'Be Prepared' Not Just a Motto in Post-Y2K Era

Never mind the bunkers. Jeff Mangerpan spent his New Year's weekend at home in sunny Santa Barbara, Calif., with his family.

Mangerpan, a co-founder of Sierra Surplus, a Massachusetts-based retailer, took the same relaxed attitude toward the Y2K bug as most Americans.

"It really hasn't been a problem," he says. Although he did get a phone call from an auction site last week where workers were wondering how to handle returned collections of bulk food, water purifiers and other items stocked up in preparation for disruption.

"The jokes are that people are stuck with cellars of Spam, but that's such a minority. We haven't had that many people come to us, but we'll willingly take it back."

"Companies like Sears and Home Depot are able to set firm return policies," he adds. "They have very little to lose by upsetting a customer. We can't screw this up. ... The common computer user, not the Internet wizards, they want a good experience. We have to be prepared to give it to them."

The company's Web site, which has been up for two and a half years, has been very good to the store. "It outperformed our two brick-and-mortar stores" in Gloucester, Mass., and Georgetown, Mass.

Jeff Manning of Manning Service Inc. is also glad the new year arrived safely, perhaps allowing him to pause for breath. "We were swamped for the last year and a half on heaters, lanterns and accessories."

The bulk of last year's heater business happened in December. "We sent a lot up to Canada, over to Europe. We had a dealer in Iceland." They even shipped heaters - some of which are made in Japan - back to the country to help satisfy a high demand.

Manning said he hadn't received many post-holiday calls. "We did get a lot of e-mails from people who were very happy with the services, who said they were going to keep the heaters, because you never know when you're going to need them. We probably only had two or three heaters returned out of the thousands we've sold."

Although the company's Web site has been up for four years, the e-commerce wave hasn't washed over their home base in Saratoga, Indiana, 40 miles east of Muncie. "We don't take orders over the Internet - we don't have a secured server. But we probably get about a hundred e-mails a day from people checking.

We've established a huge customer base, and we're sure to get a lot of repeat business. We'll do pretty good for the next couple of years."

The site's Y2K supplies page features goods for sale, as well as this comforting statement: "We can't tell you what is going to happen, but we can help you prepare."

"I was kind of worried about it. I've been kind of waiting," Manning admits.

"It still might be another four or five months before the bug pops up."

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