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A high-energy entrepreneur revs it up

C.J. Rapp:
A high-energy entrepreneur revs it up

C.J. Rapp is thirsty for more.
The man who introduced caffeine-laden soft drinks to an entire generation is set to launch Power Station, a merchandising concept that combines fountain dispensers and coolers under the banner “Liquidz You Can Feel.”
The units hold what the Jolt Cola creator describes as “stimulating beverages,” including Jolt, XTC energy drink and Krank2O, a caffeine-based bottled water that is “for people who want the stimulation but don’t want the calories.”
Power Station also will feature new items such as a high-energy tea called VelociTea, a sports drink named Zone and Outburst caffeinated juice.
“Power Station is taking it to the next level,” says Rapp, president and CEO of Global Beverage Co. “We’re taking advantage of the need for stimulating beverages and creating entire categories.”
He thinks the Power Station concept will gain steam as more consumers seek out premium soft drinks. College campuses and convenience stores will be the focal points of distribution in North America.
In addition to Power Station, Global Beverage this year launched First Tee, a line of premium iced teas and fruit-flavored drinks developed exclusively for the golf market in meccas such as Palm Springs and Monterey, Calif.; Hilton Head, S.C.; and Rochester. Already, most of the major golf facilities here have agreed to carry the line, Rapp says.
Jerry Infantino, owner of Infantino Associates Inc., Global Beverage’s advertising agency of record, says Rapp has proved he knows how to develop successful new products. His firm, which has worked with Rapp for 11 years, recently designed the packaging and advertising for First Tee and Power Station.
“New products come, new products go–if a company introduces one or two successful new products out of 10, they’re doing well,” Infantino says. “(Most) companies don’t have the kind of success C.J. has with new products.”
Other small beverage companies that started up around the time Jolt hit the market, such as Shasta and Clearly Canadian, have died out, Infantino notes.
Rapp thinks diversifying the company’s product portfolio will add both strength and stability.
“We become less dependent on one single brand,” he explains.
Rapp learned his lesson early on.
Introduced in March 1986, Jolt Cola became an overnight cult phenomenon. Promising twice the caffeine of regular sodas, Jolt was particularly successful on college campuses.
The idea for Jolt came to Rapp when he was a student at SUNY College at Potsdam, where students were grinding up caffeine tablets and mixing the powder into drinks for all-nighters.
“Jolt was a response to the peak of the health-food craze,” Rapp says. “We put back what others took away.”
Initially a test-market product, Jolt Cola hit the jackpot three days after its launch when talk-show host David Letterman joked about the product on his show. Instantly, everyone wanted to try Jolt.
The Jolt Cola produced for the 12-week test period sold out in three weeks.
“We were thrown into a reaction mode in terms of filling consumer demand,” he recalls.
The cola initially was distributed only on the East Coast. Enterprising college students stocked up on Jolt to sell it at West Coast schools for $7 to $10 a can, Rapp says.
As Jolt took off, Rapp made the rounds on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” CBS News and CNN. Magazines such as Time and People ran stories on the up-and-coming entreprenuer.
But Jolt’s fizz soon turned flat in the media and the marketplace.
“(Some people) drank Jolt for the shock value,” Rapp says. “That infatuation fell off in the second year.”
After a meteoric rise, Jolt’s sales plummeted 44 percent in the second year.
“We realized the novelty of Jolt would come to an abrupt end,” he says. “We wanted to give it a purpose that would enable us to build a foundation.”
In 1987, Rapp resolved to rebuild the Jolt brand name. The cola was marketed as a premium product, and the firm began to expand globally.
Jolt sales rebounded to increase a modest 3 percent in 1988 and have continued upward each year since then, with growth ranging from 6 percent to 18 percent.
Once Jolt sales stabilized, Rapp began to explore new products.
“The guy’s a survivor,” beverage consultant Tom Pirko of Bevmark LLC says. “(Rapp) gets respect in the business for keeping things afloat.”
The specialty-beverage industry is extremely competitive, with players entering and dropping out of the game regularly. Anything outside of the mainstream is a potential competitor, Rapp says, pointing to Snapple, Mountain Dew and Arizona brand products as examples.
Competing products are not the only challenge Rapp faces. Securing shelf space at retail outlets and persuading distributors to carry his lines also can be difficult.
Rapp’s expansion into foreign markets stands among his more shrewd moves. Jolt has been particularly successful in Asia. It now ranks third in the Japanese soft-drink market behind only Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.
The high-demand lifestyles in Asian countries might be a key reason for Jolt’s success there, Rapp observes. He thinks there is a need for stimulating beverages globally.
“Our lifestyles are much more demanding today,” he says. “To us, it’s logical that the choice of beverage will change with lifestyles. Consumers are looking for value-added products that provide maximum stimulation.”
With his short-cropped hair, wire-rim glasses and conservative attire, Rapp easily could pass for a banker. But his lifestyle is pure Jolt, requiring him to balance 12-hour workdays, overseas travels, time with his family and his passion for hockey (he played in college and in a local league).
He drinks three to four Jolts a day to keep his energy level up.
“He has a drive that is unbelievable and he likes to be challenged,” says Rapp’s wife, Linda. “He’s a very determined person and he always sets high goals.”
Linda Rapp met her future husband while they were both students at SUNY Potsdam. Even as a college student, she says, Rapp always had a vision.
“He has mellowed around the edges a little,” she observes. “He’s evolved into a more mature person.”
Yet Rapp still is drawn to youth. He frequents college campuses and often solicits opinions from students on trends and popular culture.
This summer, Rapp is sponsoring an extreme bicycle race geared to college students nationwide. Engineering students at Rochester Institute of Technology are building a five-person in-line bicycle capable of speeds up to 70 miles an hour.
The race is slated to begin at RIT, and tour various campuses across the country while alternating team members. The finish line will be at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The youth market is especially important for his products, says Rapp, explaining his sponsorship of events such as the extreme bicycle race and sports like snowboarding.
“We’ve improved our brand loyalty with college students and young people,” he says, adding that such loyalty often continues when college students become young professionals.
In 1995, Rapp changed his company’s name from Jolt Co. Inc. to Global Beverage, and began to market products under the Wet Planet Beverages name.
“Because we (had) diversified, we felt a name change was necessary,” he explains. “Global served as an incentive to think globally.”
At the same time, the flagship product changed visually. Out went the comic-book look of the packaging; a striking gold-and-black design replaced the old red, white and blue graphics.
Two products were launched that same year: Blu Botol and Pirate’s Keg. Blu Botol is premium Canadian Rocky Mountain spring water. Pirate’s Keg is a line of gourmet soft drinks in flavors such as orange and cream, and root beer.
Jolt remains Global’s core product, accounting for more than 50 percent of total sales. The Pirate’s Keg line is second in sales at 20 percent followed by Blu Botol with 15 percent. Other products, including recently introduced Jolt candy and Jolt power bar, make up the remainder of company sales.
Consultant Pirko thinks Global Beverage’s recently introduced products are nothing new, especially the energy drinks and bottled water.
“He needs another, not-yet-found concept for staying power,” Pirko says.
Infantino disagrees.
“(Rapp’s) a visionary,” he says.
What makes Rapp so successful is his ability to motivate others, Infantino says. “He’s quick to recognize people’s achievements other than his own.”
Brian Creary, Global Beverage vice president of international marketing, echoes Infantino.
“I think C.J. has the opinion that if you treat people right, they’re going to give it their all,” he says.
Creary adds that Rapp’s respect for his business partners has helped open new markets.
With the firm’s products now in 22 countries, Rapp frequently travels overseas to find additional international partners.
Many foreign markets remain untapped, Rapp says. Most of Global’s products have not expanded internationally beyond Asia and Northern Europe.
Rapp declined to disclose company sales, but offered this comparison: “The big companies are in the billions; we’re in the millions.”
In a $53 billion U.S. industry, Global Beverage sales represent only a fraction of the total. Eighteen employees work at the firm’s Rochester headquarters, and three outside salespeople travel between different distribution areas.
“As small as we are, the influence of Global has been profound,” Rapp says.
His goal is not to build the next Coca-Cola Co. He thinks Global Beverage always will be a firm that offers niche products containing the highest-quality ingredients.
Rapp is an optimist, but not one to shrug at good fortune. Every day he carries with him a casino chip to pay homage to chance and a rabbit’s foot for good luck.

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