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Mannequin Magic: Unveiling the Artistic Side of Retail with Judi Henderson

Judi Henderson, CEO of Mannequin Madness

Join Stephen Bland in an engaging conversation with Judi Henderson, the CEO of Mannequin Madness in Oakland, California, in their latest podcast episode. Discover how Judi stumbled into the mannequin business, turning a Craigslist find into a thriving e-commerce venture that has been flourishing for two decades. Explore her diverse audience and learn how Mannequin Madness stands out with its unique inventory, including a range of styles and sustainable practices as the largest mannequin recycling company in the U.S. Uncover the creative uses of mannequins beyond retail and delve into Judi’s plans for the future, focusing on environmental sustainability.

Mannequin Madness is a leading e-commerce venture and the largest mannequin recycling company in the U.S., known for its unique inventory and commitment to sustainability.

Judi Henderson
CEO of Mannequin Madness

Welcome everybody to our latest podcast. I’m here with Judi. My name is Stephen with Wytlabs. We are an e-commerce internet marketing agency. Go ahead and introduce yourself, Judi.

Hi, I’m Judi Henderson, the owner of Mannequin Madness out in Oakland, California.

Judi, how did you get into the mannequin business? That’s the first question I have here.

Well, since the Barbie movie is out, I can start by saying I played with Barbie dolls growing up and always liked the idea of the sculptures of the dolls. From an artistic standpoint, I liked it. But I had never worked with mannequins or even in retail before. But one day I was just looking on Craigslist for some concert tickets and I saw someone was selling a mannequin. And I wanted a mannequin for an art project. So I ended up buying not just one, but all 50 mannequins that the Craigslist seller had, because he ran a mannequin rental business and was leaving town. I thought this was just gonna be a side hustle, and now 20 years later, it is my full-time gig.

Wow, that’s amazing. So you’ve been in business for 20 years?

Yes, selling mannequins. So I started initially with 50 mannequins that I just were renting to people. And then after 911 happened, my day job at a .com ended. And I thought, you know what? I think I’m gonna work in the mannequin business a little bit more. Because at that time, I realized that when stores were closing or remodeling, they were just throwing their unwanted mannequins in the trash. Which from an environmental standpoint is certainly not good, but no one was talking about sustainable retailing 20 years ago. I just knew that mannequins had a different shelf life past retail. So I started acquiring more mannequins. So I went from renting mannequins to selling mannequins and then e-commerce happened. I mean, 20 years ago, e-commerce was in its infancy. But first selling on eBay and then with my own e-commerce website, I could then sell mannequins to people all over the US and Canada.

So that’s pretty much what inspired you to start your entire e-commerce business. That’s great.

Yeah, it was just an accident that I stumbled upon following the passion and it just grew from there.

So who is your target audience?

I have a very diverse audience. I sell to other retailers of all sizes, whether someone is selling on Poshmark, eBay, or Etsy, as well as people who have retail stores. But a lot of people use mannequins for various art projects, whether they’re going to Burning Man, whether they’re doing Halloween displays. I sell to museums, I sell to trade show vendors, I sell to people who wanna do mannequin leg lamps. We sell a lot of mannequin parts to people. Yeah, I have people who do mannequins as mosaic and Decoupage. My Pinterest board is filled with all the creative ways that people use mannequins. They’re not just for displaying clothing, they are a canvas for a whole range of imaginative projects.

That’s great. Are you nationwide, worldwide? Where do you sell?

Nationwide in Canada, just the cost of shipping mannequins is so expensive, even though I do get inquiries from outside of the country, mannequins are too expensive and I’m not getting the kind of shipping rates that Amazon does, so it makes it hard for me to sell something so big and bulky out of the area. And then of course I do have a brick-and-mortar store, so I have a lot of people who will come to our warehouse and purchase mannequins as well.

Okay. Makes total sense.

I was going to also say other people are in the fashion industry like fashion students and fashion schools and they also were buying mannequins from me. I service the whole range of demographics, every age, every ethnic group, and every ethnicity, even I’m surprised at why people are attracted to mannequins and why they’re using them.

That’s great. So what differentiates you from your competitors? Why are you different than any other mannequin company out there?

Well, first of all, the diversity of our inventory. I was very early on trying to make sure I had a range of styles. I started carrying plus-size mannequins before anybody else did, mannequins of different ethnicities. So I have a lot of diversity because I also am the largest mannequin recycling company in the U.S. So I work with all the major retail chains to be able to provide a range of used mannequins as well as new mannequins. So there are mannequins in various price points and different styles. That’s what really makes us unique.

A lot of men and companies only carry one particular style or brand. We have a whole range.

That’s great. What are your best-selling products?

My best-selling products, well there is a particular style of mannequin made by a company that’s no longer in existence and a lot of people collect mannequins, like people collect Barbie dolls or stamps or cars. There’s a group of people who just collect mannequins. But the most common is what’s called a dress form, which people use usually for sewing or displaying clothes. It doesn’t have a head. You can pin it into it. It’s very lightweight to carry around. So once again, mannequins aren’t just the ones with the head. They can be like a torso, that can be, you know, just the head itself. All different parts of the body, so to speak, are under the mannequin umbrella. But a dress form is the best-selling product.

It makes total sense. What are your plans with Mannequin Madness?

Well, now that so many stores are aware of the need to be sustainable, not just in the production of clothing, but in the backend of clothing, we are recycling more mannequins than ever. We received an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for recycling over 300,000 pounds of mannequins in one year. We now recycle that many mannequins every quarter. So I wanna continue to do that because that’s keeping mannequins out of the landfill, which is great from an environmental standpoint, and also allows me to sell products at a very decent price point. So just to continue to expand our range, such that more retailers see the value of recycling versus tossing their mannequins when they close or remodel their stores.

That’s amazing. I like that a lot.

You never know, there’s all kinds of niche industries, isn’t there? I mean, I didn’t even know this even existed. And certainly, there’s a cottage industry that’s probably only about a handful of companies like myself. Certainly, other companies manufacture mannequins, but in terms of companies that are known for recycling mannequins, not that many across the country.

No, I mean, you don’t even think about that type of a thing, but I mean, you’re in a very niche industry and it’s great. I mean, it’s great to hear.

I love being in my little niche. It’s a little challenging being in the Bay Area. Everything here is so tech, tech-focused. So it certainly made it harder for me when I got started to try to get any kind of financing from my business because people don’t understand it and out here we’re more concerned about, as I said, tech businesses.

But we need all kinds of businesses in our world. And the fact that I’m keeping so many mannequins out of landfills is helping everybody. Even you, Stephen, if you don’t ever buy a mannequin from me, you’re benefiting from the fact that I’m keeping mannequins out of landfills because that’s good for our environment. So I have partners throughout the country that help me recycle mannequins in other states.

That’s amazing. I like that a lot, that’s amazing. What activities are you doing to promote your business?

Well, that’s always ongoing, isn’t it? I mean, at first, just having a website was a big deal, right? Then it’s Facebook, then it’s Instagram, now Pinterest. I am now looking to expand into TikTok and do a lot more on YouTube. I’m finding that people wanna see more videos versus still photos. They wanna see examples of how I can take this mannequin and turn it into this kind of art project. So being able to do more tutorial type of videos is really the way to go. A lot more work. I will say that, but I see that video is what people are, the younger people want right now.

Exactly. So is there anything else you want our audience to know about you and your business?

Well, I want them to know anytime they want a mannequin, they need to think of mannequin madness. If we don’t have it, we can try to find it for you. And we just finished the holiday season. Many people have seen dresses for Christmas trees, we’ll just take in a dressing room and make it look like a tree. We were one of the people behind that idea. And every year we have a contest where people can win prizes for having the best-decorated dress around Christmas trees. So follow us on our social media channels to get inspired with creativity.

Mannequins can be used in a lot of imaginative ways. Don’t we need more creativity in our lives right now with all the strife that’s happening in the world? I provide that one little corner of creative imagination.

We do. That’s great. I love it. Well, Judi, thank you so much for your time today and thank you for joining us. Thank you.

Thank you for having me.

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