- BC Games
Jonesing for innovation
Peter van Stolk’s secret to success is plain and simple: Play by your own set of rules.
Sporting jeans and a shaved head, the CEO of Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD) rolls up in a Yamaha scooter to his interview at Delany’s Coffee House in Edgemont Village.
He masterfully makes his trademark emotional connection within the first five minutes. Spying an iPhone 5 on the table, he asks this Outlook reporter if she's upgraded to the last firmware.
Van Stolk seemingly has an infinite amount of time to spend, not once reaching for his phone or making mention of his next meeting. With 225 employees stationed from Calgary to California in the fold and a radical marketing strategy in the pipeline, van Stolk's plate is full.
Still, he settles in to foster this new connection through a candid conversation about carving his own path in life. When his father, a psychiatrist, advised a 19-year-old van Stolk to finish college, the self-described professional ski bum made other plans.
He skewered fruit in a rented church basement before peddling the edible art on the streets of Edmonton, where van Stolk grew up. That humble business venture blossomed into a beverage distributor gig, which was the genesis of Jones Soda Co.
The scrappy soda company was the underdog that took on soft drink titans Coke and Pepsi and left a bite.
Entering into that multi-billion-dollar arena, van Stolk needed an edge. He took the counterculture route, distributing Jones Soda to clothing and music stores, and tattoo and piercing parlors.
And who could forget those quirky soda flavours: turkey and gravy, certified Kosher ham and Christmas tree, to name but three.
An early adopter of social media, van Stolk was lauded for his emotional attachment marketing strategy of plastering fan-submitted photos on soda bottles. In 2000, van Stolk was named one of the top 20 marketers in the world.
“I'm standing on stage in New York at the Waldorf Astoria and the guy next to me had a budget of 1.1 billion dollars, and my budget, I think, was 65,000 dollars,” he recalls, still baffled to this day.
During his journey with Jones, which lead him to setting up a headquarters in Seattle, van Stolk collected exclusive marketing contracts with Sony, Starbucks, Target, Mattel and ESPN.
In 2007, Jones sacked Coke and Pepsi to become the official soft drink of the Seattle Seahawks — in what was van Stolk's parting legacy before stepping down as Jones' chairman and CEO in December of that year.
So how did van Stolk get the Seahawks in the Jones camp? The same way he tackles all of his business deals.
"It's really very easy, actually," he explains. "It's how you establish a relationship at a party. There's the introduction phase. You find aligned interests."
Van Stolk is currently focused on growing SPUD, which, wherever possible, sources its produce and groceries from local vendors including Two Rivers Meats in North Van.
He makes a convincing case for organic grocery delivery: Imagine what you could do with those extra three hours a week spent in the supermarket.
Van Stolk points to Europe, where skyrocketing gas prices have driven consumers to their computers for grocery shopping; in some regions online sales represents 12 per cent of grocery industry revenues.
With gas prices on a steady uptick in North America, van Stolk predicts 3 to 5 per cent of groceries will be bought online in Vancouver in five years.
"Online grocery is the last frontier in sort of the big consumer product category — and there's no one playing," he says.
Van Stolk is now planting the seeds to market online grocery shopping in way that has never been done before. All will be revealed in four months — but, for now, all van Stolk will say is that it will be as cutting edge as the Jones Soda labels .
"I think it's that cool," says van Stolk. "It's about cracking the code. I can assure you no one else is doing it."
But he won't take all the credit. Van Stolk stated his greatest wealth comes from listening to people, during his Ted talk at Capilano University a few years ago.
On the first Tuesday of every month, he invites SPUD employees to bring forth their suggestions to improve the company, one of whom inspired the company's name change. Originally, SPUD stood for Small Potatoes Urban Delivery.
"I've always said I know marketing — and I'm not that great a marketer, I'm a good listener," says van Stolk of the value of employee input.
When he's not revolutionizing the world of consumerism, van Stolk donates his time to various charities including Vitamin Angels, a non-profit organization that provides lifesaving micronutrients to mothers and children in developing countries.
"My legacy is not going to be Jones Soda, my legacy is going to be now," says van Stolk.