Driven

Arden’s Garden: Atlanta juice maker takes on national brands and wins

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By:  Aaron Task

Across the country, Americans are trying to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle. With everything from a quick fresh juice pick-me-up to a 21-day "cleanse" program, Arden's Garden is a must-stop for the health-conscious in Atlanta.

Arden's Garden is a family-owned business, but this is no ordinary family. The company was founded by exercise pioneer Arden Zinn, who had over 2-dozen exercise studios in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s and was a correspondent on CNN in the network's early days. Tiny, but powerful, Zinn was also an exercise coach for the Atlanta Falcons, long before the days when NFL players were doing yoga -- or anything other than lifting weights.

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Unfortunately, the business hit hard times and Zinn decided to focus on what people were putting in their bodies. For years, she had coveted a high-end Norwalk juicer but could never afford it or justify the expense of nearly $2000. In 1992 she bought one anyway and started making juice in her kitchen. After first giving it to friends, Zinn then began trying to sell it in 1994. But fresh juice is a hard business -- the product doesn't last very long and she was on the brink of failure almost before she got started. Then someone gave her the idea of trying hair salons. With her young children in tow, Zinn would go door-to-door to salons across Atlanta carrying mason jars full of of fresh juice. Everyone thought she was crazy but Zinn found a captive audience in salons, with cash on hand. It was a formula for success. Within weeks they had a loyal following in salons all over Atlanta and, in 1995, Arden's Garden was born.

The business has come a long way from those unconventional beginnings. Today, Arden's Garden has 6 stores in Atlanta and sells its bottled juices in 5 states, Georgia, Florida, N. Carolina, S. Carolina and Tennessee, as well as on-line nationwide. The company had nearly $3 million in sales in 2011 and is projecting growth of 20% to 25% this year.

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Arden's Garden is now run by Zinn's daughter Leslie, who was the top-ranked gymnast in the state of Georgia as a teenager. Like I said, this is no ordinary family: Leslie's father is a world-renowned scientist who played soccer for the U.S. national team in the late 1950s. Her maternal grandfather played soccer on the Hungarian national team.

This is a family with a tradition of health, perseverance, and commitment to excellence. Leslie Zinn's would need all of that and more to overcome the obstacles in her life. After a growth-spurt stopped her gymnastics career, she fell into drug and alcohol addiction during her college years. She now credits her rehabilitation from those very dark days, and the obstacles she later faced as a single mother, to the success Arden's Garden is having today. Overcoming these challenges "made me stronger and more confident as a business person and as a woman," Zinn says. "And it's helped me understand that I will continue to grow, and I will continue to succeed. I don't give up."

Not giving up became an absolute necessity in 2003, when the business was nearly dealt a fatal blow when its largest customer, Publix, pulled the juice from its shelves in favor of a national brand, Odwalla, which is owned by industry giant Coca Cola. "On a Friday afternoon Publix called me and said 'are you sitting down? And they said 'we are going to stop taking product from you starting tomorrow,' she recalls. "And I literally thought I wouldn't be able to breathe. I was terrified."

But Leslie, who had just made a big investment to expand Arden's Garden, wasn't going down without a fight. "I took the weekend and I gathered myself but when I came back on Monday I had a plan," she says. "I didn't know if the plan was gonna work but at least I was taking action." She stared down the big boys the by writing an email to her 35 closest friends, customers, suppliers and media contacts, asking for their help. That one email sparked a 3000-strong letter-writing campaign to demand Arden's Garden products be put back on the shelves. Overwhelmed by the show of support and passion of Arden's Garden loyalist, Publix reversed course and ended up putting the products in 200 more stores than before.

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Now, Arden's Garden is thriving and plans to expand beyond its Atlanta roots. The Zinns believe they have found a formula for success that can help people in cities in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. live healthier lifestyles too. Leslie Zinn is thriving at home too. She's married now and the proud mother of four children, including three she had during her 40s -- itself is a testament to her strength. Leslie now has the family of her dreams and prospects are on the rise for Arden's Garden, where she's keeping alive her mother's dream of helping people be their healthy best.

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The Driven Team is on a nationwide search for the next entrepreneur to be featured in an upcoming episode!  Share your story with us at Driven@yahoo-inc.com or follow us on twitter @aarontask #drivenstories.

Video produced by Scott Fraser and Jessica Ashford. Production by Michael Manas, Josh Kesner, Doug Moore, Bob Miller and Hector Amador. Edited by Ryan Fritzsche. Graphics by Todd Tanner For Yahoo! Studios. Executive Producers: Russ Torres and Peter Gorenstein.

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