Daviot Kelly, Gleaner Writer
IT'S NOT Dora The Explorer, but Johnathon Kelly is hoping his JuiceMan brand will get to those lofty levels.
JuiceMan was inspired by observing his young son watching cartoons.
"I was a little taken aback by the fact that everything was North American," he said. "We have Dora, we have SpongeBob, but we don't have any Jamaican character that actually stands out." So JuiceMan was created to represent good values using a Caribbean flavour, but for children worldwide.
"The juice man is a central character in any community," he said. "He's recognisable not only on our local shores, but beyond as well, which is a big part of my market."
Typical juice men sell things that are nourishing and wholesome, and his brand seeks to do the same. Products include printed and interactive tablet versions of books, mobile games, an animated series called Little Patch and an interactive website, all of which blend healthy living, technology and our Jamaican culture.
"It's all about engaging them in the medium that they are gravitating toward, which is the tablet and the TV," he said. "So we are mixing technology with healthy, Caribbean living." Aiden and the Apple Tree, which is a book and mobile app, is his first successful product. Despite being in major local bookstores, he admits most of his orders come from overseas.
"I didn't know selling Jamaica to Jamaicans would be difficult," he said. "But it has been a very hard sell." He also feels children's material is ignored because it's not a 'sexy' market. The indifferent interest also hindered him getting loans, so much of what he spent to build JuiceMan was out of pocket.
"I wanted to quit up to last year because it wasn't moving at the pace I liked," he revealed. "There's only so much that you can take out of your personal savings." A grant in 2012 from Jamaica Business Development Corporation helped him print books, and that spurred him on. As a member of the Jamaica Exporters' Association, he sees information technology as viable export being underutilised.
"It's not just yam and banana that can go overseas and bring back foreign exchange."
Using his laptop and tablet as his office, he keeps his overhead costs low. Kelly advised business aspirants to taper expectations, think about the sustainability of the brand, and know their market. He encouraged prospective business owners to keep up with the rapidly changing technology and try to stand out.
"I look to see what everybody else is doing, and then I do something else. It's the road less travelled. It's a harder road, and it's a very lonely road," he said. "But I believe the rewards of being there first will pay off."
Board game coming, too
Kelly already has more books and even a Jamaican-themed board game in the works. But for now, he is looking at expanding the popularity of JuiceMan, particularly with more mobile apps.
"I'm trying to stay away from stuff like the T-shirts and the postcards. Maybe later on," he said. "Those have to be able to sell themselves." He said he is also thinking about going into licensing, and even a theme park with a difference.
"It would more focus on things that parents don't do, like have places they can read to their children," he said. "We could set up little rides that don't use electricity, stuff like that." He's grateful for the trials, as he feels they have helped him take a brick-by-brick approach for which he is now seeing the benefits.
"I am very happy now. We are out and people are asking about it, and people recognise it and are buying the book."