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Smart Dummies

The owner of Mannequin Madness, a home-based business, wants to use RFID to better service her customers and improve her company's productivity.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 01, 2006—Looking at Judi Henderson-Townsend's stately home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Oakland, Calif., you'd never guess that her basement, backyard and garage are strewn with torsos, legs and arms. She even rented a warehouse to store more body parts. But it's all perfectly legal. Henderson-Townsend owns Mannequin Madness, a name that now reflects how her home-based business has grown out of control.

Last summer, Henderson-Townsend entered a contest sponsored by Intel and the Small Business Technology Institute (SBTI) in San Jose. Her Internet strategist suggested that if she won the first-place $100,000 prize, she should use part of the funds to deploy an RFID system to keep track of her ever-changing inventory of roughly 1,500 mannequins and mannequin parts.

"I'm excited," says Judi Henderson-Townsend, "but I'm also frustrated about not being able to find an RFID vendor who can help me because I am a small business."

"When he told me all the advantages that RFID has to offer-saving time, increased efficiency, ease in use, ability to capture more data than bar codes-I was immediately hooked," says Henderson-Townsend, who was notified in March that she'd won the award. Now she would like to deploy an RFID system to make it easier to find the items requested by her customers.

"They'll send me a wish list such as, 'I am looking for a headless mannequin in the seated position,'" says Henderson-Townsend. So she needs a way to quickly identify each piece and link each item to its characteristics-full mannequin, torso, head, headless, seated, standing, fabric or fiberglass-in a database.

Henderson-Townsend would like the RFID system to be part of a larger effort to integrate her disparate business software platforms. Her vision is to use an enterprise resource-planning program to manage her inventory and sales systems. She believes that using an RFID system and an ERP program will improve her company's productivity by 30 percent. But she's having a hard time finding an RFID vendor willing to develop the customized code required to link with the ERP and stay within her budget.

"I'm excited," she says, "but I'm also frustrated about not being able to find an RFID vendor who can help me because I am a small business." Still, she's hopeful that she can put her winnings to good use and make finding a specific mannequin so easy that any dummy could do it.
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