Zinn Brings Business Zen to Arden's Garden Operations

The Georgia Tech alumna serves as CEO for the company her mother started in 1994.
Leslie Zinn, Mgt 91, is CEO of Atlanta-based juice company Arden’s Garden.

Leslie Zinn, Mgt 91, is CEO of Atlanta-based juice company Arden’s Garden.

For Leslie Zinn (MGT 91), top banana of Atlanta-based juice company Arden’s Garden, smoothies were virtually her birthright.

Business savvy, however, was something her mom and company founder, Arden, didn’t pass down to her. While Arden’s idea to make and sell super-healthy, organic juice was genius back in 1994, she didn’t have a viable plan to take advantage of it. Backed by her top-notch management education at Tech, Leslie stepped in to help run the business side, and she’s served as CEO of the company since 1999. Under her green thumb, things are looking pretty peachy for Arden’s Garden.

“When we were growing up, we never would come into the kitchen and find breakfast,” says Zinn, whose mother Arden Zinn founded the company in 1994. “There would be a plate with a glass and something we called ‘The Concoction.’ And it would be whatever mom was into at the time, a blend of fresh juices, or almond milk, or who knows.”

At first, Leslie’s mother merely gave away her juices in tiny batches, as a way to take advantage of the expensive juicer she had finally purchased after years of fruitless fixation. Then, Arden Zinn was hit with a bolt of inspiration: Deliver the juices to salons, where stylists are stuck at their stations with cash from tips, an eye for anything trendy and plenty of new customers.

More than two decades later, Arden’s Garden operates 11 retail stores—with others soon opening on Auburn Avenue and in Vinings—and sells products in small shops and grocery chains across five Southeastern states. The Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine recently caught up with Leslie at the company’s East Point plant to learn more about the boutique juice business.

You come from such a business-savvy family. When you went to Georgia Tech, coming from that background, what did you learn about?

My family’s not business savvy. My mother’s not business savvy. She’s got incredible ideas. She’s a real forward thinker. But she’d give it away. She’s not motivated by money, so you kind of have to have one person that understands how can we do this, and make it profitable so it’s sustainable. And then another person that feels the passion and the ideas. She had exercise studios prior to Arden’s Garden, and she had a similar trajectory. She brought in a guy that was a businessperson and then [the studios] exploded, but she didn’t like the direction that they were going in and so she ended up leaving for no money. So it was her life’s work, and when she started Arden’s Garden she started from nothing.

And she would give it away?

When I would do her delivery route, this would be back in 1994, the juices sold for $3 a bottle, tax included. By the time I finished her route, I would be going crazy. Because every third person would say, “Listen, Arden gives it to me for $2.” And later I would tell her, “Mom, you can’t do that.” She’d respond: “They can’t afford it, otherwise.” And then I’d tell her: “But we can’t afford it!” I had to be the voice of reason. From my time at Tech, I learned to be a good student of business, and I learned quickly on the job.

How do you come up with new ingredients and new blends?

What has happened with our retail stores is they allow us to have direct contact with our customer. So if we want to try a new juice, we make it, we send it out to our stores. Within two weeks, we’ll know if this is a hot potato, or if this is a dud. We don’t have to do a whole bunch of R&D, we don’t have to do labels, we don’t have to get approval from a million Whole Foods or whomever. We can just try it in our stores, so they have become a great lab for us.

What are your most popular juices?

In a yoga studio or a health food store, Green Vegetable Juices perform much better. In more suburban areas, our fruit smoothies fruit/veggie blends are more popular. Green juices overall have become our most popular choices and this is very indicative of how our society overall is changing its diet.

How do changes in produce costs and availability affect what you offer?

There were several seasons where you just couldn’t get apples. So people who had huge contracts, the apples would be going to them. All of the sudden, you’re used to paying $90 a bin, and now bins [of apples] cost $150. It’s part of the business, you know? Since we’ve been in business, we started off at $3 per bottle, then we had this crazy pricing structure where it was 1 for $3, 2 for $5, 4 for $8. The most expensive juice we make now is $3.99, and the least expensive is $2.19. One of our missions was not only to make a great product, but to make it healthy, convenient and affordable. … So a lot of times when our produce costs go up, we just eat them.

You just opened a new retail store in Athens, your first outside of metro Atlanta. Why now and why Athens?

We have been interested in Athens for a while and the right location became available at the right time. We want to branch outside of Atlanta, but not too far that we can’t get there quickly [from East Point] should they need juice or anything else. It is our first step outside of our comfort zone of Atlanta. Athens is also a very dynamic, progressive community and we think that our store will be very popular there.

This interview originally appeared in Vol. 91, No. 1 of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.

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