Timeline of the Growth of Mannequin Madness 

It had NEVER been my goal to be an entrepreneur or work with mannequins. A series of happy accidents, tenacity and outside factors enabled me, Judi Henderson , to start Mannequin Madness when I was in my mid 40's. I hope that sharing my story will be a  source of inspiration.

Note, the media coverage about my business and awards/grants I have won are not included on the timeline, but are hyperlinked here and here.  

November 2000 I was searching for Tina Turner concert tickets on Craigslist and noticed a post with mannequins for sale. This attracted my attention because I had always wanted to mosaic a mannequin and put in my garden.

The seller was a window dresser who also rented mannequins for trade shows,  photo shoots and parties.

He casually mentioned that since he was moving out of the state there was no longer going to be a place in the Bay Area to rent a mannequin. I had an AHA moment.

Although I had never touched a mannequin before or worked   in retail or knew anyone who had a rented a mannequin, I impulsively bought his entire inventory of 50 mannequins.

I had just finished reading the book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" which had explained the concept of creating multiple revenue streams. Plus I had recently resigned from a Fortune 100 company to work at a dot com start up in San Francisco and was now surrounded by serial entrepreneurs. Being around them built my confidence to consider entrepreneurship.

I thought renting mannequins would be fun side hustle to test the waters. My friends and family thought I was crazy, which is why I named the business Mannequin Madness.  

Shortly after I purchased the mannequins I had second thoughts. The seller of the mannequins never sent me the client list he promised or forwarded his business line to me. How would people know about my business? 

This was before online shopping, social media or smart phones existed. Most small businesses did not even have a website. And I had just missed the deadline to advertise in the yellow pages. (This sounds like I am describing the dark ages doesn't it?) 

 I decided to contact the visual merchandising departments at every major department store in the area. I figured if someone wanted to “borrow” a mannequin they would call a department store to find out where to go.

Sure enough, the visual merchandisers started referring customers to me. And they let me know about a "dirty little secret" in the retail industry.

The secret is retailers routinely throw perfectly good mannequins in the trash when they remodel or close locations. This is “dirty little secret" because mannequins are made out of materials that do not biodegrade, so they should not be sent to landfills. 
 
I was horrified to hear this  because I knew from my own experience that there was a market for secondhand mannequins. More importantly, I was concerned about the environmental impact of mannequins in landfills. 

I began offering free mannequin recycling services to retailers to give them an eco-friendly alternative to throwing them in the trash. 

In July 2001 a visual merchandiser at Sears called to tell me that the chain was eliminating mannequins in all their stores and were  throwing them away. 

Every other weekend my husband and I rented a cargo van and drove to every Sears store in the Bay Area to get their mannequins.

In just a few months we had over 500 mannequins. I was still running the business part time and storing the mannequins at my house. It was truly Mannequin Madness!

At first we kept the mannequins in the basement. Then we moved our cars out of the garage and stored them there. Once the garage was full we stored them under tents in our backyard.

With all this inventory I started selling used mannequins in addition to renting them. My mannequin rental business was becoming a green business that was helping to reduce the environmental footprint of the retail industry.  

This new revenue stream was just making progress then BOOM - 9/11 happened. A month later the dot com bubble burst and I lost my day job.

October 2001 This incredibly fearful time in our country had the reverse impact on me. I felt if the world was about to implode I wanted to live more fearlessly.  So instead of looking for another job, I decided to bet on myself and pursue being an entrepreneur full time.

I knew this would mean that I  would be a boot-strapped, self-funded, Black girl magic type of business.  Cause even in the best of economic times, no bank would loan money to my business. And in the Bay Area it seems you need to be a technology businesses to get financing.

Speaking of tech, my dot com experience encouraged me to be an early adopter of technology even though my business was low tech.

While true e-commerce was still a few years away, Ebay was booming and I quickly became a power seller. (I later joined the power seller revolt and rarely use Ebay anymore) 

The local stores of Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren, Nike and The Gap started calling me to recycle their mannequins, as did the DeYoung Museum.  It wasn’t necessarily because they were being environmentally conscious, but because I saved them money on waste disposal fees. 

In 2003 The Environmental Protection Agency gave me a special achievement award for recycling over 100,000 pounds of mannequins in one year. The retail industry is second only to the oil industry in producing environmental waste. Who knew that selling "stiffs and dummies" would mean I am an environmentalist with a green business? 

In 2006 my e-commerce website launched and this along with my blog gave me national exposure. Given that Oakland is far from the fashion capitals of NY and LA, the rise of online shopping was a game changer for my business. 

For example the Milan (Not NYC) office of Prada contacted me to buy mannequins on our website that we had recycled from Ralph Lauren. The mannequins were in no longer in production and were considered collectors items and Prada  pay the shipping costs to Milan. 

In 2007 we finally moved the business from our home and into a small warehouse. I diversified my inventory with new mannequins I purchased through drop shippers. 

Then I emailed every used mannequin vendor across the country to ask for their support. We agreed they would pick up the mannequins at the stores near them, pay me referral fee for the opportunity, and then they could resell the mannequins for whatever price they wanted. 

In 2010 the retailer Bebe was renovating their stores and contacted us to recycle their unwanted mannequins. But they wanted us to recycle not just in the Bay Area, but nationwide.

I didn’t have the resources or manpower to do this but I said "yes" anyway.

This alliance meant I could now offer mannequin recycling on a national level, which would made  it super easy for major retailers to recycle.   single point of contact to handle all their mannequin removal needs. 

We went from diverting 100,000 pounds of mannequins from landfills in one year to diverting three or four times that amount. 

In 2012 our Pinterest followers wanted to know how to make the Dress Form Christmas Trees that we were posting.
This lead us to publish digital tutorials with step by step instructions.

I was delighted to see one at the White House in 2014 which looked exactly like it was inspired by one of our tutorials.

By the end of 2014 my husband and I had divorced, I bought out his interest in the business and hired my first employee.

American Apparel went bankrupt in 2017 and this had a big impact on our business.  Three trucks, each 50 feet long and filled to the brim with  mannequins arrived at our warehouse.

There were so many mannequins it propelled us to move to a larger facility, fortunately within the same complex. I hired more employees. 

The larger facility gave us room to have a photo studio. We used this not only for our own product photography needs but we rented it out to others. Another revenue stream. 

In 2018 we recycled mannequins for the Macy's Flagship store in San Francisco for the second time. This time we got a bonus-  all the faux flowers and foliage from their annual flower show. 

This gave us a new revenue stream and a way to utilize all the mannequin heads we had recycled from a cosmetology school. We started hosting  flower crown classes in our showroom. Instead of paint and sip it was wine and design! 

This headdress classes became so successful we created a separate entity - The Headdress Workshop.

In Feb 2020 Walmart hired us to provide a booth where people could make a headdress at the Black Joy Parade. It was a huge success!  

This lead to discussions about them hiring us for other community engagement events and for their corporate team building activities. 

March 2020 

I thought I had weathered some storms before this one was a true test of my survival instincts.

As a non essential business we were forced to close for several months. If we didn’t have a strong online presence and I didn't win some grants and get PPP money I doubt I could have survived. 


May 2020 
The horror of the George Floyd murder hed a spotlight on the inequities facing Black people in all areas of society.

And for the first time since I have been in business there was a groundswell of support for Black owned businesses. When people on the NextDoor app in my community inquired about names of Black owned business to support it gave me an idea.

Since many people were not aware that I am not a Black owned business I decided to help created an online directory of Black owned businesses in Northern California. The directory is SFBayBlackBiz.com.

The directory lists over 800 Black owned businesses from San Jose to Napa. And it to include ALL types of Black businesses besides food, beauty, fashion and entertainment where Black business tend to be clustered.

August  2020 

We were accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10k small business program. It was a challenge to do this via zoom and and there was a lot of homework. But it was worth it.

January 2021

Grateful that we survived 2020! Almost 50% of Black owned businesses closed so this is a milestone.


We withstood a 35% loss in sales, were forced to close for several months because we are a non-essential business and  there no revenue from our mannequin rentals since all events cancelled.

Plus in California we had an exodus of people leaving the state to work remotely in someplace less costly.

 

We started offering zoom classes for making a  Dress Form Christmas tree the previous year and it has become a year round offering.  We never would have thought of doing this before the pandemic. 

There are a few other exciting opportunities in the pipeline that I will update as soon as they manifest. 

Sept 2021

We hired a communications strategist to guide is getting more visibility for the environmental and social significance of our business. She was able to get us featured in Bloomberg Business Quicktakes and ABC localish and Earth911.