One of Winnipeg’s most famous pitchmen may have died two decades ago, but his unique commercials and iconic “COME ON DOWN!!!” catchphrase will live on forever on the Internet.
Nick Hill was the long-time owner, face and voice of Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op and will go down as one of the best pitchmen in the city’s history. Nicknamed “The Furniture King” and “The Mayor of Main Street,” Hill was renowned for his gravely voice, his white Stetson and his plaintive cry to “come ooooooooon down” to his store. His public persona was created single-handedly through thousands of radio and TV commercials over nearly five decades and a marketing style he pioneered back at the dawn of television.
“I was the only guy in Canada doing his own advertising. You have to be different when you’re in business. You have to be your own personality. My voice is different, my personality is different,” he said in a 2002 interview celebrating his 50th year in the business.
Hill was often joined by one or more of his three sons—Andrew, Nick Jr. and Scott—in the company spots, usually with their heads floating above the bedroom suites, sectionals, La-Z-Boys and dining room sets they were peddling.
One of his boys was often accused of having “left the sofa-making machine on” over the weekend, resulting in an abundance of stock that needed to be blown out. The entire collection of 30-second spots from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s has been digitized by Andrew Burke, a professor in the Department of English at the University of Winnipeg. He applied for a grant after learning that Brett Lougheed, an archivist at the U of W, had acquired a dusty box of videocassettes containing the commercials.
“These advertisements hold a significant place in the city’s audiovisual history and are deeply embedded in the cultural memory of those who experienced local television during that period,” Burke says. “It’s part of media history, it’s part of retail history, it’s part of business history and it’s especially a part of television history.”
“There’s an argument to say Nick Hill is the absolute master of the form. He was at the cutting edge of thinking about what a commercial could do.”
Hill was so omnipresent on television and his delivery so distinct that it’s not unusual for people to this day to remember Kern-Hill’s address—843 Main Street—from his commercials’ outro.
“The key is to look after your customer. The customer is king. You have to do more for people than they expect. Then, in turn, the people will bring you the riches. Money is not the object, the object is satisfying people,” he said.
Hill was once an aspiring hockey player and although he never made it to the NHL, he played several exhibition games for the Boston Bruins and attended the team’s training camp. He played one season in the International Hockey League (IHL), suiting up for the Milwaukee Chiefs. Although displaying some scoring prowess, notching 18 goals in 52 games, he made his mark with his physical presence by spending 130 minutes in the penalty box.
“I was always one of the tougher guys in junior. I always had the most penalty minutes on the team but I was usually second or third in scoring, too,” he said. Hill died suddenly in 2003 at age 71.
To view the full digitized collection of Kern-Hill Furniture commercials, visit the U of W Archives YouTube page.