Jrink Juicery co-founder Shizu Okusa (Photo by April Greer)

This week, a Washington juice business seeks advice on how to sell more customers on its online subscription business. –Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

Old friends Shizu Okusa and Jennifer Ngai reunited working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., after meeting in Goldman Sachs’ investment analyst training program six years earlier. Working in the same building again, they commiserated over a need for healthy food and drink options to get them through their long days. They started making juices at home and keeping them in mason jars in a World Bank refrigerator. Other colleagues took notice of their green and purple beverages – and they wanted some.

“They say don’t ever start a business unless someone asks for it,” says Okusa. She and Ngai started making their juices for work “juice parties” and people suggested they start selling it. Intrigued by the possibility, they looked at the juice market at the time — mid-2013 — and there wasn’t much competition. They started making their juice at the then-new Union Kitchen, the shared kitchen incubator space in Northeast Washington. Their production quickly outgrew the Union Kitchen space and they quit their jobs to pursue Jrink Juicery full-time in 2014.

The pitch

Shizu Okusa, co-founder and Chief Juice Officer, Jrink Juicery

“We’ve made more than 380,000 bottles of juice in the last three years. We source high-quality ingredients and cold-press our juices without added sugars, preservatives or processing. Our juices offer a meal replacement with function – energy, anti-inflammatory, caffeine-replacement. We’re the first and largest local player. We’ve learned a lot and we have grown a lot.

“We aren’t a typical brick-and-mortar retail player. We’ve opened multiple pop-up retail locations in our constant push to acquire customers with a goal to convert them to online customers who have a higher lifetime value to our business. We share retail locations inside places like gyms and yoga studios so our capital expenditure is very low and we get back what we invest in revenue. This has allowed us to scale quickly. We have four locations; we’re adding a 14th Street location in April and we’re also going to be in Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

“Our target online consumers are busy people who get six-packs of our juice delivered to their home or business every week by subscription. So far, we’ve acquired all of them by word-of-mouth. Customers often start with us with what we call a ‘Reboot,’ to kickstart a healthy regimen.

“We are just closing out a fundraising round. We’re also investing in technology to try new things in our retail locations and to streamline our e-commerce in the coming months. As we continue to build our online business, what are some ways we can persuade customers to buy before they try?

The advice

Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“There is room in the market for lots of juice companies, but your online business is a very interesting competitive differentiator. Strengthen your message to consumers that your business model is really to be an online subscription model for juice. Brand yourself that way because consumers are really starting to understand this model more as more retailers are trying it.

“Think about reaching out to ‘influencers’ who could inspire other people to drink your juices without tasting them first. These influencers can help you get more subscribers without having to get them into a retail location first. Seek out partners like influential bloggers, gyms that could include Jrink discounts for members, yoga studios, etc. Also offer very attractive incentives for people to recommend your juices to others and for people to try without tasting.

“Right now, you have a good strategy of focusing on the in-person sale to entice future online buying. This model has worked well for leaders like Apple, and e-retailers like Rent-the-Runway have seen the value in opening brick-and-mortar locations for their online customers. Even Amazon just opened a location here in College Park.

“Eventually, you have to decide whether your online business is just a nice-to-have component, where you are slowly converting people while you focus on building your brand through bricks-and-mortar locations before you transition to heavily marketing your online business. You have to figure out where that transition falls in your strategy and how much of your company’s bandwidth you want to spend on the online piece right now.”

The reaction

Okusa

“I totally agree. I have had to change my own mentality. I initially thought of our online sales as something that we offered and this is a shift to think of it as our core business model going forward. It’s easy to get boxed in to thinking about what all the other juice shops are doing. We definitely just need to prioritize marketing our subscription services and focus on finding the right influencers.”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? The Washington Post and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.