The folks at Jones Soda
Chairman and CEO Peter Van Stolk has announced that he will step down at the end of the month. On an interim basis, he will be replaced by a pair of board members, who both come with seasoned resumes, having previously worked for brand juggernauts such as Starbucks
However, they've gained all that experience as marketing executives, and that isn't what Jones needs now. It already oozes personality and brand appeal. Instead, the company needs an operating guru who can turn a rapidly growing beverage company with spotty profitability into a thick-margined market darling.
The market seems to agree. The stock has risen 6% on Van Stolk's departure, in hopes that a new chieftain can uncork the company's true earnings potential.
It's hard to knock Stolk, because he built the company from the ground up. As a whirlwind of creativity, Stolk helped Jones redefine what a premium soda bottler can become. The user-submitted photographic labels, the eclectic holiday flavor collections, and the colorful traditional selections all stand out wherever Jones is sold.
Under Stolk's watch, Jones has also branched out from its flagship bottled soft drinks. After an initial distribution deal with Target
You had me at "how low?"
Sticking to the sports theme, shareholders have been channeling Rod Tidwell these days. You know, Cuba Gooding Jr. as the cash-starved Arizona Cardinals wide receiver in Jerry Maguire.
"Show me the money!"
Yeah, that guy.
Well, the money hasn't been coming. Jones shocked investors last month when it posted a small third-quarter loss. It had merely broken even during the two previous quarters. Burned analysts had expected reasonable profits in all three periods.
"When are you going to make money?" a frustrated analyst asked Stolk during the company's second-quarter conference call this summer. The question won't go away, and come next year, there will be someone new on Jones' end to answer it.
Will anyone twist the cap?
The right CEO will be able to work wonders with Jones Soda. It's an established brand, even if it can claim only a tiny market-share sliver relative to pop stars Coca-Cola and PepsiCo
But with Van Stolk stepping down and a CEO search in full swing over the next few months at Jones, Coke and Pepsi will find plenty of time to jockey for position if the notion of acquiring Jones ever comes into play. Maybe Jones will never even get to the point of needing a new CEO.
Coke and Pepsi, after all, have a history of buying niche players that they think may come to sap their own syrup-peddling businesses. Whether it's Gatorade, VitaminWater, or Odwalla, the two titans of pop don't hesitate to buy up their threats.
Jones Soda may not appear to be a threat, but aren't the venue exclusivity deals with the Seahawks and the Nets ultimately about making a splash in high-margin fountain sales? If that's the case, won't Jones be gunning for the casual-dining, quick-service, and convenience-store chains that Coke and Pepsi typically carve out between themselves?
Coke and Pepsi can wait for Jones to land a seasoned fountain-sales vet as its next CEO -- and if they did, they'd be forced to battle against a company that brings personality to the pouring-rights table -- or they can make a move now, while the company is still rocking in the crib, with more questions than answers.
Still, I'm not going to pound the table professing Jones Soda as a buyout play, because I think the company has all of the right ingredients to make an organic run at greatness. A new CEO will help. At the very least, we can hope that having a new chief will get the bottom line to move in the same upward direction as the top line. Of course, I obviously won't scoff at a buyout at a healthy premium. A bidding war can also go a long way with a company this small.
The next few months will be interesting, to say the least. I recommended shares of Jones Soda to subscribers of the Rule Breakers newsletter service two months ago. It hasn't been a banner call for me, especially when the shares got slammed after last month's third-quarter dud of a report.
I'll leave the challenge of sorting it all out to those folks in the Jones flavor lab. They've gone through a gamut of flavors over the years. Now let's see Jones drum up a flavor that shareholders will enjoy this time.
Other ways to keep up with the Joneses:
Jones Soda is a Rule Breakers newsletter stock pick. Coca-Cola has made the cut as an Inside Value recommendation. Starbucks is a Stock Advisor selection. Want to drink from the free-flowing fountain of market-thumping stock ideas? All three newsletter services qualify for a free 30-day taste test. Drink up!
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoyed the Jones Soda candy-corn, pumpkin, and caramel-apple sodas that Target sold for Halloween two years ago. He also owns shares in Jones Soda and is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.