One Magazine’s Bruce Hetherington catches up with The Prop Factory’s Marketing Director to talk about her venture into the world of eye-catching props, how dyslexia never stepped in the path of carving a successful career and how she helps children in schools who are going through the same.

“Too much agreement is not a good thing,” says Carmen Croxall with a laugh as we step into a warehouse full of brass candelabra, Rococo furnishings, velvet sofas, pieces of a Georgian bed, a few strong man games and all manner of fun items.

The thirty year old Marketing Director of The Prop Factory has never been one to take the well-worn path. At school Carmen found herself wondering why her fellow students seemed to get it, while it took her longer to grasp things. That changed in her second year at Bristol University when she was finally tested and found to have dyslexia. She was given more time for assignments and in exams, and a laptop, and hasn’t looked back.

“I’m great with ideas, and apparently have a high IQ, but none of that helps when school is so often taught for those on the other end of the spectrum,” she says.

Now Carmen gives talks to groups with learning disabilities to show that these should not get in the way of career success. She’s also helping a primary school in Devon with a project where the children are being tasked with coming up with the prop concepts for a ‘wonderland’ themed wedding planned for the summer.
“I’ll help wherever I can,” she says.

Her office is a small oasis in The Prop Factory’s 7,500ft2 Marsh Barton warehouse that is the company’s headquarters. Around us pallet racking and mezzanine floors heave with masses of sometimes over the top, often ornate and always eye-catching props. An army of topiary and light-up letters over here, a print table over there, a chesterfield sofa up there and 60 distinct chairs stacked over there on the mezzanine deck.

“This is a creative business. We are constantly coming up with concepts and ideas but we don’t have the time or the resources to pursue them all. If we all agree with each other on everything then we won’t get anything done!” she says in describing the business’s management style.

In just five years The Prop Factory has grown from a garage, via a shop on the Quay to where it is today – one of the country’s top providers of wedding and event props with an ambition to grow its revenues this year by one hundred percent. With that achieved Carmen concedes it will be time to consolidate and quite literally take stock.

“The basic formula here is that we have to have 10% of our stock out on hire at any one point in time, but at the same time we have to ensure that every client event has a uniqueness about it that is not diluted. That means we have to be wide not deep in terms of the props we have on offer, and we have to constantly update on the themes.”

We’re reliably informed that Rococo will be big this year and Carmen and her team are always on the lookout for anything with the right design element that they can recycle into a prop. As we speak, one of her artisans is working away on a piece, chisel in hand, stripping off something distinct to add.
The Prop Factory hardly buys any new materials – and enjoys a symbiotic relationship with a number of other Marsh Barton businesses.

“We’re on first name terms with all the lads in the recycling centre of course,” she chuckles, “but also work with framers, building suppliers, surplus stores, charity shops and anywhere else we think we can find great material.”

Carmen is also hoping to tap the corporate event market this year – particularly for staff parties which she says should no longer be held in dull, uniform environments. “Please talk to us – we can give your staff party the props it needs to be really memorable, and a huge amount of fun,” she says.

Carmen is also buoyed by the growth in Devon’s wedding venues in recent years. Weddings are probably 50% of the company’s revenue and set to grow even more because The Prop Factory sets the stage for today’s contemporary weddings.

“Weddings are now massively visual events, with every guest using their phones to send out images real time and far and wide. Our props will form the perfect background to your big day and create that sense of the special occasion.”

The Prop Factory warehouse is open to the public if you’d like to go down and see this treasure trove for yourself. For further information please contact her on 01392 493660 or visit the warehouse at Unit 2, 8 Marsh Green Road North, EX2 8NY.

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