President, Mannequin Madness
Quick, what was your last big impulse buy? A pair of designer shoes? A dark chocolate bar? For Judi Henderson-Townsend it was 50 mannequins. While visiting San Francisco’s only mannequin rental shop she learned that the one-of-a-kind business was closing. So, despite having absolutely no experience in retail or mannequins, she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy their entire inventory and launch Mannequin Madness as a part-time pursuit in 2001. Soon afterwards, it blossomed into a full-time niche business respected for its visionary service and environmental leadership. Henderson-Townsend received an award from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for recycling more than 100,000 pounds of mannequins in one year.
She also won a $100,000 technology grant from Intel Corporation, besting 2,500 other businesses. In 2005, Wells Fargo Bank chose her for its Living History Maker Award, presented to one African-American business owner a year.
What we learned from Judi: You’re never too old to re-invent yourself. Tap the wisdom and confidence life has given you and follow your instinct to new places.
Business Planning for Dummies
“My plan was to continue to work full-time at my dot-com and operate a mannequin rental business on the side to service the trade-show market in San Francisco. But in a short period of time, my inventory grew from 50 to 500 mannequins. Then 9/11 happened and I lost my job, so I decided to become a full-time mannequin lady.”
Smart Response to Dumb Waste
“I discovered that national retailers throw away mannequins when they are old or broken or when the store is remodeling or going out of business. Since mannequins are bulky objects made of materials that do not biodegrade, it is not good to put them in a landfill. So I convinced retailers such as Niketown, Kohls, St. John, Nordstrom and Ralph Lauren to let me recycle their unwanted mannequins.”
How it Works
“The recycled mannequins are rented or sold to a wide range of customers all over the U.S. and Canada. Besides independent retailers, some of our customers are Ebay vendors, event planners, artists, museums, production companies, Project Runway wannabees and fashionistas who want a dress form for their home to display a favorite garment. We’ve even had lawyers buy mannequins for courtroom demonstrations to show where someone was shot or stabbed.”