Groot Juiced About Franchises

August 15, 2003
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HOLLAND — Jack Groot was ready to branch out.

The storefront next door was becoming available and he wanted to move in and expand his business.

But merely expanding the coffee shop he opened in 1993 into the adjoining space wasn't the answer. Why incur the higher operating costs without assuring yourself a corresponding increase in business? Groot wanted something that made much more business sense.

After carefully researching the options, he settled on delving into what is a major growth segment in the American food service industry: fruit drinks and smoothies, an idea Groot's operations manager at the coffee shop had first suggested years earlier.

A little more than three years later, the owner of Rubyjuice Fruit and Smoothies in downtown Holland is preparing to branch out again. Groot, a 41-year-old Grandville native who ventured into business in 1993 with the opening of JP's Coffee & Espresso Bar in downtown Holland, has begun to franchise Rubyjuice.

Groot recently sold his first franchise to a couple in the Orlando, Fla., area and says he has "quite a few" other prospects.

By franchising the business model behind the popular downtown Holland juice and smoothie bar, Groot, the father of three young boys, wants to grow his business without stretching himself too thin with multiple stores. Franchising, he said, enables him to do what he likes to do best: helping people get started and mentoring them in their business.

Franchising Rubyjuice was a "natural fit" for both the business and himself personally, Groot said.

"It fits my temperament," Groot said as he relaxed at a table on the sidewalk just outside his coffee shop and juice and smoothie bar on Eighth Street in downtown Holland.

"I prefer to start something and get it going," Groot said. "I love to help other people get started and see other businesses running and doing well and (being) successful."

Groot's foray into successful business ownership came a decade ago. Working at Prince Corp. as a materials handler in the shipping and receiving department, driving a hi-lo, he felt an urge to do something else. Helping to drive that urge was a period when he "tasted freedom" during a brief stint working in Prince's castings and composites operations, building prototypes.

He enjoyed the work and the change of pace it offered but later found himself back in his previous position due to cutbacks brought on by the recession of the early 1990s.

While he enjoyed working at Prince, Groot wanted more opportunity and possessed that "drive on the inside" that leads many would-be entrepreneurs to test their mettle in business and strike out on their own. After he was unable to transfer back to the castings and composites work, he decided to start his own business, a coffee shop.

Groot, who holds an associate's degree from Ferris State University in food service management, jumped into it with a "gung-ho" attitude, researching the industry and how to run a small business by reading scores of books and trade publications over the next several months and visiting other establishments. He then searched for locations throughout the area — South Haven, Saugatuck, Grand Haven and Grand Rapids among them — before finally finding a storefront that was becoming available in downtown Holland.

He opened JP's Coffee and Espresso Bar on Nov. 23, 1993, and, after a slow start, built a steady clientele as JP's became a popular gathering spot in downtown Holland. The coffee shop draws a cross-section of customers, ranging from students at nearby Hope College, to business professionals who work downtown, and senior citizens who stop by for a morning cup of coffee and conversation.

"I had an idea and I saw the market was right," Groot said of the coffee shop's success. "We're very fortunate. We had the right place and we had the right product."

After starting with one full-time and three part-time employees, Groot now employs more than 50 people between the two stores.

By 2000, after the owner of an adjacent sports apparel store told him she was closing her business, Groot was looking again at new opportunities. He settled on a fruit drink and smoothie bar, an idea his operations manager had "bugged" him about for years.

Helping to cinch the idea was a family vacation in 1999 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. On a hot afternoon, the family ventured into a juice bar. Groot jokes today about how his wife, Tracy, took a sip of the smoothie he had ordered and, enjoying the taste, refused to give it back.

Groot later connected with a consultant for the smoothie industry who, he learned later, happened to have helped out the owner of the Myrtle Beach juice bar the family visited while on vacation.

After going through the same kind of extensive research and learning process that he had followed prior to the opening of JP's, and working with a design and layout consultant for the juice bar, he opened Rubyjuice in May 2000. In addition to the fruit drinks and smoothies, the store offers sandwiches and salads, as well as a catering service.

Since Rubyjuice opened, customers have often asked Groot whether the store was a franchise. While he never intended to franchise the business, he soon realized that the business model he developed — including an employee training program for turning out smoothies quickly and the recipes used — lends itself quite well to franchising.

"The systems are easily replicable. It's a simple business model," he said. "The systems work and the business model works. It's finding the right people and putting it in the right location."

Again going through a due diligence period to research the idea and then setting down the foundation under which he'd sell a franchise, Groot this year began looking to spread his idea around the world. He said he's had inquiries from all over the United States, as well as from as far away as India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Germany and other countries.

For now he's met his initial goal of selling one franchise. He's reluctant to offer a target for the future, yet cites two of the leading fruit bar franchises in the nation, Jamba Juice and Smoothie King, that each have more than 300 locations.

"I think," Groot says with an understated confidence, "we can be bigger than that."

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