Mannequin Madness is an award-winning family business specializing in everything related to mannequins. We sell, rent, recycle, repair and blog about mannequins.
We have partnerships with suppliers from all over the country so that we can provide you with the most extensive variety of new and used mannequins and dress forms on the internet.
Selling and renting mannequins is really an unusual way to make a living and people always ask us “how did you get in this business?” We stumbled upon this quite by accident. You can either watch the video above or read our story below.
What happens when what you believe to be true, is false?
For most of my professional life I had been content to work in stifling but well-paying gigs at Fortune 500 companies. My first job out of college was with Johnson & Johnson (the HEALTH care company, not Johnson products the hair company).
I stayed there for almost 10 years until I decided to become an entrepreneur in the arts field. This lasted all of 2 years and ended with me being emotionally and financially devastated. So I went running back to a corporate gig.
See, instead of saying "my business failed but I learned lessons I can take to my next business venture," I beat up on myself and said "I am a failure at business so I need to work for someone else." A big company with a pension plan would be safe and secure. Or so I thought.
So I went to work for United Airlines selling their computer reservation equipment to travel agents. Fortunately, I left U.A. during the dot-com boom to work with a start-up with only 30 employees. Everyone at the office was a wannabe internet entrepreneur. Guys in their 20's had started businesses, lost money and started another business. Multiple times.
These guys weren't any smarter than I was, just more confident. A LOT more confident, actually rather cocky. Their confidence rubbed off on me. I enrolled in a 14 week business planning class at the LIVING BETTER 50.
I knew from my previous business that my degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California wasn't going to be much assistance if I was going to be an entrepreneur. (I was wrong about that, because my communication skills have enabled me to win an assortment of business awards and competitions).
When I started the class I had a vague idea about what type of business I wanted to start. But by the end of the 14 weeks, it was clear that my business idea was NOT going to be financially viable. I was resigned to the fact that it wasn’t in the cards for me to be an entrepreneur. Or so I thought.
LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE MAKING OTHER PLANS
Six months later, while searching Craigslist for Tina Turner concert tickets, I saw a mannequin for sale. I contacted the seller because I had always wanted a mannequin in my garden.
I was overwhelmed at the sight of 50 mannequins in various states of dismemberment strewn around his dark and creepy warehouse. My journalism skills took over and I started interviewing him about why he had so many mannequins, what did he do with them, why was he selling them, etc.
He told me that he was a window dresser and that he collected mannequins as a hobby and then started a business renting mannequins. “Renting mannequins? Who rents mannequins" I asked.
He listed the various clients he worked with, and then casually said, “now that I am leaving the state, there won't be a place to rent a mannequin in the Bay Area.”
That was my Oprah A-HA moment.
Although I had never touched a mannequin before or worked in the retail industry, I made the totally irrational decision to buy his entire inventory. My plan was to run a mannequin rental business on the side while still working full-time at the start-up.
Since the seller was leaving town in 2 weeks, I didn’t have a chance to second guess myself. Looking back, I am certain I would have talked myself out of buying them if I had more time to think about it.
Fortunately, I had a very supportive husband who encouraged me when everyone else thought I had lost my mind. Hence the name Mannequin Madness. My parents, who had scrimped and saved to pay 100% of an expensive college tuition, were more than a little upset.
Two weeks before Christmas, the seller delivered the mannequins to our house but “forgot” to leave me his client list as promised as a condition of the sale. He said it was already packed and he would mail the client list once he got situated in his new place. I never heard from him again.
The mannequins were in a pile in our living room for a month until we could clear out room in our basement.
I was feeling like a dummy that just got stiffed!!!
I knew that the SF Bay Area was the kind of creative place that could support a mannequin rental business, but how do I get the word out?
I had missed the deadline to be listed in the yellow pages (remember that?) So in desperation, I turned to online marketing. In 2001, a website was still a fairly new concept in the mannequin rental business.
The first week our website went live, a Canadian vendor emailed us about renting mannequins for a ski trade show he would be attending in the Bay Area. We were flabbergasted as we never thought we would have customers outside of the Bay Area – let alone out of the country!
Retail stores don't rent mannequins but get requests all the time to loan them out. My husband and I made cold calls on every major retail store in town to let them know that we rented mannequins so they could refer their customers to us. While doing this we discovered that Sears was eliminating the use of mannequins in their stores.
I convinced most of the Sears stores in the area to give or sell us their mannequins instead of throwing them in the garbage, which is what most retailers do. This was just as retailers were starting to being environmentally sensitive. Mannequins are made of non-biodegradable materials so they don’t belong in the landfill.
The Accidental Entrepreneur
Our inventory went from 50 to over 500 mannequins in less than six months as we drove all over the Bay Area in a rented cargo van picking up mannequins from Sears stores. And we were still operating out of our home so the mannequins were everywhere. In our basement, backyard, in our garage, in boxes down the driveway!
Now, I had enough inventory to sell mannequins instead of only renting them. My little part-time hobby was starting to pay off.
Then 9/11 happened and the start-up where I was working went bankrupt.
Although my mannequin business was still fledging, it brought me joy and passion. In light of the world events (then as well as now), I felt life was too short to not live with joy and passion. I had never wanted to be an entrepreneur after my attempt to do so 10 years earlier ended in bitter failure.
But rather than look for another job, I decided that I would work at Mannequin Madness full-time. And two years later when my husband got laid off, he joined me working full time at Mannequin Madness.
Green is the new Black
I had no idea that so many people wanted to buy used mannequins – whether because of the price or because they were looking for something specific that was no longer in production. Suddenly, we were shipping used mannequins all over the country and sometimes internationally.
Then suddenly recycling became the socially responsible thing for retailers to do so we were able to acquire a wider variety of used mannequins.
Nordstrom, Nike, Ralph Lauren and Kohl’s, were some of the first retail chains who responded to our mannequin recycling services. Some of them recycled for purely economic versus social reasons. It is cheaper to have Mannequin Madness recycle their mannequins than paying dumpster fees.
In 2003 the Environmental Protection Agency gave us a special achievement award for recycling over 100,000 pounds of mannequins in just ONE year.
Hanging in There
Mannequin Madness now sells new as well as used mannequins and we continue to rent mannequins. We also repair mannequins and blog about visual merchandising with mannequins.
We moved the business out of our house a long time ago and are now in beautiful commercial building with lots of natural light, which is ideal for all the photo and video shoots that take place there.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have so much fun and such success working with a bunch of “stiffs and dummies.”
We've won numerous business awards, been featured on CNN multiple times and been written about in wide range of publications and met thousands of creative people.
As a green business, we very proud of the difference we make in reducing the environmental footprint of the retail industry. Life is never boring at Mannequin Madness!