Not bugged by Y2K worries

This month’s question

What are your Y2K concerns?

None of the catalogers we spoke to this month claim to be particularly concerned with the possibility of a “millennium bug.” Only one cataloger says that his vendors have asked him to sign contracts that relieve them from any liability should they experience Y2K glitches. But all the small mailers have nonetheless taken steps to avoid problems that could arise when the year changes to 2000, such as updating their computer systems to be Y2K-compliant. And most are banking on their vendors and shipping partners being ready for Y2K.

Joe Kawaky is president of Captn. Jack’s Software Source, a Port Ludlow, WA-based catalog of nautical software and books. Annual sales, less than $10 million; annual circulation, 100,000.

So far, we have no real Y2K concerns. We’re planning to upgrade our mail order management software, but that’s about it. Maybe we’re missing out on something, but other people aren’t very alarmed, either.

For instance, none of our vendors have asked us to sign liability waivers, and none of our customers have expressed any concern with our Y2K-compliance or that of the products we sell. And as far as our shipping issues are concerned, we ship exclusively Federal Express, which of course has high economic incentives to go unimpeded through the New Year, so I don’t imagine we’ll have any problems.

We have spent $15,000 to install a multichannel uninterruptible power supply and a back-up generator, but not because of Y2K concerns. We did it because we are based in such a rural area that it’s not uncommon for us to lose power during the winter.

I think for most small catalogs the critical Y2K issues include upgrading software, maintaining inventory, and making sure the phone systems are compliant. My customers would understand certain glitches, but they wouldn’t be too forgiving if the phones were down.

Paula Pennypacker is founder/ president of Sedona, AZ-based Just for Redheads, a catalog of beauty items for women with red hair. Annual sales, $1 million-$2 million; annual circulation, 150,000.

We’re fully prepared for Y2K, and we have made sure that all of our software is compliant, so we don’t anticipate any real problems. On the supplier side, none of our vendors have asked us to sign liability waivers, and all of them claim to be Y2K-compliant already. As for our shippers, we depend on the U.S. Postal Service for all of our delivery, and I would guess that the Y2K issue is something it has fully covered.

We have had to overhaul our credit card processing system, however, because customer credit cards with expiration dates of “00” weren’t being read. It wasn’t a problem when customers placed their orders, since the orders weren’t disrupted, and the customers would get their merchandise. But the credit card companies weren’t registering the orders because our computer system didn’t process them, and therefore we weren’t getting the money for the sale. We took care of it when we first encountered the problem early this year.

Acy Crawford is the general manager of Rome, GA-based Wall Street Creations, a catalog of finance-related gifts. Annual sales, $5 million-$10 million; annual circulation, 5 million.

We try not to dwell on the Y2K issues, because we think we’re covered. We made sure that our most recently purchased computers and phones were Y2K-compliant when we bought them. And we’ve had a couple of computers that have needed tweaking, but otherwise, we think our systems are pretty up-to-date.

As for our vendors, we have had one or two ask us to sign waivers that would free them from any liability in the event that they experience any serious, service-disrupting Y2K problems. But of the hundreds of vendors we have, the fact that we were confronted with only a few liability waivers makes the issue seem pretty minor.

We’ve heard nothing about Y2K from our shippers. We ship via many services – U.S. Postal Service, Airborne Express, UPS, and Roadway Packaging System – and we haven’t yet heard from any of them regarding liability. I would imagine that they are compliant and don’t anticipate any problems.

None of our customers have expressed any concern regarding our compliance, but many of them are brokers and others who work in the financial industry. I’m sure they’re more concerned with other things that could go seriously wrong within their own industry. I would certainly hope that their buying habits would not be altered by any Y2K issues they might experience themselves.

Lorie Graff is owner of Jehlor Fantasy Fabrics, a Seattle-based catalog of fabrics and textiles for dance and other performance costumes. Annual sales, $300,000; annual circulation, more than 5,000.

I am in a unique position in that my husband is a Y2K expert. He works for a private utility company here in Washington State, so he serves as my personal consultant of sorts. I don’t anticipate any problems. My inventory is all computerized, and as far as I know, my computer system is Y2K-compliant.

My husband feels the panic about Y2K is overblown and that the real problems are going to be only minor. I wouldn’t want to be on an airplane on New Year’s, since the global positioning system for our satellites may not be compliant, but I am otherwise not concerned about Y2K.

None of my customers have mentioned that they have Y2K concerns about service. And none of my vendors have asked me to sign anything that would waive their liability if I am inconvenienced by any problems they have. UPS is only two doors down the street from me, and I’m not worried about its service being disrupted.

Bigger catalogers are different. I would think they are more likely to be affected by problems than we are, because their systems are more complicated and their volume of business is so much larger. But as a small cataloger, I don’t feel that I have to worry about it too much. And my husband’s expertise in the matter has had a calming influence on me.

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