Special Events

Tools of the Trade: Prop Stars

TODAY'S PROPS ARE a snap to set up, are easy to take down and fit into almost every budget. Knowledgeable customers are demanding that props be not only attractive and functional, but lightweight and durable.

TOP PROPS Chris Mortensen, sales manager of Oldtown, Idaho-based B&C Mortensen Wood Products, sells gazebos, arches and backdrops specifically designed for quick setup and portability. Made with hinges or steel tracks, the props require no tools, and most take 15 minutes or less to set up. "Natural wood is a big thing right now," Mortensen notes. He also points to the increased use of black props "not as a focal point but to hide stuff" such as a wait station so that it blends in with the decor.

Brett Kaufman, president of manufacturing and rental company Designs of Distinction in Cleveland, notes an interest in the interactive - rather than decorative - use of props. People can "get into the set," he says, much like a movie set.

DAMAGE CONTROL Mortensen says he always tells customers to "secure your props!" By anchoring props to the ground with sandbags or stakes, or to trees with monofilament line, you decrease the chance of damage caused by unforeseen weather changes.

Jo Segura, sales director for Rotonics Manufacturing of Brownwood, Texas, agrees, noting that with the plastic columns, arches and rocks her company manufactures, "people need to be aware that they are a lightweight product, and if they are going to use them outside, they need to put sand in them."

"Pay attention to how [the props are] packed and how [they're] boxed," Kaufman says, to lower the risk of damage when repacking. Even better, have someone in charge of sales or catering oversee the packing of the props, "not the load-in and load-out crews," he says. "They don't really care about the equipment." Kaufman often uses his own crew to unpack props.

WHERE THE DEALS ARE "If you're planning to purchase for a number of events, make a large order," says Robert Abatemarco Jr., sales director of Robelan Displays. Offering more than 150 items, the Hempstead, N.Y.-based props company might allow a 5 percent to 10 percent discount if the order is large enough, he says. Mortensen suggests consolidating your order "so you can get the best deal on freight."

To save money elsewhere, Segura recommends taking advantage of discounts at trade shows: "We have excellent discounts at trade shows and sell things off the floor, too."

THE PERKS OF PLASTIC "Props that are reusable are a good thing. You get more for your money," says Roxanne Smith, a customer service representative for Anaheim, Calif.-based American Rotational Molding, which makes polyethylene plastic columns, vases and fountains. Smith is familiar with the advantages of plastic. "I think the reason people prefer plastic over fiberglass [props] is that they're lighter and they take more abuse," she says. Plastic props are also versatile because you can paint them repeatedly, customizing them for any event, notes Segura.

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