'How we made a dormant business successful again'

My Business speaks with the husband and wife team behind Jack N’ Jill, an Australian-made range of natural oral care products for babies and children, about their respective takes on the business and on working with each other.

Many Australians may remember growing up using Jack N’ Jill toothpaste, given that it was something of a household name between the 1950s and 1970s.

Yet the brand disappeared and was left idle until Rachel and Justin Bernhaut resurrected it.

After a rebrand and a product rethink, Jack N’ Jill products are now stocked on the shelves of selected health food stores and pharmacies in 35 countries, as well as online. 

My Business: What is your professional background?

Rachel Bernhaut: Until the age of 30, I dedicated my life to being a dancer. Following that, I studied and worked as a photographer for 10 years – during which time I met the love of my life. I also did a wide variety of jobs to support my creative careers, [including] cleaning houses, baking croissants at 4am, marketing for dance companies, waitressing and painting houses.

Justin Bernhaut: Bachelor of Pharmacy (Monash University); Diploma of Photography (RMIT University).

MB: How did you come to be involved in the business?

RB: We were open to another career path once we had our children, and freelance work was too unpredictable. We wanted to run our own business where we were able to put 300 per cent into it and hopefully get 300 per cent back.

JB: Jack N’ Jill was a dormant, family-owned brand. After having children, we recognised that there was an opportunity for a contemporary children’s oral care brand with particular focus on natural and eco awareness.


MB: What are the biggest benefits of working with your partner?

RB: We share every aspect of our lives and we completely trust each other’s abilities and decisions.

JB: Pure, unfiltered honesty. Our arrangement only works because of the implicit trust we share. Both of us have different perspectives but share a common vision for Jack N’ Jill. This allows us to cover twice as many bases and evolve development ideas into refined outcomes.

MB: Conversely, what unique challenges does this present you with?

RB: The occasional fiery moments – though this does keep the passion alive.

JB: It’s impossible to leave work at the office; [we have] endless discussions about every single detail. Although these are challenges, they are integral to both growing a successful business and to how we personally function as individuals, and as a couple.

MB: Explain the transition from commercial photographers to oral care products manufacturers.

RB: The transition became a blend of everything we had done in our lives so far, used in a new context. Nothing we have done in our previous lives has been wasted. My years as a dancer gave me a commitment and work ethic that drives me into each day with a force of determination to succeed. Many ex-dancers out there learned at a young age the true meaning of hard work, and this is something you can’t underestimate.

JB: The transition was more about moving from a small, self-employed business context to a larger scale entrepreneurial vehicle where we could scale up our business on a global stage. Fundamentally, we transitioned from selling ourselves as photographers to selling our brand and the products we design and produce. The separation allows for much greater expansion because we can offer many different products to a wider variety of customers.

One of the key areas that can dictate success or otherwise in photography is one’s ability to problem solve and improvise quickly within an ever-changing environment. Years of honing these skills have been invaluable to us at Jack N’ Jill.

“We regularly hear from people who grew up with Jack N’ Jill, and we cherish the idea that the current generation of kids will be able to remember the brand fondly when they have their own kids.”

MB: Why was the decision made to overhaul the existing company, rather than establish your own?

RB: The name Jack N’ Jill is just perfect: there is a history with the brand since 1949 and an amount of sentimentality.

JB: Essentially we did establish our own company, including a brand-new corporate structure. We could see the potentially re-invigorated value of the Jack N’ Jill brand, with its old-world charm and touch of nostalgia. The simplicity of a nursery rhyme like Jack and Jill represents old-fashioned values and [the] purity of childhood – perfect for a natural and eco children’s brand for the parents of today.

MB: What challenges did you face in overhauling such a long-established brand?

RB: Historically, the brand has been popular with families in Australia, so the challenges were more related to dusting off the old manufacturing equipment (stored for years in a factory) and getting the first batch of 50,000 tubes made.

JB: The challenges we have faced have been many; however, we haven’t faced any challenges associated with a long-established brand. Jack N’ Jill was dormant for long enough to evoke nostalgic feelings in those who remember it. We regularly hear from people who grew up with Jack N’ Jill, and we cherish the idea that the current generation of kids will be able to remember the brand fondly when they have their own kids.

MB: Who would you say is the real innovator or ideas person between the two of you?

RB: People often ask us that – during our years in New York working as a creative team in photography, we slowly learnt to take the competition and ownership out of our efforts and work as a united voice. It is our secret strength and has a huge amount to do with the success of our business.

JB: My background is the sciences [and] Rachel’s is humanities, but essentially we are both creatives with pragmatic sensibilities. I can truthfully say that we contribute equally with regard to innovations.

MB: If you were given unlimited resources to change one thing about the business, what would it be?

RB: To give our amazing staff everything they can dream of and more.

JB: If we could accelerate the processes that govern the implementation of new ideas and changes – that would be my only request.

MB: Finish this sentence – ‘My best decision working within the business was…’

RB: … to stop trying to manage alone (after three years) and take on staff and outsource support.

JB: … to take the plunge from concept to action. Many people have much bigger and better ideas than we do, but fail to launch for all manner of reasons.

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