Business makes life-size (and bigger) cutouts to spread joy during COVID-19
Brian and Shelly Ehler know the importance of staying safe and socially distanced to avoid spreading COVID-19.
But they understand the difficulties of not being able to see their loved ones in person during the pandemic.
And they know there’s a missing space for everyone without their families, friends and just people in general at holidays, sporting events, morning coffees and afternoon teas.
They know all that. So they found a way to bring about smiles throughout the isolation.
And they did it all with cardboard and a flatbed printer.
The Ehlers own a business in Oxnard called AllBlownUp, where they make custom cardboard cutouts of people from photos of them.
It began in 2005, when Mrs. Ehler was invited to attend two weddings on the same day.
She sent a life-size cutout of herself to the bride whose wedding she couldn’t attend, and it was a hit. Wedding attendees posed for photos for Mrs. Ehler’s cardboard cutout, and the bride thanked her for making an effort despite the conflicting schedule.
“Our slogan has always been, ‘You think you can’t be in two places at the same time? Now you can. You’ll be the life of the party when you’re not even there,’ ” Mrs. Ehler told the News-Press.
Little did the couple know their idea would be picked up 15 years later amid stay-at-home orders, isolation and social distancing. Mrs. Ehler said that this was the first Mother’s Day and Father’s Day she couldn’t spend with her parents, and she knew many were in the same boat.
“We were really trying to promote that this is the best gift you can send to your mom,” she said. “Don’t send flowers, send this for less money. Flowers are expensive.”
Soon the effort moved to nursing homes and assisted living, where the visitor regulations are tighter than most other places.
Where the business really blew up, though, was graduation season.
“Graduations were magical for our company,” Mrs. Ehler said. “Overnight, people started ordering cutouts or big heads as graduation gifts, and it blew up over the next month to two months. We were doing graduation orders nonstop.”
Another niche the Ehlers found was hearing from a synagogue in Henderson, Nev., where the staff said they’d like to fill their synagogue for the upcoming High Holy Days.
Then swim teams were reaching out for audiences at meets, and their cardboard cutouts turned into fundraisers.
Mrs. Ehler said they’ve made and sold thousands of cardboard cutouts since the pandemic.
“The only thing that’s worth doing is something that’s a win-win-win,” she said. “It’s good for me, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the world. When it comes to this fundraiser, it’s a win for us, a win for them and a win for all the fans who are loving it.”
She said while it’s silly, athletes are able to look up and remember that their parents want to be there so badly that they went to the effort of making a goofy cardboard cutout of themselves. Some fans even made cardboard cutouts of their dogs for the athletes to look up and see.
The process, Mrs. Ehler said, is fairly simple.
She and her husband use a flatbed printer and photos print directly onto the cardboard, and all they have to do is cut out the shape and off it goes to its recipient.
The biggest challenge is the high-resolution requirement — if buyers send a fuzzy photo or a small file size, the photo will blow up to life-size and be very blurry and pixelated. However, regular smartphone cameras are good enough according to the business owner.
A half-size cutout to put in a chair costs $39; a full-size cutout costs $89; and customers can also order doubles for anniversaries or wedding pictures.
The Ehlers typically need two to three days to make the cutouts.
“When I wasn’t able to be with my mom for Mother’s Day, I sent her all of her grandchildren as cardboard cutouts,” Mrs. Ehler said. “She called me and she just cried. She said, ‘You’ll never know what that means to me.’”
Mrs. Ehler’s mother had been in isolation from the very beginning, and had to isolate alone because she lost her husband prior to the pandemic.
“Though it seems silly, it helped,” she said. “It made her smile every morning. She just laughed, and seeing them made her feel better.”
While some people may be “too cool” to want a life-size replica of themselves, Mrs. Ehler believes the cutouts resonate with people these days because “there’s so much love in them,” and it’s a way to let members of the family and loved ones know that they’re being thought about, even though the health orders may not let them be there in person.
The cutouts also remind people to smile and laugh during the pandemic.
Sometimes humor makes all the difference.
“The mission of our company is to spread joy, and honestly, it does spread joy,” Mrs. Ehler said. “Once you get one, you might look at it and think, ‘Oh, that’s silly,’ but when you see one or send one, it’s always someone’s favorite gift.”