By Karen Herzog
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) I love how Haley and Annabelle Jurena’s road to entrepreneurship was and continues to be a family affair. With the help of their parents, the suburban Milwaukee sisters have been producing their own special root-beer recipe since they were little girls.
It’s safe to say Haley Jurena is starting college with more liquid assets than her peers.
While others socked away whatever cash they could save for college, the Jurena family of suburban Milwaukee saved for college by making and selling old-fashioned vanilla root beer. With roughly $1 profit per bottle of Haley and Annabelle’s Vanilla Root Beer sold since 2007, the college fund for Haley and her younger sister now exceeds $50,000.
Which is a good thing, considering Haley is about to get her first tuition bill from the University of Minnesota, where she is a freshman in the Honors College. They plan to keep the root beer business going at least through Annabelle’s college years; she graduates from high school in 2021.
Haley was 10 and Annabelle was 5 when they and their dad, Dave Jurena, started Haley and Annabelle’s Bubbly Beverage Co., based out of the family’s Soup Market business. Dave Jurena was chef-owner of two Soup Market locations back then; now he has five. The vanilla root beer is sold at all five locations, plus the girls’ grandfather’s barber shop and a farmers market on Saturday mornings.
The business has its own Facebook page where the family keeps fans posted on milestones, including when Haley started applying to colleges last fall.
The spark for the business came when Haley was in kindergarten and her dad made homemade vanilla root beer and ice cream to serve root beer floats to her classmates. It was an immediate hit.
“We did some research. Tried every root beer out there and experimented with flavors,” Dave Jurena recalled.
“It’s a passive way to make money,” he said. “We mix up the syrup and it’s sent off to be bottled. Once we get it back, it trickles out the door a couple cases here and there. This is delayed gratification. It was never like a part-time job with a paycheck at the end of the week.”
The girls learned that part of every sale goes back into the product.
It costs 73 cents to produce each bottle of root beer, including ingredients, bottling with carbonation and the labeling.
Dave Jurena’s produce provider hauls the root beer syrup they mix in the Soup Market kitchen to the bottler, then hauls back 100 cases of root beer per batch a couple of times a year.
The photos of the girls on the bottle labels have changed through the years from goofy little girls to poised, smiling teens. The recipe that attracted a small but loyal following hasn’t changed. They still use pure Madagascar vanilla extract, not artificial extracts like some sodas on the market.
The root beer has always sold for $2 a bottle or $24 for a case of 24 bottles.
Dave and Jill Jurena had conversations early on with friends about how to save for their daughters’ college educations.
“You can only put so much aside,” Jill said. “Dave and the girls doing this also was a great way for them to spend time together.”
Haley worked behind the counter at one of the Soup Market locations and sold soup and root beer at the farmers market, too, to earn spending money, since the root beer profits go to the bank.
She knows she has something special.
“My parents are being very generous,” Haley said. “They have a spreadsheet that shows, depending on my GPA in college, how much they will pay. If I get a 3.8 or higher, they’ll pay 100 percent.”
She still plans to take out small loans, and her grandparents offered to buy her books.
The root beer venture provided plenty of fodder for Haley’s college application essays. One of her essays was about the 25 cents per case of root beer sold that is donated to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where she had surgery twice within her first month of life. Her parents match those donations.
“It means a lot because they did a lot for me as a baby,” Haley said of the hospital. “I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Children’s.”
The root beer college savings is about more than just money.
“It’s really cool to have something with my sister and my dad that we do together, and we’re very lucky to have a dad with a background in business,” Haley said. “We’re thinking about expanding the flavors now. Maybe a limeade.”
Dave Jurena hopes his daughters are proud of what they accomplished together.
He also hopes that by learning to market the root beer, they learned to position themselves for their own careers.
“You have to develop yourself as a brand to make sure you are marketable to an employer,” he said. “Hopefully through this venture, they’ll see it’s OK to take risks and stick your neck out, too. I’m glad it didn’t fail, but it could have been a lesson if it did to pick yourself up.”
They did stick their necks out in 2010, when they sent a letter to The Coca-Cola Co., along with a four-pack of their vanilla root beer, to seek advice and gauge the company’s interest in buying the brand. The multinational beverage company responded by inviting the family to its Atlanta headquarters, putting them up in a hotel and hiring a limousine to chauffeur them in style.
At Coca-Cola headquarters, they met with Deryck van Rensburg, whose job at the time as president of venturing and emerging brands was to identify and invest in new beverage brands and ideas with significant future potential.
“While root beer was not a new idea, I was so impressed with their passion for their vanilla root beer company, and moved by their determination to use the proceeds to save for college. I just had to meet them,” van Rensburg recalled.
He remembers being immediately impressed with the girls when they sat in his office and tasted the root beer together.
“I encouraged Haley and Annabelle to focus on product quality, to keep the customer happy, to go deep before going wide (building a loyal consumer base), to stay focused, and to never give up on their dream,” van Rensburg said.
Van Rensburg, who is preparing to leave Coca-Cola to become dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. said the girls “exemplified true entrepreneurial spirit in identifying an opportunity, leveraging resources (Dad, Mom and friends!), and making it happen.”
Coca-Cola didn’t buy the root beer brand, but the company did make a donation to help the girls grow their business.
With the money, they created a diet vanilla root beer, which is bottled with red caps as a tribute to Coca-Cola’s support.
They also spun off a small ice cream business, the Scoop Market, selling eight-ounce, pre-packaged cups of ice cream they make in multiple flavors, including toasted marshmallow, strawberry cheesecake and fig-mascarpone. The ice cream is sold at the Soup Market for $3 per cup.