Judi Henderson, founder of Mannequin Madness, calls herself the "accidental entrepreneur." Successfully working as an employee of large corporations, she had no intention of founding and running her own business. But after a chance encounter with a retiring business owner who specialized in mannequin sales, Judi decided to buy his whole inventory and open up a shop of her own.
Like many budding women entrepreneurs, Judi faced two challenges: seeing herself as an entrepreneur and having the business skills to succeed. "I think sometimes women are loath to see themselves as entrepreneurs because there aren’t images that look like us. I never saw someone on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine that looked like me. Women entrepreneurs were mostly involved in fashion or food. There was a lack of role models for thinking beyond those spaces."
Judi had the drive and the idea, but needed the business skills to get her company off the ground. She took a class at the Renaissance Center, a resource center for entrepreneurs, which helped her design a plan. "What I originally had in mind wasn’t going to be successful, which Renaissance helped me realize. They saved me from making a costly mistake."
Judi recommends to other budding entrepreneurs that they seek out similar resources to start off on the right foot. Moreover, she thinks that more women need to see themselves as business owners and more banks need to fund them. "You look at loans to women - the success rate is unbelievable. Often higher than among the men. Women are very resourceful, and they are often working on businesses that benefit the community locally and at large." She insists that banks and the government need to see that women might do business differently, but that doesn't make them a risky investment: they're highly motivated and invested in their families. While investors may be dazzled by big tech start-ups, Judi makes the point that smaller businesses are more likely to hire locally, and that even tech firms need the support of community businesses to provide services and support.
For a long time Judi saw herself as a hobbyist, until her business began to take off and she realized that she had become a role model to others. "I was featured on CNN and a woman in London liked my idea. We started communicating online, and ultimately I met with her in person there, and next thing you know she was having her own entrepreneurial success."
Judi now runs Mannequin Madness in a 3200 square foot warehouse with a diverse group of employees. Her two biggest pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs are:
#1: Educate yourself by taking workshops, classes, and surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs. Find support. Don’t try to do it alone.
#2: Become digitally savvy. Even a low-tech business needs to use tech skills to grow, whether its having an e-commerce website or tools for running the business.