Sales of Survival Supplies Fluctuate as Y2K Approaches

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

San Fernando Valley retailers selling survival supplies, outdoor gear and camping equipment are delivering mixed reports on how big an impact the Y2K phenomenon is having on their sales.

Some Army and Navy surplus stores, earthquake supplies specialists and others selling survival products say they enjoyed brief sales spurts earlier this year, but the approach of 2000 has had minimal impact on sales and isn't producing any year-end rush of customers.

On the other hand, Peter and Gary Kalaydjian, owners of Recon-1 in Tarzana, say that of the 100 or so customers who come into their store on an average weekday, at least 20 are shopping specifically for Y2K supplies.

"We're doing about five times as much business in survival supplies this year as we usually do at this time of year," Peter Kalaydjian said. He said this is the biggest run on such supplies since the Northridge earthquake.

Kalaydjian said customers range from individuals and families buying for their own needs to corporate customers ordering hundreds or thousands of earthquake preparedness kits to give to employees as holiday gifts. The average customer is buying supplies for a family of three or four and spends about $100 per person, or between $300 and $400 per family, he said.

"When you're talking about Y2K supplies, you're basically talking about the same thing as earthquake supplies," Kalaydjian said.

Such supplies include water containers ranging from small pouches to 55-gallon drums, freeze-dried food and military style ready-to-eat meals, first aid kits, portable toilets, propane stoves, tents, batteries, flashlights and other types of lighting sources, including a 120-hour survival candle.

One of the most popular Y2K items is the 55-gallon water drum, according to Kalaydjian. He said Recon-1 is selling about 100 a week, compared with the usual average of 100 a year.

"The drums are an extreme example," Kalaydjian allowed. Most of the gear and supplies are selling at about four or five times the usual pace for the 16-year-old business.

Recon-1 may be reporting more sales than other survival outfitters because it's a wholesaler to other survival supply stores and because the Kalaydjians have made an effort to capitalize on Y2K.

They posted a banner saying "Prepare for Y2K here" across the outside of their store, and Kalaydjian said they encourage customers to stock up on supplies because survival products may come in handy even if Y2K fizzles in the disaster department.

"We tell people they shouldn't just be thinking about Y2K, we tell them they should be thinking about earthquakes," Kalaydjian said.

Meanwhile, at the California Earthquake Survival Program, sales spurted briefly during the spring but are now running at about the same rate they do every year at this time, said Ernest Saray, manager of the organization's North Hollywood office. Saray said California Earthquake Survival usually does a brisk business during the holidays because it sells primarily to schools, hospitals, corporations and other institutions and organizations, many of which boost or replenish some of their old earthquake supplies at this time of year.

At the Supply Sergeant in Burbank, store manager Paul Paik said sales of survival supplies are running about 5% to 7% above the average for the holiday season, but less than he expected they would be.

Paik said the Supply Sergeant has been selling more water containers than usual, in 6-gallon, 30-gallon and 55-gallon sizes, along with kits containing iodine to purify water.

"People are most concerned about food and water," Paik said, although some Y2K shoppers also stock up on batteries, propane stoves, tents and camping equipment. Warehouse manager Mark Manning at Northridge International in Northridge said that in the spring, the company sold a surprising number of $350 water purification systems.

He ordered 10 systems and quickly sold eight of them, Manning said, but the spring spurt stopped and he still has two systems in stock. He added that a water purification system selling for that price isn't something that would ordinarily move off the shelves quickly.

Ready-to-eat military style meals were selling faster during the spring too, Manning said. He said Y2K overall hasn't boosted business much at the company and he doubts that customers seeking Y2K supplies will rush in at the last minute.

"I think most people are pretty well geared up by now if they were going to do anything about Y2K," Manning said.

Whether they're doing great business or no business, local retailers appear to have avoided the fate of some national manufacturing firms that specialize in survival supplies.

Some of those manufacturers suffered big losses or went out of business earlier this year when they boosted production but sales fell far short of expectations. Peter Kalaydjian said Recon-1, even though it has enjoyed good Y2K business, was careful not to spend a lot of money moving to a larger store or leasing extra warehouse space because it was aware of the problems those other companies suffered.

Besides, Kalaydjian said, he believes that sales of Y2K supplies, brisk as they may be at his store now, will fall fast after the first of the new year.

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