Dressed for success (2/4)

Written on the 13 May 2009

 

BURSTING with colour and wares to theme anything from corporate functions to retail Christmas fittings, The Prop House is proof that St Mary’s is not the only unconventional church building in South Brisbane. Director Jano Dawes says there has never been a mountain too high.
 
AT 19 Jano Dawes was dissatisfied being ‘treated as a number’ in retail so she walked into a menswear shop on the Queen Street Arcade offering to dress windows.
Twenty years on, she expects her business The Prop House to pull in revenues between $2 million to $3 million this financial year.
Dawes says that in difficult economic times the initial reaction is to tighten the purse strings, but she also stresses the importance for businesses to continue to be innovative, to be visually exciting and to show customers they’re adapting and meeting challenges head on.
The Prop House designs and decorates events, retail and Christmas displays, as well as prop and linen hire.
“It’s not like you’re refitting the entire office environment, you’re doing something which is a short burst of colour or excitement which not only motivates your customers, but it also motivates your staff,” says Dawes.
“A boardroom lunch can be as boring as anything or a boardroom lunch can be fabulous.”
Dawes is meticulous about her displays. The aim she says, is to ‘make people’s jaws drop’.
Even though business is good, her vision at the moment is to get through the next 12 months, due to the negativity surrounding the downturn.
“Profit-wise we’ve gone up, but I’m a little bit nervous about the next 12 months because The Prop House I guess is a bit of a luxury – it’s not a necessity,” she says.
“But if you believe in yourself, it’s amazing what you can achieve in life in general. I listen to every bit of advice around me – I don’t take it all – but I listen. You’ve got to design yourself a sieve in your mind so you can capture what is relevant to you and just let go of the rest.”
Four years ago, The Prop House moved from nearby Merivale Street, a challenge considering the customer base became so accustomed to the old location. But when the ‘for sale’ sign went up outside the old church, the idea for The Prop House to relocate hit Dawes like a lightning bolt.
“The funny thing is that when we put up our signage at the back of the church, we realised that the horizontal line in our logo was the same as for the crucifix that was there,” she says.
“We realised from the outset that it would be challenging for customers to find us, so we became a lot more proactive in getting The Prop House name out there.”
But the biggest challenge since starting the business in 1995 was when Dawes separated from her husband almost a decade ago and she was forced to balance her commitment as a single mum.
“Our partnership dissolved and I had to take over the reins of this business as a sole operator. I think honestly being the boss is sometimes pretty lonely, because you’ve got to make the hard decisions and you’ve got to be accountable,” she says.
“I look back and I still am shocked at the fact that I started a business at 19, because I’ve never done a business plan. I am very big on budgeting, cash projections and things like that though and my advice to the budding entrepreneur would be to just go for it and believe in yourself if you’re confident you’ve got a good idea.”
Now with 14 full-time employees and 70 staff that are brought in for the busy Christmas season, the mother of three applies her soft spot for helping others with the assistance of her husband and QPAC director John Kotzas.
“I’ve always had a real soft spot for helping. I think it’s too easy to get bogged down with spreadsheets and balance sheets, and we need to be aware of the fact that there are people worse off than us,” she says.

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