James Ajaka has been on board with nudie since January 2003 and was nudie’s first employee. In 2004, the business suffered a major setback – an arson attack at their single factory. Here James, CEO of nudie since 2009, relates the destruction and regrowth of the business from a personal perspective.
In our first few months, it was just Tim Pethick (the founder), Hank Kingman and I, and we had so much to do to get the business off the ground. I was 25 and tireless. I remember Tim saying our job description should simply read, “Whatever it takes”. Every day we went out and sold our drinks. Whatever we didn’t sell we gave out to consumers at beaches, outside universities, train stations – wherever we could find large crowds of people. Then at night we would mix and crush fruit to make more drinks. They were exhausting times but very rewarding. Although our sales were not enough to pay the bills we were developing a following of loyal consumers that kept us motivated and focused on moving forward.
Tim was great with the media, a really talented communicator that generated a lot of media interest around the nudie story. Within eighteen months our drinks were in every state of Australia and we were just getting ready to launch into Woolworths when our factory burnt down.
It was May 27, 2004 and we were devastated.
A rude awakening
It was a brutal experience. Financially, that single event almost collapsed the business. I was at home in Maroubra and my phone rang. Somebody on the other end said, ‘Your factory is on fire’. I still remember that moment. It was 9:50pm. I jumped in my car and drove over and literally watched the factory burn to the ground.
I knew that we were insured. I had Tim and Andrew Binetter (co-founder) standing beside me, just watching it together. After about three hours of watching everything we’d worked so hard to build burn down I was in total shock. Standing there, that night, watching the fire burn, all I could think was, ‘Where are my staff going to sit tomorrow? No one can do their deliveries. Are we ever going to make another bottle again? Are we done?’
But Tim turned to me and said, ‘It’s OK James. Tomorrow we need to go and find a new factory’. I’ll never forget that.
We needed money to survive. We were under-insured and had no ability to make our drinks. In saying this we had great support from our farmers, retailers and consumers. Most of all, we had great support from our staff.
We couldn’t let it all go to waste. We had to find a new factory, and find it quickly.
Within six weeks, through traversing the country and working day and night, Andrew found a factory we could use – and it was in Adelaide. Tim found an office in Pyrmont, in Sydney. While they got those sides of the business back on their feet, I worked with our marketing team to ensure that we maintained our brand story in the market place and held on to our position in the fridges of retailers that we had secured since our inception.
Bring on the firefighter
We created a firefighter nudie character and used that character as our symbol of relaunch. We made stickers that we placed on every retailer’s fridge that read, ‘We’ll be back’ – with our nudie firefighter at the centre. Within six weeks we started to produce our famous juices again. Thanks to the entire team’s work, we held on to our retailers and they were still there to start ordering our drinks again. Everyone was talking about the fire and the story. From a brand perspective, it was brilliant. I wish it had never happened, but we made the best of it.
A downward spiral
We weren’t done, but over the years ahead nudie was on a steep learning curve. In 2003, when we launched, we had a clear space, an open market, and willing customers. Fast-forward six years to 2009 and there was lots of competition, a difficult financial climate (GFC) and retailers looking for “something new”. The honeymoon was over.
Trying something new
In July 2009, I took over the role of CEO of the business. It was a scary time. Sales were going backwards, the business was losing money, we had fierce competition. But I knew that we had a brand that people still loved. We found the ability to stay true to our purpose and ‘create good’ through a series of innovative products that nobody else was doing. It gave us clear space to really engage consumers and retailers again and the new products we created were immensely popular and very well received. After all these years it has worked out well.
Now, we have 29.7 per cent market share. Today, we are the number one chilled-juice brand in Australia. That’s something we are all proud of at nudie, but it has been a very steep learning curve along the way, and the success has come down to the exceptional people we have in our business, the very supportive retailers, our very hard-working farmers and of course my supportive business partners. They’re all exceptional.
nudie is an Australian juice company that prides itself on providing drinks made with the best natural ingredients – with no nasties. By keeping things simple, the much-loved brand has learnt to trust its instincts and value its identity. The aim? To taste good, have some fun and do some good.
Photo credit: Unsplash and nudie.