A business conceived over a pint in the pub is celebrating deals with Disney and the NFL in America… welcome to the celebrity world of Mask-arade!
Wouldn’t life be great if you were Harry Styles of One Direction, or Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho, or Prince Harry? Well, here’s a thing – Ray Duffy can make those dreams come true. In fact, just name who you want to be and Ray will make it happen… a million times over! He runs one of the region’s hottest businesses making celebrity masks. And together with his partners Chris O’Nyan and Dean Walton, his Mask-arade business has sold more than 750,000 ‘famous faces’ in the UK this year. That figure will top one million in 2015 and continue to grow as the firm pushes into exciting new markets, including a first foray across the pond.
“We’ve just signed a deal with the NFL in the US to produce and sell our products for every player in American football – and there’s 1,800 of them. The deal also includes three Super Bowls and gives us our first foothold in the States,” said Ray. “We will manufacture in the US and the plan is to have our own base there.” The business already sells across Europe, the Middle East and Australia as well as here in its biggest market in the UK. As we spoke, the Mask-arade team based in Southam were gearing up for the huge pre-Christmas rush. “The last couple of weeks have seen things ramp up four or five times. It’s our busiest time of the year and absolutely manic,” said Ray. “The best sellers are masks for characters from Breaking Bad and the minions from Despicable Me. But the Number One is Disney’s Frozen. It’s our first licence from Disney and is going great.”
It’s all a far cry from the early days six years ago when good mates Ray, Chris and Dean hit on the idea of making celebrity masks over a pint one evening in their local. They each invested £2,000 in the project and started on an incredibly small scale, printing out, mounting on card and hand-punching eye holes in 300 masks of West Brom soccer legend Kevin Phillips which they sold to fans outside the Hawthorns. The match was televised and the trio’s masks were seen in living rooms around the country. Their biggest break came after Ray, Chris and Dean appeared on Dragons’ Den – and were turned down! A TV audience of six million saw the episode, and orders came flooding in. Mask-arade has never looked back since. The company has won a raft of business and entrepreneurial awards and has expanded into new, ever-bigger premises. “We have three types of product,” said Ray. “The masks, desktop cut-outs and full life-size cutouts. Our latest Disney range has seen masks on sale for just three weeks so far – we had 71,000 pre-orders and we will have sold 160,000 before Christmas. People are going crazy for the masks.”
But it’s the desktop cutout products which are proving to be the biggest hit for the company. At under £5 each, they’re the perfect low-price, high novelty gift – especially with One Direction fans. And it’s One D that’s top of the pops again when it comes to sales of the full-size cutout models. It seems the girls can’t get enough of Harry and Co in their bedrooms! Other popular faces throughout the year include Jose Mourinho masks, as well as leading members of the Royal Family including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. As Mask-arade’s MD, it’s Ray’s job to steer the business to ever-greater success, while Chris heads the sales team and Dean marketing. “When we see how the business is growing so fast, I think the three of us will look back on our first six years and realise that we were virtually playing at it. The company has completely taken off.”