Looking for her next Jamba Juice
Former CFO Marie Perry helped guide Jamba Juice to its $200-million sale to Focus Brands.
Photo by Joe Veen
In a $200-million take-private deal completed in September, Focus Brands added Jamba Juice to its collection of concepts that already included Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and others. For Marie Perry, the acquisition marked the culmination of more than two years’ worth of work to reinvigorate a Jamba Juice brand she says hadn’t evolved with changing consumer preferences.
“People grew up around the brand but the brand never grew up with them,” says Perry, who became Jamba’s chief financial and administrative officer in May 2016 after spending 13 years in finance roles at Chili’s parent Brinker International. “It’s an iconic brand, there’s a joy around the brand, but when we asked consumers the last time they came in, the average was five-plus years.”
Perry sat down with us to detail Jamba’s journey at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference in November, where she was also a featured speaker.
The hiring of Perry was part of a management shakeup that coincided with Jamba Juice’s move from California to Frisco, Texas, where she helped assemble an almost entirely new team. “Dave was looking for a wing woman,” says Perry, referring to Dave Pace, who’d taken over as CEO in early 2016 and wanted a CFO capable of handling more than just the accounting and auditing. Finance, accounting, legal and human resources were under Perry’s purview, along with supply chain oversight, indicative of the changing role of CFOs across the restaurant industry.
Being part of the strategic direction at Jamba Juice appealed to Perry as she sought to identify what was driving volume in the stores and connect that with what consumers wanted from the brand experience. Change was continuing—with more on the way—and the relocation to Texas gave Perry the opportunity to “hire specific talent to fit our needs.”
Ninety-six percent of employees at the new headquarters and franchisee support center joined the company after it relocated, notes Perry, “so we didn’t have that resistance to change,” and operations and marketing experience was emphasized as Jamba Juice accelerated its transition to an asset-light model in preparation for an eventual sale.
The refranchising program, which began in 2014 to reduce expenses, shifted the balance of store ownership with the sale of units—including 200 stores in 2016—to franchisees and resulted in Jamba Juice operating about 70 company locations and franchisees the other 800-plus. Along the way, Perry and the management team completed a comprehensive review of the business to identify “and one-by-one tackle” various initiatives, such as exiting the self-service smoothie business.
“JambaGo, it was this slushie-type machine, but we found it actually degraded the brand,” says Perry. Jamba Juice had licensed about 2,000 of the machines to c-stores and other large-scale dining locations, but “even with positive EBITDA, the franchisees didn’t like it.” Other changes included more consumer-facing technology and healthier menu innovations, along with a renewed drive-thru focus as those stores were found to outperform Jamba’s traditional locations. The “Jamba experience” became much more of a focus for Perry, which is “not something I would think about as CFO, but that’s changing,” she says. “People don’t go into Jamba because they’re thirsty. It’s for a specific experience and that’s where the world is going.”
Heading into the sale process, Perry knew the brand likely needed to be part of a bigger entity or choose to become a bigger entity itself to continue its success and support its franchisees. Over the course of more than nine months there was tremendous interest in the brand, she says, from both strategic and financial investors, with price being the deciding factor. Focus paid $13 per share for Jamba, a 36 percent premium to the 200-day trading average of $9.50 that added up to a $200 million sale price.
“Having the brand in the Focus portfolio is the best next step,” says Perry. “They have such great resources to support the brand.”
The acquisition also put Jamba Juice under the Roark Capital umbrella, which includes the recently formed Inspire Brands that operates Arby’s, Rusty Taco, Sonic and Buffalo Wild Wings. Roark also controls Jimmy John’s, Hardee’s, Corner Bakery, Culvers and Naf Naf Grill, along with dozens of other brands.
Jamba Juice, which was No. 147 on the Franchise Times Top 200+ ranking with sales of $497 million in 2017, is poised to accelerate its growth, continues Perry, while she looks for her next chance to “make impactful change.”
“I’m really looking for my next Jamba opportunity,” she says. “I went to Jamba from Chili’s because at Chili’s it was so much more about financial re-engineering. So I was looking for something where I could help with organic growth.”
In August Perry joined the board for Ruth’s Chris Steak House and she’s in her 10th year of serving on the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s executive committee, where she advocates for the advancement of women leaders. Fifty percent of the executive team at Jamba Juice were women, she notes, and she wants to continue to put women in what she calls “P&L roles” so they gain the experience needed for promotion to those positions.
“It’s the idea of pull somebody up,” she says. “I do feel like I have a responsibility to do that.”