Y2K merchandise scored big in ’99

Even if your catalog didn’t peddle Y2K-themed candles, champagne flutes, or collectibles, millennial merchandise was ubiquitous in 1999. But did it sell? The catalogers we surveyed report that consumers did indeed respond with their wallets to Y2K hype, pleasantly surprising some leery merchandisers.

“After getting on the [Y2K] bandwagon early, we all got a little nervous,” says Jacksonville, FL-based catalog merchandiser Leila Griffith. “But offers to upper- and middle-market customers did well. Generally, when catalogs included one or two millennium items in the mix, they sold.”

Kitchen and home goods marketer Crate & Barrel included exactly two Y2K items – both wineglasses – in its holiday catalog. Spokeswoman Bette Kahn says the Northbrook, IL-based cataloger/retailer didn’t expect the glasses to be an instant hit. “We wondered whether they’d be the biggest thing since sliced bread or a bomb. They turned out to be terrific – we sold out well in advance.”

Although wine glasses aren’t among Northfield, IL-based upmarket gifts catalog Eximious’s merchandise selection, CEO Jeff Parnell says some of the book’s best sellers included “any champagne- or wine-oriented product, anything with a celebratory theme – not just millennial. Our customers love to entertain.”

Parnell allows that some of the items exceeded expectations but says he wasn’t surprised by their success. “We planned from day one to sell these products in the fourth quarter.” Top sellers spanned a broad range of price points, including a millennium-themed Limoges porcelain box ($150) and foil party crackers ($22.50).

A star is born

Gifts and home goods catalogers weren’t the only ones selling millennium-inspired goods. Early in 1999, Cottage Grove, OR-based Territorial Seed Co. was already witnessing the success of its Millennium Victory Garden – an assortment of open-pollinated seeds, whose fruits produce viable seeds (just in case food supplies were damaged as a result of Y2K). And to the delight of owner Tom Johns, robust sales of the product continued through the 1999 planting season and into 2000. “It turned out to be the most profitable, highest-selling item in our 21-year history,” Johns says.

Although the Millennium Victory Garden was introduced to allow Y2K-wary gardeners to grow their own food and collect their own seeds, the quiet passing of the calendar change spawned neither a flurry of returns nor a stoppage of sales. “I don’t know that we can expect the sales we saw last year,” Johns says, “but the underlying fact is that it’s a good product that appeals to gardeners.”

Griffith doesn’t think other catalogers will suffer from a Christmas 2000 letdown due to a lack of millennium-themed products, either. “The year 2000 created a product category that wasn’t available in the past and won’t be in the future. But that’s not to say we won’t find new and different products next year. It’s what good merchandisers do.”

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