Periodically, we’ll post stories about women who are featured in our book. The following story is about Judi, who became a successful entrepreneur entirely by accident.
Judi is the owner of Mannequin Madness in California’s Bay Area. Her company recycles mannequins from retailers that have closed up shop or remodeled, then sells or rents them to clients for a variety of uses—from displays to props, from art to furniture. She didn’t plan on making this her career. In fact, she was well established in the tech industry when she became an “accidental entrepreneur.”
Explains Judi, “I was working at a dotcom in the early 2000s and making a very good income. I knew I ultimately wanted to do something more creative, but I didn’t know what that might be. I’d always been intrigued by mannequins, and I dreamt about covering one with mosaic tiles and displaying it in my backyard, but that clearly had nothing to do with a creative job.”
One day, while searching on Craigslist for concert tickets, Judi came across a man who was selling a mannequin. Thinking that would be a great way to get her backyard project started, she went to his place of business and discovered that he had about fifty mannequins for sale. As it turned out, he ran the only mannequin rental business in town, and he was leaving the state in a couple of weeks. As soon as Judi heard the words, she had an aha moment. Given the level of creativity in the Bay Area, she thought, surely there should be at least one place in the region to rent a mannequin! Impulsively, she decided to buy the entire inventory. Her plan was to create a side business—something she could do while still working full time. She rented mannequins for about a year and then 9/11 happened—and she lost her job.
“It was a time of such great fear,” says Judi, “and it made me want to be more fearless. Instead of looking for another job, I decided to give the mannequin business a real shot.”
She began to get cast-off mannequins from retail stores, and her stock grew from fifty to 500 in a very short period of time. She kept them in her backyard. Her basement. Her garage. Eventually, coffin-sized boxes full of mannequins lined her driveway.
Judi admits that when she was working out of her home, she didn’t take things quite seriously. She didn’t know many people who ran their own business, so finding direction and support was a nearly impossible task. As much as she was trying to “live fearlessly,” she was still somewhat nervous about saying that the mannequins were her actual business—especially when people would ask incredulously, “You do what for a living?”
To compound the issue, her parents thought she was crazy—hence the name Mannequin Madness. They paid for her to go to the University of Southern California, and here she was using her degree to essentially play with dolls.
Trusting her gut and tapping into her knowledge of sales and marketing, Judi continued to move forward. Even though she had never worked in retail, she hoped to transfer her past experiences into her new business. She didn’t hesitate to ask for support when she needed it, and she was quick to delegate tasks that she simply wasn’t good at.
Says Judi, “I was slow to call myself an entrepreneur, because in the Bay Area, an entrepreneur is typically a youngish, techy, male. There were no business owners who looked like me, which caused my confidence to ebb and flow. Can I really do this? Am I crazy? Not having any role models made it difficult to see that I truly am an entrepreneur.”
The turning point was when she moved her operation out of her home and into a commercial building. Suddenly, it became the real deal. Judi now works out of a 3,400-square-foot warehouse and has five employees and five independent contractors working with her. Her inventory is in the thousands—full mannequins, plus a massive assortment of legs, hands, feet, and torsos. She shares the following wisdom with our readers.
“When I started this business, I was in my late forties and still in need of outside validation. Now I’m sixty, and these days I don’t care about what anyone else says. I think that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more confident in the business and less likely to care about the reaction of others.
“My advice to women is to listen to your inner voice despite what others might say. I had no idea my career was going to end up like this, but I knew I wanted to do something enjoyable and fulfilling, and I continued to feed that. Sometimes we have to stay away from the naysayers who tell you all the reasons why not—and surround ourselves with people who say why not?
“I’m more satisfied now than ever before. I’m in a creative field, and I’m doing something I really enjoy—not something I’m forced to do. The great thing about being on your own is that nobody tells you that you can’t do something. When you’re on your own, you’re able to set your own path.”
Judi is a firm believer in not stopping, regardless of the obstacles you think might litter your path. She’s aware that we always have choices, even after we reach a certain age.
“Some sixty-year-old women are like what sixty used to be. They retire from work and retire from life, thinking they’re too old to do anything. It makes me sad to see that, because it doesn’t have to be that way. Then there are the women who refuse to stop. I’m part of that tribe, and I love being actively engaged in something meaningful. This segment of the sisterhood might be slower than we used to be, but we’re still doing.”