Susan Elmore’s employees have daubed green paint on their faces, squeezed themselves into skintight superhero costumes, and even saddled up—despite grave misgivings that, alas, came to fruition—in aid of their boss’s ongoing mission to spread the name of Buzick Lumber throughout Nelson County, Ky.
Elmore isn’t just president of Buzick Lumber, a 72-year-old institution in Bardstown, Ky. She’s also a creative spirit, hectoring director, and sometime bartender to her 32 employees and the innumerable friends and relatives she ropes in for the semi-annual adventure of creating Buzick’s video ads.
The commercials’ broad humor and familiar faces have been a hit with customers, but their backstories can be just as amusing. During the filming of a Wonder Woman spot (check it out below), Elmore resorted to plying cashier JoAnn Crepps with bloody marys after Crepps racked up 15 failed takes, then started hyperventilating because she couldn’t deliver the look of surprise that Elmore demanded as she turned on a faucet.
Given that Elmore already had to contend with the refusal by plumbing department head Dwana Thomas to get into the Wonder Woman costume, it’s no wonder she turned to the bottle when Crepps balked. The alcohol had a stabilizing effect on Crepps’ nerves—and Elmore finally got the surprised look she wanted by having someone hide beneath the counter and spray Crepps with water at the opportune moment.
Elmore turned her sights to television when she got fed up with the lackluster results she was getting for her advertising dollars. “I’d ask the girl at the desk whether customers were mentioning the radio or print ads or bringing in the newspaper coupons, and she’d just shake her head,” she says.
She took to TV like a duck to water, dreaming up the ideas for the television commercials, figuring out the dialog (there are no written scripts), as well as directing, sourcing costumes, props, and locations, and often starring in the spots. She says she gets her best ideas on the treadmill at the gym.
Elmore has 12 commercials under her belt and no plans to stop making them. Her early commercials featured superheroes like Batman, Superman, and the aforementioned Wonder Woman, and were fairly simple affairs. As the years have gone on, Elmore’s ambitions have grown, and the commercials have become more elaborate.
She uses the services of local cable television station PLG TV, and often shoots on location—“the camera interns love to do our commercial shoots,” she says. The spots run every hour on the local news channel.
Early commercials were shot at the yard, but in later years Elmore and crew have gone further afield—sometimes in a field, like her Bonanza shoot. The field was on a farm owned by a former employee, and four horses were supplied by an acquaintance. Buzick’s ponied up a quartet of employees, but there was a problem: two staffers had never been on a horse.
The shooting progressed until, “All of a sudden I see this guy slowly slide over the side of his horse until he fell off,” Elmore says of Ray McCubbins, head of the store’s paint department. “He refused to get back on the horse. I’m in commercial mode, so I said, ‘Give me your shirt and hat,’ and I had the horses’ owner put them on.”
While McCubbins sat there shirtless, taking pot shots from the other guys, one of the other horses bolted and took off across the field, where he momentarily stopped at the fence, then wheeled around and raced back, heading right toward the cameraman. “Well, he didn’t hit him, but it sure looked like he was going to,” Elmore says.
For her Mission Impossible takeoff, Elmore did location work at the local airport using as a prop a homemade helicopter—yes, it flies—constructed by a local guy she knows.
In need of a kitchen with retro appliances for the final scene in her recent I Love Lucy spoof, Elmore tracked down her friend Jenny Hamilton, who was on vacation in Florida. With her blessing, and the cameraman in tow, Elmore trekked to Hamilton’s house in costume as Lucy Ricardo, accompanied by her contractor liaison Marti Shannon as Ethel Mertz and outside salesman John Bellisario as Ricky Ricardo.
Elmore puts out two commercials a year, at an annual cost of $10,000. She uses no advertising agency, and there is no ad budget per se. "My commercials are whatever I want," she says blithely.
She still purchases print and radio advertising, but has dialed back on the size of her radio buys. Last year, Elmore says she spent $7,800 on print and radio, in addition to the $10,000 on the commercials.
Though she has no figures to back up her feeling, Elmore believes the commercials have definitely had a positive effect on her business in terms of Buzick’s name recognition and foot traffic.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear from somebody who loves them. It’s unreal how much attention we get for them.” Thanks to her over-the-top screen turns (she has played Captain Kirk in a Star Trek spoof, barmaid Diane in a skit based on Cheers, and Dorothy in last year’s takeoff of The Wizard of Oz), Elmore says she is recognized wherever she goes.
My Sister, the Witch
For The Wizard of Oz spoof, along with recruiting a posse of employees, Elmore had her sister Donna play the wicked witch. “She’s crazy like I am; she’ll do anything. We don’t care how dumb or stupid we look.”
The witch’s eerily spot-on laugh was voiced by Angela Hicks, the sister of Donna’s son-in-law, whom Elmore met at her sister’s house the day before the shoot. She immediately pressed Hicks into service on hearing about her unique talent.
Buzick’s has active Facebook and Twitter accounts, and all the commercials are posted on Facebook and linked via Twitter, furthering their reach. New commercials are promoted via their social media accounts, and Elmore also uses social media to put out a call for props she might need for an upcoming commercial, such as when she found herself wanting a 10-gallon hat for her Bonanza spot.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Elmore is already thinking about her next commercial.
“It’s [based on] The Three Little Pigs,” she says. “I’m going to get with the cable people and see how we can blow some houses down. You wouldn’t happen to know where I can get some flattering pig costumes, would you?”