Saudi market provides 'fantastic' opportunity

Entrepreneurs often sound like a broken record. Be patient, they say. Don’t grow too fast, they say. Let the market determine your growth, they say.

Well, it seems they haven’t met Dale Wishewan, the youthful Edmonton entrepreneur who built a juice-bar empire in Canada by throwing caution to the winds.

Less than five years after an American friend explained to him what a juice bar was and how that market was exploding in the U.S., Wishewan has built a network of 110 franchise juice-and-smoothie bars in Canada and now has his sights set on expanding the Booster Juice brand into international markets.

For his prowess as an entrepreneur, the CEO and 50-per-cent owner of Booster Juice was recently recognized as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 entrepreneurs.

Jack Dagley file photo, Business Edge
CEO Dale Wishewan pours Booster Juice’s signature hot-selling Smoothie at the Edmonton Campus Tower store.

Wishewan says he’s not exactly sure what has made him so successful. But it’s apparent that his success has something to do with an aggressive, no-holds-barred style.

1. What was your boyhood dream?

“To make it to baseball’s major leagues. I got a baseball scholarship to Portland State University in Oregon. I wasn’t quite good enough, but I was very much torn between my academics and my sport. Being in mechanical engineering made it a real tough balancing act with baseball.”

2. How difficult was it falling short of that dream?

“It wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve always been one who was pretty good at understanding reality. I wasn’t disappointed because, even if I were drafted (by the major leagues), I think the very best I’d have made would be Single A or Double A calibre. I didn’t want to ride buses for nine hours on a cheeseburger diet. I find some individuals don’t know when to say, ‘Hey, it’s been fun and a great experience but I’m not going to make it.’ ” 3. What was your first job after university?

“I went to work for Edmonton Exchanger for eight years and was in international technical sales. That gave me the opportunity to set the foundation for my business career.”

4. What sparked your interest in the juice business?

“Back in the spring of 1999, a good friend of mine from Oregon, John Amack, asked me how the juice bars were doing in Canada. I said, ‘What’s a juice bar?’ He told how they’d started in California and were migrating north into Oregon. I first had to convince myself that people would buy a cold beverage in the winter. So we made sure it wasn’t just something that was thirst-quenching, but something Canadians would drink all year round.”

5. Where and when did the first Booster Juice store open?

“It opened on November 13, 1999, in Sherwood Park. I remember people embracing the concept right from the start. At our grand opening, we had people lined up out the door waiting for the product. We opened our second store in Edmonton on April 15, 2000, and opened another on May 10 in Red Deer. In our first year, we opened 15 stores, which is almost unheard of.”

6. How confident were you that this business was going to fly?

“I have an attitude that it will work and, if you need to work harder, then you work harder. I’ve been fortunate to be successful at things and I don’t know why that is, whether it has to do with my sports or academic background. I’ve never failed. Maybe one of the biggest things was that I didn’t have a restaurant background, so I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to open 15 stores in a year.”

7. What appealed to you most about the business prospects for the juice bar market?

“I could see it was going to be a niche market where there wasn’t a lot of competition. I didn’t want to become another Subway competing with Mr. Sub or Quiznos, or another hamburger business competing with Burger King and McDonald’s. I could see that there was a need for a healthy alternative to fast food.”

8. When’s the last time you ate a Big Mac?

“Oh, I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in a year and a half. I’m very much a health nut. I’m very health-conscious and pay attention to fitness.”

9. How’d you finance the startup of the business?

“The original startup cost was more than $300,000. I was somewhat fortunate having done very well on the stock market and John Amack (a 50-per-cent partner) also had a business he did very well on. So we didn’t need to borrow money to start. I did very well in the stock market when the junior mining sector was going through the roof during the days of Bre-X (the now defunct scandal-ridden Calgary gold company).”

10. Did you own Bre-X shares?

“I bought Bre-X at $12 and sold the majority of the shares at $92. Then, I bought it on the downswing at a couple of bucks and sold at $6 before they found out the mine was salted. I guess I was one of the few people that got out before the crash.”

11. What was Booster Juice’s revenue last year and what are you projecting for this year?

“We’re a private company, so we’re still a bit cautious on providing numbers. Maybe I can talk a bit more about our growth. Right now, we have 110 stores in Canada, two in the U.S. and two in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We envision 250 stores in Canada, about 100 stores in the U.S. and, internationally, we’ll open in two or three new markets per year.”

12. Where’s the hot market in the future for your business?

“I would probably say Quebec is one of our best (prospective) markets. They’re very fashion-conscious and very trendy and our product has done very well there. People enjoy showing the fact that they’re health-conscious and that they care about what they’re putting into their bodies. Our product has an image of health and wellness.”

13. Why have you expanded into Saudi Arabia?

“It provides a fantastic opportunity based on the fact that the weather is good, there’s no alcohol and there’s no competition in our sector. It’s also a very rich country that exports more oil than any other country in the world. From what we’ve seen at our first two stores there, we were right by making that choice. We also have a fantastic partner there that will be opening a total of 50 stores, including five more in the next four weeks.”

14. Has success dramatically changed your lifestyle?

“Not at all. I’m still about as normal as I was when I was 15 years old, and I’m fortunate enough to have friends who tell me that they’re happy that I haven’t changed. I don’t have time to worry about those things. We’ve been on the front cover of the Canadian business franchise magazine three times and I don’t think I’ve given out a single copy of the magazine to friends or relatives. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we’re just so busy making things happen. We don’t have time to worry about achievements and we don’t have time to spend the money.”

15. How would you describe your entrepreneurial style?

“I’d say it’s very aggressive. I pretty much don’t see risk at all. I’m quite hands-on from a standpoint that I want to know what’s happening in all areas of the business.”

16. What do you think you need to learn to become a better entrepreneur?

“I’d say I need to recognize that not everyone will do things the same way I will. I set very high expectations for others based on the fact that I set very high expectations for myself. So sometimes it’s quite easy to be disappointed with individuals. So I guess I need to realize that others may not get the same results that I will.”

17. Who’s the entrepreneur you most admire?

“It’s Henry Gusse, the founder of Edmonton Exchanger. He taught me so much about business and has built an empire that has done very well. He has also built it with great ethics. To me, that’s the single biggest thing, to run your business with good ethics. I also think it’s important to have fun at what you’re doing and work extremely hard at it. Without working really hard, it just won’t happen.”

18. Are you entertaining thoughts of expanding your horizons with other businesses or will you solely focus on Booster Juice?

“Over the short term, Booster Juice will be my single focus, but there are people that I’ve met at the awards (for the top 40 Canadian entrepreneurs under 40) who I wouldn’t mind doing business with down the road. I have a few things in my mind, but that’ll be in a number of years. I have a few things on the go that are in the infancy stage. I almost don’t want to show my cards until they’re off the ground. For almost the first year of Booster Juice, as the business was going through the roof, I declined to provide any interviews because I didn’t want others to know how much growth we had going on. Longer term, I see myself being on the board of directors for multiple companies and being very involved in my passion for business but at more of a distance, providing guidance and advice.”

19. What’s your most important goal beyond business?

“I curl competitively (as a skip) on the World Curling Tour and I’d like to improve in that game. This year, our team sucked. We were 4-12. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a dream, but I wouldn’t mind having an opportunity to curl in the Brier (Canadian curling championships).”

20. At what point in your life do you think you’ll be able to say you’re content with what you’ve achieved?

“I think that will happen somewhere down the road when I have grandkids and they’re asking me what I did in my career. Maybe at that point, I can sit back and take pride in sharing those stories with my grandkids.”

IN PROFILE: DALE WISHEWAN
* Title: President/CEO, Booster Juice.
* Born/raised/age: Waskatenau, Alta.; 35.
* Education: Portland State University, bachelor of science (mechanical engineering).
* Career: Wishewan co-founded Booster Juice in 1999 and has operated the franchise company since. Prior to that, he spent eight years as a technical sales representative with Edmonton Exchanger, a steel manufacturer. He has also operated a car security firm.
* Accolades: Wishewan is a recent recipient of Canada’s annual Top 40 Under 40 entrepreneurial award.
* Claim to fame: Wishewan skips a team on the World Curling Tour.
* Passions: Baseball, curling, fitness.

THE COMPANY: BOOSTER JUICE
* Brass: Dale Wishewan, president/CEO/part- owner; John Amack, partner.
* Profile: Booster Juice is a franchise that operates juice bars serving nutritional juices and smoothies and boasts about 85 per cent of the juice bar market in Canada. The company also serves snacks such as paninis (Italian sandwiches).
* Numbers: There are 110 stores in Canada, including 42 in Alberta, two stores in the U.S. and two in Saudi Arabia.
* Employees: 1,500.
* Franchise Fee: $20,000.
* Website: www.boosterjuice.com
* Head Office: 205, 8915 51 Ave., Edmonton T6E 5J3.
* Phone/Fax: 780-440-6770/461-7161.