The Peter Van Stolk Era Nears End

Back in the summer of 1996, I met Peter Van Stolk on the steps of the “Gourmet Garage”, a trendy grocery store in Manhattan’s SoHo district.  Decked out in black Jones attire, Peter had just finished an in-store sampling of the Jones CSD lineup and he was pretty pumped….No surprise for a guy who was always working some sort of creative angle to sell his product.  In this case, the then unique flavors, such as Strawberry Lime, sold well in this hip part of town (at least by my recollection). 

And that’s what Jones – and Peter – were in 1996: hip.  “CSD” wasn’t considered the evil acronym that it is today and Jones’ bright, colorful, and modern look stuck with the trendsetters of the mid 1990’s.  Throw in Peter’s quirky entrepreneurial spirit, always casual appearance, and his “run with the little guy” mantra and it was an inspiring package – so much so that my meeting with Peter and subsequent correspondence is what inspired me to take a college hobby and turn it into this site that you’re reading right now.

In any event, Peter has made a memorable and fun contribution to the beverage industry….novelty sodas (we’ll never forget Turkey & Gravy), retail distribution with Starbucks and Target, online personalization of Jones Soda through myjones.com, use of four letter words when speaking to a room full of suits, NFL and NBA deals, and landing on Jim Cramer on CNBC. 

Unfortunately, though, Peter’s ability to generate PR and come up with creative ideas were at odds with the company’s need to have strong fundamentals and growth for its shareholders.   What it had going in the mid-1990s didn’t evolve as the industry did….and creativity wasn’t tempered with business sensibility (case in point: Whoop Ass).  As a result, the company missed big opportunities in energy drinks and functional water.   

Ultimately, this left Jones doing the same old CSD routine and it struggled to find new ways to push the flagship Jones line.  The expectations were high and Peter proved to be out of his league with the Target concentrate deal.   Losing placement in Starbucks didn’t help things either.  Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back – a crash of the stock and earnings that left most supporters, including Jim Cramer, with their pants down.  It’s clearly time for a change. 

Peter’s place on the board of directors will probably be a much better use of his skill set – and hopefully one that’s more satisfying for Peter personally — assuming he can get beyond the damaged ego that he’s likely to have from leaving his day-to-day role of almost 12 years.   Peter’s knack for creative marketing is unquestioned – it’s the execution of that creative marketing, as well as the focus on the company’s fundamentals that should be handed over to someone more seasoned.