Since forming in 2008, Mask-arade has come a long way. Having just opened its new Warwickshire distribution centre to meet increased demand, plans for further growth are afoot.
Company managing director and co-founder Ray Duffy talks to James Pozzi about the new centre and the rise of the party products industry.
Your new Warwickshire distribution facility was officially opened last weekend. What does its unveiling mean for the company in terms of capacity and assisting growth?
“We took on the unit next door which has increased our stock holding. What it means is we’ve got twice as much stock holding and distribution than we had before. It’s all part of a £300,000 investment in the building, new technologies and machinery aimed at making two sides of the business more efficient. One is it the capability it holds in the region of 140 pallets of stock on this site, and an additional storage around the corner of up to 180 pallets should we want. This side of Christmas I think we’ll be using it, because of the popularity of our new life sized standee products, which we ship between 4,000-6,000 units of a month. This will only get bigger.”
You’re now the world’s largest distributor of face masks, despite doing the majority of your business in the UK. What is your experience of looking at new markets overseas?
“At the moment we ship very low levels to America, which are mainly personalised products. This is because we have to negotiate the territories with the licensors. But we’re in talks with them currently and they are happy with that. We’re also in talks with distributors that can put us in touch with 7,000-10,000 trade customers because that’s on their combined database. It’s a case of just getting the contracts right, and when we do, we will be able to react to the level of orders we might get. Which is the really exciting bit, as we don’t know how big they are going to be, but one thing’s certain: they won’t be insignificant. Even if they are per unit over there, they could eclipse what we’ve done in the first five years here, and make us look like we’ve been standing still.”
What is the typical process in terms of research and development in the mask manufacturing, what do you test?
“Everything is tested to BSEM 71, parts 1, 2 and 3 which is a toy standard. Our products may be worn by children, so we test them to the highest standards. By doing this qualifies the companies we supply such as Primark and Sainsbury’s.
It’s up to and beyond their own in-house test standards. We’re trying to do one thing that satisfies everybody and that falls in line by how we run the business here, where we account for all the ethical standards. Primark in my experience are the most fastidious company in the industry with the strictest standards, so as a business we operate to those terms. We take the strictest ones and make it our norm.
We have implemented bio-metric clocking in and out machines to make sure we know who is in the building, which also complies with customer’s high standards. If we get to 50+ staff, we won’t have to change our business practice.”
Despite the economic downturn of the last five years, the party business has fared strongly. Why do you feel this is?
I suppose it’s the fact people now entertain at home. At a low key party, a £3 mask can transform it. Our customer feedback has told us this. For a few pounds, the product can be a memorable souvenirs of a special occasion such as birthdays and anniversaries. I’s cost effective, bags of fun and considering we are in tougher times, I guess everyone is in need of a laugh!
It sounds like you’re very much geared for growth. What does the next few years hold?
Everything is focused on growth; expanding the territory and our product range, with recent deals announced with the Manchester United and Chelsea football clubs. It’d also be nice if we can find more One Directions! Products associated with them are currently our biggest sellers.