Mannequin Madness

By on October 27, 2011

Another “ROCK” Your Own World Story

By Sibyl White –

Award-Winning Mannequin Liquidation Company—New & Used Mannequins/Dress Forms—For Sale & Rent

fall scents for your home
photo of Judi Henderson

Judi Henderson-Working in her studio

One mannequin for an art project in her garden—that’s all Judi was looking for. What she stumbled into eventually became a full-time business.

How did you make the transition to being self-employed?

I was working in the dotcom industry when I saw a used mannequin for sale on Craigslist. Instead of buying just one mannequin for my garden art project, I ended up buying all 50 mannequins the seller had for sale so that I could take over the mannequin rental business he was dissolving. I had read the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad and was intrigued by the possibility of earning income through multiple revenue streams. I thought this would just be something on the side for extra money and had not considered doing this full-time until I was laid off from my job after 9/11.

Although I was nervous, I also felt more confident about taking this risk as a result of doing some soul-searching after 9/11 happened.

Did you write a business plan?

What I did was attend a workshop at a place called The Renaissance Entrepreneur Center in San Francisco. It’s a 14-week business plan lab for potential business owners. I had taken this workshop six months before I started the mannequin business, but I was doing it for a different idea. As a result, I realized the original idea I had in mind wasn’t going to make money.

The workshop helped me think with an entrepreneurial mindset, so when I stumbled into the mannequin business, I at least had some idea of what I was getting into. But the guy selling his business was leaving in one week, so I didn’t have a chance to run it through the whole business planning process. It’s good I didn’t have a lot of time because I probably would have talked myself out of it. I had no experience in retail, had never touched a mannequin, and since there were no other mannequin rental businesses in town, I thought perhaps it wasn’t a viable business concept.

The other thing I do is enter a lot of business competitions, and I’ve won quite a few of them. The process of entering those business competitions, especially ones with more at stake—dollars or some incentive—was really educational. They ask you questions that force you to look at your business.

When you lost your day job and needed to take Mannequin Madness full-time, did you go for funding?

I didn’t, I was new to the industry and had no background in retail, so I figured no one would give me any funding. I purposely kept my overhead low. We worked out of our home with all these mannequins for a long time. There were mannequins in the basement, mannequins in the backyard, and mannequins in the garage because I did not want the cost associated with a retail space.

If I had obtained funding early on, I might not have been as frugal as I ended up being. It wasn’t until years later that I got an extended line of credit to purchase more inventory and eventually moved into a commercial space. When you don’t have funding, you get creative. One of the things we do now is rent out our warehouse for film and photo shoots.

What was your biggest challenge in the startup process?

There were two things. By chance, we grew into a green business by giving retail stores the option of contacting us to liquidate their old mannequins to keep them from being thrown in the trash. It was quite an educational process to convince retailers to invest in that option.
Second, because so many of the retail chains are headquartered on the East Coast, it was difficult for us on the West Coast to reach those decision makers on a national level. It was difficult to get them to see the economic and environmental value of using our services. Anytime you’re dealing with a new concept that goes against the industry standard, that’s a big challenge.

What would you consider your first big success?

While it seems commonplace now, it was the effort we put into having an online presence. In 2001 a website was still a fairly new concept, and because the guy who sold us the mannequins didn’t leave us with a client list, we had to be very aggressive with our marketing efforts.
Our online initiative was focused on reaching people we never would have thought of marketing to in a more economical manner. We tried to make ourselves friendlier to all kinds of people, not just retailers. I am constantly amazed at the diverse group of people who buy mannequins for all kinds of business and artistic reasons.

What are some of the uses for mannequins other than retail stores?

We offer reasonable prices so people who want them for gardens or fundraisers can get them affordably from us. We also have people who want to rent a mannequin for an occasion, such as displaying a gown for a wedding anniversary, and we make it easy and economical for them to do a fun project.

What are your advantages over your competition?

When companies like BeBe, The Gap, and Nike call me, one phone call handles everything. I have a network of people throughout the country who can go to individual stores and remove the mannequins.

For the consumers, the advantage we offer is that we have a wide range of products from different manufacturers. Most companies just represent one or two lines. We have used mannequins from a variety of manufacturers, and we also import new mannequins from China through two different distributors. A consumer can come to us and get all kinds of mannequin products, including dress forms and mannequin hands. We also have affiliates that offer mannequin posters, greeting cards, leg lamps, leg ornaments, key chains, and many other mannequin novelty items.

Are there any inspiring stories from customers?

There are some customers that inspire me. One lady needed to rent several dress forms for her wedding reception. In one hallway she had the vintage wedding dresses from her family and the groom’s family. Beside each wedding gown, she had a picture of the bride on her wedding day and memorabilia from the wedding. She said it was the biggest hit of the wedding.

The other was a guy that was into smoking jackets, and at his memorial service, his family members rented dress forms to display these different smoking jackets.

We’ve also rented forms to people for birthday parties; they displayed things like letterman’s jackets or football jerseys. I’m inspired by the creative ways you can put a little more fun in your life at a reasonable cost.

Are there any future goals you can discuss?

We recently partnered with a company in London. She does the exact same thing, so we’re forming a strategic partnership to build visibility for both of our businesses. One time Levi Strauss called me and asked if there was anyone in Europe that I could refer them to for mannequin recycling, so now, yes, there is. By the same token, she’s already big in fashion, so when someone comes to New York and needs to rent mannequins for a fashion event, she can refer them to me. I’m excited that it’s the beginning of something global.

Is there anything you want to add to your story or to help others in the startup phase?

There are two things I would suggest. Be involved with an entrepreneurial group because it’s easy to become a lone ranger. It helped me to see common issues and concerns, to not feel so isolated, and also to get ideas from people.

Second, there are many groups that have initiatives where they try to help businesses grow by providing a mentor for you. It helps navigate through the challenges.


Resources that helped Judi:
• Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter
• The Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris
• The Success Principles, by Mark Canfield

Judi’s favorite quote:
“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”
—Napoleon Hill

How to Ditch the Corporate World and ROCK Your Own, by Sibyl White book coverSibylWhite
Author of How To Ditch The Corporate World and Rock Your Own

About Sibyl White

Sibyl White has worked for large corporations such as Mary Kay Cosmetics; Walt Disney Studios including Hollywood Pictures; and DreamWorks Studios. She also spent 12 years working for small startup companies including a small businesses incubator. Her experience lies in human resources, media & public relations, marketing & promotions and office management. She has seen the best and worst of both large and small companies and hopes now to take that knowledge and help others follow their own unique path. She now lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her dysfunctional adopted dog, Lexie. She spends her free time as a volunteer at a therapeutic riding program for disabled children. She would also like to start a program for kids in foster care and help them find and follow their passion in life.

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Mannequin Madness