we practice to every soul on this earth – one interaction at the time”. Note, how this is centered on the juicers (they seem to be 80%+ male), then their customers… and only then the joe and juice. Basse understood early on that the draw of his place came only partially from those fresh fruit tastes and vitamins, and that the party his ‘bros’ created, playing their music, juggling jugs and ice cubes, singing, flirting with the customers and just generally being cool was the main point of distinction – if not attraction.
Sounds like a fraternity brand on spring break? Well, “Frat boy party meets Marines boot camp” is exactly what the brand videos of ‘internal’ training sessions, store openings and ‘SWAT team missions’ propagate on the internet and in the stores. You can see, guys with camouflage make-up swim, drag huge tires over the beach or being screamed at while mixing juice. It all usually ends in bear hugs, high fives and dancing, drinking and – yes, also juicing – with the ladies. J&TJ skillfully channels this testosterone fueled energy also to create a unique ambiance in its shops. The best performers can move on to become recruiters, store crew leaders or ‘special forces’ SWAT team members specialized in opening stores or turning low performing stores around. Mik Stroyberg who helped J&TJ start-up in the US told us that these teams can boost a store’s ring by 25-50% within days just by ‘amping up the vibe’ and with it the visits and word-of-mouth. Mik and his J&TJ SWAT team made even the initial recruiting event itself part of the draw by turning it into social-media circus that went viral (see notes below).
Actually, J&TJ doesn’t even like to talk of ‘recruiting’ but calls it ‘casting’ new team members. Candidates are invited to cool areas like Soho and challenged to compete by showing their juicing mojo before a crowd in the room and an even larger gathering in front of the street windows. “When you come out the winner that night, you will be a hyper-motivated employee’, he told us.
And then there is the prospect of travel – if you are really good. J&TJ is said to have its own apartments in main metro cities around the world ready to receive top crew members from abroad to work hard and play hard. A rumor that is sustained – or at least purported – by video testimonials that the curious can easily find on the net. They look fun and real but also raw in places – post party puking included.
Why would a juice joint encourage all these dubious excesses and even document and share them? Because this is where the myth of J&TJ and a deep differentiation versus their competition is created. Jamba Juice looks uniform (literally) and boring compared to these lively folks who wear their own clothes – “Hipster Chippendales” style, as Rina Raphael of Fast Company described it. “[You won’t experience] scripted cashier greetings, bathroom codes, or a generic easy-listening soundtrack on a loop” as she reports. And it is influencers like her who get interested and dig into the quirky world of J&TJ to then talk about it.
Recently, J&TJ has added some initiatives beyond juicing, fun and traveling which are about educating children in West Africa. But this, like many ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ projects, seems far removed from – if not in open contradiction to – what the brand is all about and risks to discredit the brand more than buffer it with substance. Apparently, there is also a program under consideration to work with local universities to infuse the careers of juicers with a shot of academic training. That, in contrast, seems much more like an ‘organic’ extension of the J&TJ mission. If it takes root, it could also create a link to that Africa program and elevate the brand to an altogether higher level.
But what about the Product? Or is it a Service?
The juices with their snappy names like ‘Heartbeet’ actually taste pretty good. There are many testimonials to that effect and to the fact that each one is prepared from scratch, using fresh organic fruits that are stacked in crates all around the shop (in the case of Heartbeat: beetroot, avocado, banana, pineapple, apple.) These batch preparations, together with the mentioned acrobatic interludes and chit-chats with customers take time, and so there are often as many people waiting as there are customers enjoying their product cum ‘treatment’. Yet, most seem not to mind. According to Qvartz magazine and to consumer research by consultancy Valcon, over half of J&TJ customers listed the ‘flirty guys’ as major like for the brand versus only 10% talking about healthy ingredients. Naturally, the same research also found an over-representation of women among loyal store visitors and most of those commenting on ‘loud music’ or ‘long wait time’ said there were going to come back anyway.
That’s not a surprise to Valcon’s Hansen: “Motivating juicers motivates customers; bored employees bore customers … the ‘other’ fast-fooders certainly have little exciting going on”. Founder Basse insists in a Fast Company interview that it is not so much about good looks and more about happiness which “makes them look more attractive but, most importantly, it rubs off on the customers.” Well, maybe it’s about ‘happy’ maybe about ‘hot’ clearly it is about a customer experience that can potentially be about both and that exceeds simply ‘getting a juice’. And funnily, no one even tries to justify all this ‘juicing up’ by arguing the beefcakes as healthy ‘testimonials’ for healthy juices.
Of course, the brand invests in their surroundings, as well, to make sure that the ‘holistic product’ is delivered in the right ambiance. That means large, airy stores with a cozy, eclectic assortment of tables, chairs and nooks with chaises and sofas. When the brand opened its first US location in New York City in 2015, they opted for a 2,200 square foot space on a coveted Soho street. All the other juice bars in that area are about one-tenth of the size. Just big enough to walk in, order and get back out.
Boom and Bust or Growth Without End?
It seems that Joe & The Juice is growing at breakneck speed. And that perception is justified if you live in New York right now or just moved to Scandinavia. But their culture and cool and the processes and organization that support it – casting rituals, on-boarding boot camps, frat mansions and all – did not emerge overnight. In fact, Joe & The Juice grew organically and relatively slowly in its first decade of existence to some 50 bars and $30 million in sales. It is only since Private Equity came on board in two rounds in 2013 and 2016 that things have kicked into overdrive with bars more than tripling in three years and reaching 180-odd today and an estimated $100 million in worldwide sales. But even opening a store every other week is only a ‘drip in the bucket’ if you consider that the North American market alone sells more than $2 billion in juices and smoothies and coffee shops by far exceed 50 thousand in number and $40 billion in sales. From that standpoint, there is still a lot of potential growth ahead for Joe and his juice.
Rather, the question is whether J&TJ can keep its cool or whether the youthful banter starts to feel tiring, the music sound too loud and the appeal will begin to wear off. There always is a big cheese factor to overtly employing sex to sell. In the case of buffy men, the danger is even more pronounced because giggly girls, especially teenage girls, are never far away when guys play with their muscles. And these can quickly run any brand into the ground, because they are fickle and hardly a strong and far reaching aspirational design target. Abercrombie & Fitch is a sad showcase of how deadly the mix of beefcakes and suburban girls can be (see this case study on A&F). What’s currently still hot can soon turn pathetic. And then of course, the $6-8 price tag for a European-sized (ie. US small) cup of juice would feel expensive, maybe even ridiculous – like those overpriced flannel shirts on nude torsos did. Will Joe know how to keep the ‘happiness’ and looks fresh and continue to rub off on customers over the long run? Focus on their juicers and finding ways to keep them as passionate and engaged about what they do sounds like at least one key ingredient for continued success – and J&TJ is working hard on that. Getting them dressed at one point – and perhaps even growing up – might not be a bad idea, either.
Note: We seek to interview Basse and Hansen on our podcast and ask them about the key ingredients for J&TJ’s success, to date and going forward. — Stay tuned.
For more insights what drives the success of aspiring Ueber-Brands like Joe & The Juice, read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueberbrands” and other case-studies on this blog.
Here is the Joe & The Juice Blog and website. They take their juicing seriously as you can see in this ‘juicer academy’ video on the ‘bitchplease’ youtube channel. Note the ‘speed sessions’ blasting music and heavy screaming….
And here a video about “Brand Behaviour SWAT team” bootcamp. They get ‘hardened’ on Danish beaches, swimming through icy water, pushing huge wheels tires through the snd (why not roll them?) and… juicing together. This video also plays in store. Alternatively, you can join the Marines.
Proof that you have arrived and become lore is when you are being made fun of: Joe the sexy, Danish Traffic Policeman video
Lars Bo Hansen has written a book about what he learned during the pioneering years at Joe & The Juice and with founder Kaspar Basse – “Me and Joe” … in Danish.