Celebrity cardboard cutout manufacturer invests in AI and automation to drive growth

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A manufacturer of life-size cardboard cut-outs of celebrities, Disney and Star Wars characters is anticipating game-changing growth after investing in trend analysis software and AI. 

Star Cutouts, based in Ashton-under-Lyne, prints on demand and distributes a rich array of 3,000 characters, including the Royal family, celebrities, sports stars, as well as film and TV stars. 

The products, which include cut-outs, face masks and wall decorations, are popular among fans for home decor, as well as parties and events.

With the help of Made Smarter’s North West adoption programme, the business is investing £30,000 in software that will enable it to monitor media to help improve its speed and accuracy in reacting to trends, such as the South Korean survival drama Squid Game.

Supported by a £324,000 investment in new automation machinery, Ian Ravey, Managing Director, forecasts the business can increase sales and turnover fivefold to £10m within the next five years, as well as create a new digital role in the business and upskill its marketing and design team.

“Big data and analytics offer a huge and exciting opportunity for us to not just be quicker to react to trends, but to influence them,” Ian said. “The increased accuracy of our product launches will save a considerable amount of time and resources, making much better use of our talented design team. We will be able to use that efficiency to focus on growth.

“Our strategy is to combine the latest digital tools to understand our customers and increase production through new machinery and continuously improve processes. This is a major first step.

“We predict the impact of our strategy will be huge and we are grateful to Made Smarter for supporting and accelerating the opportunity.”

Launched in 2005, one of Star Cutouts’ major challenges is managing the risk of launching new products. 

“Selecting the right character is extremely time consuming as it involves research via social media to spot who and what is trending,” Ian explained. “Sentiment also changes so quickly day to day. When you are spending a considerable amount on licensing agreements you need to be confident in your investment.”

The new software will monitor a huge archive of characters, as well as identify new trends and analyse other metrics including geography. This vital business intelligence will be instantly fed to the management and design team via a bespoke platform to support decision making on product development.

“Our investment will help us focus on offering what fans and customers want,” Ian added. “It will enable us to react quicker to trends and popularity. We will also know where in the world the fans of certain characters are and target marketing accordingly to increase sales.”

Donna Edwards, Made Smarter’s North West Adoption Programme Director, said: “We are delighted to be supporting Star Cutouts on its digital transformation. It is a fantastic example of a business using technology to transform how it designs, tests and manufactures products.

“Star Cutouts is among hundreds of manufacturers in the region grasping the opportunities offered by Made Smarter which include expert, impartial technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help take that first step to transform a business, and support with technology investment. I would encourage other SME manufacturers to do the same.”