Marketing the millenium

The clock's ticking. It's time to scramble. You have less than two years to get your business plan together if you're going to take full advantage of your capitalism-given right to cash in on the biggest New Year's in your whole life.

Nowhere is this urge more obvious than at The Millennium, the Winter Park restaurant known as The Mill until founder Paul Smith recognized the marketing potential that could come, simply by adding three syllables to its name. "We're positioning ourselves for the millennium. It's the buzzword," he says.

Around the world, entrepreneurs are hustling to get their souvenirs, cards and commemorative champagne in order. People are already stocking up on vintage champagne to pop in the new millennium. Luxury hotels and resorts are booking up their rooms, the British Airways Concorde is offering flights that will zigzag across time zones, and some cruise lines are already taking deposits for trips on boats yet to be built.

Clearly there's money to be made here. And if you have even the smallest bit of entrepreneurial moxie, you're getting that moneymaking itch. As John Locher says, without a hint of irony, "It's the American millennial spirit!" As founder of Everything 2000, a Washington state-based website ( that offers information, merchandise, facts and trivia related to the upcoming millennium, Locher's seen millennial fever rise in the past year.

People are already naming the impending date as "the party of the century," the "Billennium" and "Party 2000." Yup, a party theme exists here and the whole world is getting in on it. "There's lots of talk about things being booked and sold out," says Locher. "In general, we're finding it's just not true." Of course, if you contacted, say, the Ritz Hotel in Paris, you might be told that all the rooms for New Year's Eve, 1999, are already booked. But in many cases they're not, technically -- they're just being held for tours and other packages that have yet to be booked solid.

Since it's a millennium, not an Olympics, there's no international party planning committee. In other words, it's an ideal time for you to get your business plan off the couch and into the international markets! "We haven't even begun to see those novelty items related to the millennium yet," says Locher.

Got a plan for a millennium souvenir? How about a line of "Happy New Millennium" cards and champagne glasses? Or a personal time capsule, and perhaps a collection of science-fiction books about the coming millennium? Too late, they're already taken. And if you're hoping to trademark any brand name with the word "Year" or the number "2000" in it, you'd better hurry. Apparently someone already owns the trademark "Class of 2000," and someone else has dibs on a Year 2000 trademark line of clothing.

Of course, lots of moneymakers won't really sell well until December 1999. But one wacky product that's already selling is the millennial countdown watch. These spiffy wrist gadgets count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the year 2000. But the fun doesn't end there -- you can also use the watches to count down to any other special event. "I think the world loves milestones, and individuals love milestones," Locher observes. "We love something to look forward to."

And heck, the year 2000 is pretty hard to ignore. "This is something very solid -- it has a beginning and an end and a focal point. It's that important moment, and there'll be so much attention on it," Locher observes. "This is the pinnacle. What could be bigger, what could be better?"

Sure, there are plenty of accuracy-loving naysayers who will point out that the real millennium doesn't start until the beginning of 2001. You could sell them an "Official Naysayer" T-shirt, perhaps, or a skewed calendar. But, as Locher says, "We know that. It's just that the nines to the zeros are what the world is seen to be acknowledging and celebrating."

And besides, it's kind of a two-fer deal. We can celebrate once for the year 2000, and then, the following December, we can take a closer look at our lives and celebrate in a more thoughtful way -- and come up with all kinds of new entrepreneurial challenges, too.

"I believe this entire millennial fever will carry through the beginning of those years," Locher says. So there'll be that much more time to unload about a zillion little "Year 2000" swizzle sticks, right? Well, no. As Locher reminds us, "The jobs well done won't have any products left in 2002."

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