High Point finally enjoys commercial success

by Brian Clarey

I’ve been singing the song all damn day. At the Red House…. I started getting Facebook posts and strange e-mails last week from friends scattered around the nation, asking me if there really is such a place as High Point, NC. Yes, I told them. There is. At the Red House….

And they wanted to know: Is it true that in this place called High Point that the races live in harmony — buy furniture at the same store, even — down there in the Deep South? It’s all true, I said. Except, you know, North Carolina is not the Deep South. At the Red House… where black people and white people buy furniture. And what of this Red House, they asked. Is it true? Can it be real? Oh yes, it’s real. Down at the Red House Furniture & Appliance, just off Main Street, the phones have been ringing off the hook for the past two weeks, ever since a pair of popular internet videographers shot a 90-second commercial for the store promoting racial equality and harmony, with that very catchy jingle. Store employee Richard Pina — AKA “Big Head,” who is black and likes pumping iron and pumping furniture into peoples homes — is on the phone right now with a guy from Atlanta who just watched the spot on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 600,000 looks. “Did you like it?” Pina asks. He listens, smiles, then gives the thumbs up. The spot was commissioned by MicroBilt, a risk management company that provides credit reports for the Red House and small business just like it all over the US.

They hired the team of Rhett and Link, who have been making short films for the internet for the past two years. They call themselves internetainers. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal both hail from Buies Creek, just outside Fuquay Varina, and have been friends since first grade. “We make a living by making internet videos,” Neal says over the phone from Ohio, where he and his partner performed a concert in the living room of a lucky contest winner. “We’ve made over 200 videos, posted more than 20 million views…. It was kind of a departure for us. But we like local commercials. And as an art form, the craziest are usually the most successful.” 

So they went a little crazy, barnstorming through downtown High Point to make the spot for the Red House, and also for another concern down the road, TDM Auto Sales, where the 60-second ad featured an employee who is a former gynecologist from Cuba. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” Neal says. “At least, it’s more entertaining than fiction.” At the Red House…. Sorry. It’s just that the song is still stuck in my head. At the Red House, Neal says they took some time to meet the employees, learn what the store was about. “Big Head said, ‘We’re like the Rainbow Coalition — we got white and black people shopping and working here,’” Neal remembers. “We just looked at each other. [We said,] ‘These guys have a sense of humor. Let’s take it to the extreme.’” Johnny Hill, AKA 10-Gauge, has been working at the Red House for 18 years. And though he likes the commercials, he doesn’t find them all that funny. “It doesn’t hit us how funny it is,” he says. “It’s like me telling a joke you already heard. That’s how it seems to us.” I remind him that, in the “making of” video (which has so far gotten 36,000 YouTube views), McLaughlin compares him to DeNiro. “Yeah,” he says. “I don’t even know who DeNiro is. I don’t watch much television.” Down Main Street at the TDM Auto Sales lot, Rudy Fuentes, who really was a gynecologist in his native Cuba, tells of his harrowing journey by boat to Puerto Rico. “There was 27 persons,” he says. “There was a lot of women, and the menstruation, and the sharks smell the blood. And a lot of poeple was vomiting, and they follow that.” “For Rudy, we just rolled the camera and fed him some lines,” Neal says. “Like, ‘Hey Rudy, why don’t you say, “I want to Freedomize this Explorer.”’” TDM’s phone hasn’t been ringing quite as often as the one over at the Red House, where black people and white people buy furniture — they commercial has yet to break 200,000 hits, but it’s getting there. And they’ve managed to do somethign the Red House hasn’t: make a sale. A customer called to buy the motorcycle featured in the commercial. The Red House, though, is a perfect storm — a catchy jingle, funny characters, and a hot-button issue. Pina says that while the commercial is racial, it’s not racist, echoing a sentiment expressed by McLaughlin on yet another YouTube clip. “The only people who have bad things to say are the comments on YouTube,” Pina says. “I haven’t had nobody out of thousands of calls.” “I think it’s bizarre, it’s a spectacle,” Neal says. You get that initial reaction: ‘I can’t believe people are saying this stuff, and I don’t know how to react.’ “At the same time, It’s humanity — these are real people. If you go to the Red House, TDM Aurto, you’ll see that they are the real deal. I think it really comes across. It’s crazy yet strangely real.”

LEFT: Rudy Fuentes, who worked as a gynecologist before he escapedCuba on a boat, starred in a commercial for TDM Auto Sales. RIGHT: Ifyou don’t recognize 10- Gauge and Big Head of the Red House, then youare completely out of it, my friend. (photos by Brian Clarey)