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'20th Century' Businesses Face Dilemma as 21st Century Nears


Would you entrust your health to a store named 19th Century Medical Supplies? Would you seek advice about your newfangled, revolutionary product from a firm entitled 19th Century Advertising Consultants? Would you computer-shop at 19th Century Electronics?

Of course, none of these establishments exist. But in one measly decade, a few Orange County businesses could sound equally anachronistic. As 1990 heralds the final lap of the 20th Century, an epithet that once conveyed up-to-the-minute modernism will become a relic from another era.

So, what's a business like 20th Century Marketing to do? "Maybe we'll rename the company '20th Century Plus,' " laughed its owner and president, Roger Christopherson. Oh, well, the problem will be someone else's, he shrugged: "I'm 56; I'll be retired by then."

Christopherson founded his La Habra consulting firm in 1977, when the 21st Century seemed as distant as compact disc players, glasnost and the return of the miniskirt. "We chose our title because it implied that you could count on us to be in the know," he said. "I suppose we'll have to change it, which is a shame since '20th Century' has a nice ring to it. I don't think '21st Century' is an easy-sounding name."

Then again, he could leave well enough alone and hope that prospective clients have a sense of humor. "Perhaps we'll make a joke out of it--'20th Century Marketing: We'll Catch Up Sooner or Later,' " Christopherson proposed.

Buena Park-based 20th Century Pools could dive into the next century with an updated nomenclature--but for now, powers-that-be are only testing the water. "We may go to 'Century Pools' or 'Century 21 Pools,' " said the 13-year-old company's general manager, Leo Newport. "There's already a '21st Century Pools,' so we can't use that.

"Whatever change we make will be minor. Our name has come to represent reliability and trust, so I don't believe it would turn people away if we decided to stick with '20th Century.' "

But might not the almost-passe designation conjure up images of kidney-shaped pools, circa 1961?

"Obviously, this is a question that we will need to address more carefully in the coming years. However, 10 years is a long time to change direction. Exxon made a radical name change, but within a few years, most people couldn't tell you Exxon's old name. (For the record, it was Standard Oil Co., changed in 1972.)

Linda Manikas, founder of 20th Century Beauty Pageant, planned ahead for the shifting sands of time. "Originally, when we registered our name with the U.S. Patent Office, we also registered '21st Century Beauty Pageant,' " the contest producer said.

Based in Brea, the 15-year-old organization puts on nationwide competitions for children and teen-agers. Since her current clients will live the bulk of their lives on the other side, Manikas reasoned, she won't wait until the next century to employ its birth name. "We'll probably start using '21st Century' this coming year," she said. "We basically deal with children, and the 21st Century will be their century."

20th Century Insurance Co., which focuses on Southern California clientele, likewise has taken steps toward the new millennium. Its parent company, 20th Century Industries, last year added a sister insurance company--21st Century Casualty.

"We realized that the 20th Century was quickly turning into the 21st Century," said company spokesman Daryn Teague. "I don't know whether or not we eventually will rename 20th Century Insurance Co., but we're certainly in a preferable position, having a (21st-Century) title off the ground and running."

Many new players were farsighted enough to enter the game already wearing the more fashionable jersey number.

"The 20th Century is a dinosaur," proclaimed Vernon VanWinkle, who opened 21st Century Video Productions in Orange two years ago.

"I'm not sure that '21st Century' improves our sales, but '20th Century' definitely would have hurt sales in another 10 years," said Stephen Graves, owner of 21st Century Innovations Inc., a software developing company in El Toro. "I wouldn't buy software from a place named '20th Century.' I'd think: 'These guys aren't up to date here.'

"In the past six months, I've seen a lot of ads in computer magazines for new companies named 21st Century," Graves noted. "It seems that all of a sudden everyone is jumping on the 21st-Century bandwagon."

Marketing experts concurred.

"Especially if you were selling high technology, you'd be killing yourself with '20th Century' in your title," said Dan Krongaard, vice president of Galusha & Associates, a Newport Beach advertising and public relations firm.

"The 20th Century once stood for forward-thinking, but it suddenly has a patina about it," said Dan Pittman, vice president of Salvati Montgomery Sakoda, an advertising firm in Costa Mesa. "However, some companies are so identified with the '20th-Century' title that they wouldn't benefit from changing it. I doubt, for example, that 20th Century Fox will change its name."

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