After closing almost half of its units since 2008, the Juice It Up! smoothie chain plans to start growing after re-inventing the brand with a focus on fresh juices.
In 2008, Irvine, Calif.-based Juice It Up! was one of the top smoothie brands out of California, behind Jamba Juice and Robeks, with 189 locations at that point. The recession, however, hit Juice It Up! hard, said Frank Easterbrook, chief executive of Balboa Brands Inc., the chain’s operating company.
“After the financial meltdown occurred, customers just went away,” Easterbrook said. “Treat products became pretty discretionary.”
Over the next three years, the chain closed 79 locations and the company focused on helping the mostly franchised chain survive. Easterbrook said they helped franchisees renegotiate leases or restructure loans, and in some cases reduced or waived royalty payments.
At the same time, the company continued to spend on advertising and marketing efforts to let consumers know “we’re still here,” said Easterbrook.
Balboa is also tweaking the concept, shifting the focus to fresh juices with the addition of a juice bar serving an expanded line that includes blends with vegetables such as kale, cucumber, cabbage and spinach. A “rejuvenator,” for example, includes carrot, beet and cucumber juice.
“Juice is much more of a lifestyle product,” said Easterbrook.
Now with 91 units, including four company units that Balboa operates, Juice It Up! is shifting into a modest growth mode.
Easterbrook said Balboa is opening its fifth location this year, and franchisees are planning to add six to 10 locations before the end of 2012.
Juice It Up is franchised by LLJ Franchise LLC, which Easterbrook also owns.
About 19 locations have also added self-serve frozen yogurt as a co-branded option, using Balboa’s proprietary yogurt product called Ziiing. Two franchisees have opened frozen yogurt-only locations.
Easterbrook said franchisees now have the option of doing juice bar/smoothie concept, or yogurt, or the combination of both. However, the frozen yogurt concept will likely focus on Midwest and Eastern markets that are less saturated with existing yogurt brands.
“In my opinion, frozen yogurt is about to start to fizzle out,” Easterbrook said. “We need to do things in a way to ensure success.”
Though traditionally found in strip malls, Juice It Up! will look for locations in indoor mall food courts, as well as college campuses and fitness centers.
Easterbrook said same store sales are up 6 percent in 2011 year-to-date after being flat through 2010.
Though the economic climate remains challenging, Juice It Up’s consumers will continue to look for healthful treats, he said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time helping our franchisees and they’re on much more solid footing,” he said. “We’re ready to turn a page.”