By Mike Dano | Jun 02, 2014
Mannequins for store displays
140 employees worldwide, 100 in the United States
It was 2009, and the order came in a week before Thanksgiving: Old Navy was about to launch a massive advertising campaign and it needed 13,000 custom mannequins--"supermodelquins"--in less than four months. The mannequins--complete with smiling, cartoony faces and adjustable stances--were to act as the centerpiece of its new clothing lines in its stores. The supermodelquins needed to spark surprise and curiosity in shoppers across the country.
"That was quite an exciting project," said Peter Huston, brand president of Fusion Specialties.
The order, which Fusion was able to meet, is one of the company's corporate highlights. It also serves to underline the company's strategic position in the market: Founded by two friends in California, Fusion's goal for the past two and a half decades has been to build made-to-order, high-quality, durable and easy-to-position mannequins. Fusion's mannequins make use of its patented E-Flex technology, which allows customers to design any kind of mannequin--tall or short, fat or thin--and then to easily and quickly position that mannequin in a store.
In the 1990s, the company relocated from California to Broomfield--Huston said a surprisingly large number of employees chose to move along with the company, resulting in a cross-state caravan of Fusion workers--and today the company operates manufacturing facilities in Colorado, Mexico and Asia and employs about 140 people worldwide. However, Huston said that number can sometimes scale up to as many as 600 contract workers during the busy months of June and November, when Fusion works to meet customers' holiday orders.
More importantly, Fusion has been working to expand its operations. Fusion is part of a larger group of companies called Noa, and as part of that group Fusion in 2009 merged with New York-based mannequin maker Goldsmith. Then, in 2013, Fusion merged with two Barcelona-based mannequin makers, Atrezzo and Pop. Goldsmith, Atrezzo and Pop offer a catalog of mannequin designs while Fusion offers custom-building options.
Fusion's model "is primarily based on custom mannequins. Our target customers are large national and international specialty chains and brands" like Nike and Gap, Huston said. "The reason we target them is because our model is based off of making mannequins that are specific to those customers," he added. "That's what made the marriage between our companies so good. There was very little overlap in our customer base (with Goldsmith, Atrezzo and Pop) because we approached the market in two very different directions."
Fusion and Goldsmith counted $62 million in annual revenues in 2013, and Atrezzo and Pop did a combined $30 million in revenues last year. "We've been experiencing pretty steady growth year over year," Huston noted.
Huston explained that Fusion counts "hundreds of customers," but today two stand out: Nike and Target. "The company that keeps us most consistently busy with designs is Nike Inc.," Huston said, noting that Fusion has developed more than 200 unique designs for Nike and Nike retailers.
"Nike recently has started to focus on action poses and mannequins that work in an integrated manner with each other and complement each other," Huston said, pointing to mannequins like a basketball point guard posing up against a defender. "Those positions are extremely unique and generate a lot of attention."
As for Target, Huston said Fusion recently finishing a testing phase with the retail giant and is now gearing up for a nationwide rollout this fall. "They've never really used mannequins in their stores before," Huston said. The addition of custom mannequins "helps them capture a different place in the marketplace."
Challenges: "The mannequin is very niche," Huston said, noting that Fusion is seeing increasing competition from Asia. "It's an extremely fragmented market that lends itself to a lot of extremely stiff competition. That is absolutely a challenge."
Further, Huston pointed to the increasingly global nature of retail, where chains in Europe and looking to expand into the United States and vice versa. "You have to be able to grow and service your customers wherever they grow," Huston said. "That presents not only a production but logistics challenge."
Opportunities: "Your greatest challenges, when properly viewed, are your greatest opportunities," Huston said, explaining that if Fusion can adequately address challenges from Asia and an increasingly global sales market, "you can get good opportunities."
Needs: "More customers," Huston said, laughing. "We thrive off of volume."