Mannequin Madness is a green business located right off of 880 by Coast Guard Island that recycles mannequins for retail chains when they close or remodel stores. They rent and sell used, as well as new mannequins, dress forms, mannequin heads, arms & legs. The largest mannequin liquidation in the U.S., and the only in the Bay Area, Mannequin Madness recycles mannequins from chains as diverse as Nike, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren, Sears, REI, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Talbots.
We chatted with Mannequin Madness owner, Judi Henderson Townsend, and asked a few questions about her business and being a long-time business owner in Oakland.
Where is Mannequin Madness located?
2020 Dennison St. Most people don’t have any idea that there are so many small businesses located in that area. They think it is just lofts.
I stumbled across this by accident. I saw a used mannequin for sale on craigslist and I was going to buy one for a garden art project. When I met the seller, he had 50 mannequins to sell and casually mentioned that now that he was leaving the state there wasn’t going to be a place to rent a mannequin in the Bay Area. Although I had never touched a mannequin or even worked in a retail store, I felt this was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. I didn’t even know that people actually rented mannequins. I had planned to only do this as a part-time side venture while still working full time. But once I started recycling mannequins in addition to renting them, everything changed.
What types of customers do you attract?
Because I have such a diverse product line I attract some of everyone. I have retailers both large and small who are buying mannequins for their store or online catalogue, event planners who are renting mannequins for a party or trade show, fashion students, artists, Etsy and Ebay sellers. Many immigrants come here to buy dress forms to display artifacts from their home country that they are selling. Halloween and Burning man are HUGE for us. We sell lots of items from our mannequin boneyard, and many individuals buy a mannequin to display a costume or vintage garment.
I have lived in Oakland for 29 years, but I am originally from Los Angeles
How did you settle on Oakland as the location of your business?
We started our business out of our home and once we outgrew the space, I had considered Emeryville because they have a lower tax rate, but rents were much higher.
How has living here shaped you as a business owner?
Oakland has always had a thriving community of unique and independent businesses, primarily restaurants though. I remember when I first moved here, people would drive from all over the bay to pick up BBQ at Flint’s or dine at the Gingerbread house. I knew that in order to be successful in Oakland, I had to provide a product that people couldn’t get anywhere else, and provide great customer service when they got here. To sustain myself as a business, I knew I needed to reach customers who are outside of driving range, so the internet as been a big part of our growth.
While 80% of our sales are online (we ship all over the US and Canada), we have a large population of customers who drive from all over the Bay area to come to our warehouse searching for used mannequins. From time to time I have people who drive up from Los Angeles, but most of the people who drive here are from the greater Bay Area (Marin, San Jose, East Bay, SF), but I have customers who have driven here from Sacramento, Napa and Reno.
If you could ask for one item from the city to make your business run more smoothly, what would it be?
I wish the city had a more pro-active approach to both small and large businesses because we need the diversity of both to grow. So often I feel as if city officials and employees are apathetic about the needs of business owners. Remember the parking meter rate hike and extended hours fiasco? And they never have innovative ideas to stimulate growth. You never see Oakland on the list of Top Cities for small business. I know crime is a part of that, but if the city did more things or interfered less to attract small business, our tax base would increase and more jobs would be available – which would have an impact on crime.
What is the best part about owning a business in Oakland?
Our central location (right off 880) makes it easily accessible for people to drive here from all over the Bay Area. Also, I am proud to show that an inner city business can market a product that appeals to mainstream consumers
What amazes me is the unique ways the people use mannequins outside the the traditional way of in a retail environment. On many occasions we have rented dress forms for people to display items of the deceased at a memorial service. They display military outfits, costumes,smoking jackets, hunting outfits. My favorite is when brides rent dress forms to display the wedding gowns for their family members at the wedding reception. And there is a local artist here in Oakland who buys my most beat up distressed mannequins and makes beautiful works of art.