Ray and Chris stayed up all night making 600 masks of West Bromwich player Kevin Phillips, cutting each mask by hand. Their hard work soon paid off when they sold all 600 before the game even started. When the whistle blew, the pitch was awash with fans and players wearing the masks.
Realising there was a market for their product, they approached an IP lawyer for advice. After agreeing on a name, they registered Mask-arade as a limited company and purchased the domain name. Then, with the help of a specialised IP attorney, they filed a community trade mark on the word Mask-arade. This protects the mark in all countries in the European Union, including the UK.
Ray told us why they decided to trade mark the name in the EU:
We realised early in the business that the appeal of our products was very broad. We knew that our face masks would appeal to people in foreign territories. Protecting our IP is crucial to expanding the business and brand to a global audience. We currently sell to more than 10 countries and are in discussions with larger target territories.
A few months later, Mask-arade appeared on Dragons’ Den pitching for a £50,000 investment. They needed the money for a large printer and more suitable premises (they were working from Chris’ spare bedroom and Ray’s garage at the time!) Although the Dragons liked the idea, none of them chose to invest as they thought the concept could easily be copied. Nevertheless, Mask-arade got the exposure they needed and their website hits increased by 450% with a flurry of orders being made.
Although business had boomed, the Dragons were correct in that competitors would try and copy their idea. Although they had protected their brand with a registered trade mark, their product could still be replicated. So they stood out from the competition, Mask-arade purchased copyright licences. They used the images of many well-known celebrities and icons. They also negotiated exclusive rights to create masks for popular TV shows and football teams.
“Being able to offer an official product ensures that we offer an instantly recognised brand – one that multinational clients are keen to associate themselves with. Bootleg copies of products are usually avoided by the quality conscious public.”
However, when Mask-arade was still a small but growing business, obtaining the celebrity licences was far more difficult. Ray Duffy believes their registered trade mark has played a significant part in their recent success.
“Without doubt, having a registered trade mark has helped us to create a name and brand associated with quality products. At Mask-arade we pride ourselves on our reputation for superior artwork, product quality, client service, attention to detail and integrity.”
The royal celebrations in 2011 and 2012 provided a huge boost for Mask-arade. They sold 250,000 masks for the wedding of William and Kate and 750,000 for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The masks were also stocked by major retailers such as Clintons, Sainsbury’s and Harrods.
Long gone are the days of cutting masks by hand. Mask-arade now own a large warehouse and professional printing and finishing machinery. They have their own factory and offices and employ over 15 members of staff. They currently sell over 450 different designs and hold over 45 copyright licenses. Going forward, they plan to extend the range even further, branching out internationally. It is this success story that saw them return to the Den in 2011, dubbed as ‘the ones that got away’.
Looking back on this journey, Ray had the following advice for start-up businesses:
Protecting your IP can be the difference between success and failure. If you want longevity in your business you should invest early on, as soon as you see the need or desire for it.