David Poulton

Originally published: Sunshine Coast Daily - Life & Style Weekend
Date: November 26, 2016

Who can tell what strange occurrences can lead you on a path to business success and life satisfaction?

In the case of David Poulton, it was a childhood stammer and a near-death experience in an Asian hotel.

With his wife Sally, David owns and operates Promotions in Motion, a company that keeps a low-profile in a factory in Noosaville, yet produces installations that are displayed all around the world and have been regularly named (by the Huffington Post) in the Top Ten Windows of the World.

David designs, creates and builds enormous and spectacular Christmas window displays for high-end department stores and streetscapes.

With just a small team of seven permanent staff in the Noosaville outlet, the team creates magical Christmas storybook scenes to be enjoyed by millions of people every festive season.

A master puppet-maker and puppeteer, David’s destiny began with a childhood stutter.

“My parents emigrated from England, and at school I developed a very bad stammer,” he said.

“I got teased so terribly I decided not to speak. For two years I did not say a word in public.

“Then I had a (new) teacher who was told she had a child who did not speak.

“She brought a puppet to school and asked the puppet to give a morning talk.

“The puppet spoke in a big loud voice. That was the beginning of my love of puppets.”

David’s parents encouraged his puppet passion which eventually helped him overcome his stammer and later gave him the confidence to stage puppet shows which led him into adulthood where he turned his hobby into a career, and with his wife Sally toured the world staging puppet shows.

“We had the largest puppet company in Australia,” he said. “We had four or five shows on the road at any one time: in Canada, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

‘‘ We put about $500,000 into the Sunshine Coast community by wages. We don’t buy anything on the internet, it is all bought locally.

“I would perform at festivals in Europe. Then about 13 years ago, I was alone in a hotel room in Taiwan when there was a major earthquake. Two hundred people were killed.

“At that moment I had a lightning bolt. I knew I did not want to go to Asia again in a work situation. I had a wife and a home in Noosa so I thought hard about what I could do there (for work) that did not involve travel.”

A business relying on puppet shows was obviously not going to be sustainable in a regional Australian town so David and Sally had to think outside the box.

David began sketching and designing puppets for window displays, especially Christmas scenes, and with Sally, he grew the business to a stage where interest came from all over Australia and then from overseas.

This Christmas, his biggest display is in the Smith & Caughey department store in Auckland.

“It is a special one-off department store run by one family, very high class, way above all others,” David said.

“They are highly successful, 135 years old. We have been doing their windows for 10 years.

“They are very artistic, our best customer. They give me artistic freedom.”

It is a year-long process to create a Christmas window, beginning with the client (in this case Smith & Caughey) negotiating with a children’s book illustrator.

“They go for someone who has won a big award with a (children’s) book,” David said.

“We take that book, condense it, create scenes and then get 12 department store windows out of it.”

Towards the end of each year, the Noosaville factory (which David and Sally like to call a studio) looks like Santa’s enclave in the North Pole, with colour and fantasy in hundreds of puppets, and excitement in dozens of Christmas scenes covering every centimetre of the 1000sq m space.

Bringing it all together so it has movement as well as colour and fascination involves many elements, with David and Sally opting for a French mechanical-theatre style of operation which although traditional is far more difficult to produce.

“We use very little electronics,” David said. “French mechanical theatre was very popular in the 1870s. There are only two or three stores in the world that do mechanical theatre now: Gallerie Lafayette in Paris and Lord & Taylor in New York.”

Although the colour and movement of Promotions in Motion’s Christmas windows is the main star, the soundtrack is also very important.

“Human Nature recorded the soundtrack for the Auckland Christmas window,” David said.

“There would be close to a million people look at that window. That’s unusual in a city the size of Auckland.

“They have lots of country people come in just to look at the window.” Other Christmas window displays that will delight young and old this festive season will be presented in cities and towns all over Australia, including the David Jones window in Wollongong. “We had a local band in Noosa do the soundtrack for the Wollongong store,” David said. “We have stuff in 21 shopping centres from Perth to Queensland from Sydney to Cairns. We have just built a phenomenal Christmas tree in Perth which has animation in it.” While the animation/puppet manufacturing industry is competitive, especially from the Chinese market where manufacturing costs are half of David and Sally’s installations, Promotions in Motion’s work is still in demand. “Every one of our puppets is a one-off,” David said. “We do not produce like a sausage factory. Everything we do is made for the client, it is bespoke. “We have a great sense of pride. We have been offered an opportunity by a large American company of 10 times what we do now if we relocate to Asia and run a factory for them. But we live on the Sunshine Coast. We care about it, want to create local jobs. “We put about $500,000 into the Sunshine Coast community by wages. We don’t buy anything on the internet, it is all bought locally. I believe strongly in it. We have to have jobs for our young people. We have to shop locally. “