Hanna Irwin, 46, and Albert Will, 45, saw the dollar signs in Y2K kitsch years before the ball touched down on the first day of 2000. They originally intended to trademark "Y2K" so clients of their Indianapolis marketing and consulting firm, Looking Glass Partners LLC, could buy the right to the catch phrase and exploit it based on their needs. In early 1997, Irwin and Will went ahead and trademarked "Y2K" as well as the phrases "Millennium Bug," "Uh 00H!" and "Sorry, it's a non-negotiable deadline" to name a few, but none of Looking Glass Partners' clients were biting.
You can probably chalk lack of interest up to the foreseeable lack of longevity in Y2K merchandise. After all, where are all those sites like AMillenniumStore.com and AY2KStore.com now? In cyberspace heaven. The current owner of "Y2KStore.com" has put the domain name up for sale, but who's going to bid on it? Maybe the same person who bought two "Vermont Y2K Lanterns" to get one free. But in 1997, Irwin and Will were convinced Y2K could be marketed well after the fact, based on confusion about when the new millennium actually began and the fact that a millennium lasts 1,000 years. So they decided to exploit it for themselves, launching Y2K Stuff, home to millennium-related apparel, gifts and toys.
In hindsight, "generally disappointing" is how Will describes the venture. "The real lesson is that every business has its own nuances and complexities that, when you're not in the business, you don't realize are there," he says. "When [Looking Glass Partners] got into Y2K, we got into two businesses we'd never been in: licensing and retail. Both are brutal businesses, and sometimes when you're embroiled in something new, you tend to underestimate just how different each business is."
There were painful "six-figure surprises" to deal with, not to mention snide comments at a retail trade show about marketing Y2K-but that stuff won't stop Looking Glass Partners from pursuing another novelty brand in the future when the time is right. But, says Will, "My eyes [will] be wide open to the difficulties, and not just to the opportunities."
- ECSA Inc., (800) 353-2867, www.electoralcollegeusa.com
- Robert Hisrich, (216) 368-5354, Rdh7@po.cwru.edu
- Randy Komisar, www.hbsp.harvard.edu