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Getting Furniture Market Done: A Day with Tony Rayburn

April 7, 2019

If you’ve lived in High Point very long, chances are you’ve driven by the International Home Furnishings Center (IHFC) in downtown High Point under the bus canopy. Maybe you’ve even ventured inside during one of the twice-annual Furniture Markets our city is famous for. Even if you think you know a lot about the Market, we doubt you’ve seen all of IHFC.

Because below the illustrious sparkle and glow of IHFC and all its gorgeous showrooms, there is a whole other world. And that world is managed by Tony Rayburn.

IHFC’s Main Wing manager, Tony Rayburn | Maria West Photography

Tony could lead anyone through the two parts of the IHFC buildings (one is 10 stories tall, the other 14 and a half), but he can also take you through hallways and out the side doors until you reach the shipping elevator, big enough for a delivery truck to drive onto. And with a few clicks of the buttons, you’re transported into a part of IHFC that very few get to see: the underground.

Beneath the street level, there are rooms and rooms full of materials from Markets past. There are loading docks, elevators, offices, and supplies. And Tony makes sure all of it runs smoothly. As the manager of the Main Wing building, and specifically the Main docks, Tony keeps a lot of plates spinning year round.

Tony Rayburn | Photography by ZoZo Photography

He started with IHFC twenty one years ago, sweeping floors. But after three years of hard work, he was moved to the Main Wing, where he was put in charge of cleanup, demolition, and maintenance. Once he got the chance to work the docks, he knew it was something he wanted to stick with.

“It’s a job you’ve got to love,” Tony says. “Where else can I get paid to tell someone where to go and what to do with something?”

But Tony does a lot more than tell people where to go. He is in charge of maintaining the entire Main Wing building, which means communicating with tenants, truckers, clean up crews, maintenance workers, millworkers, carpenters, electricians, and more. Although the busyness of the Market work slows down at certain times, Tony says it’s a constant cycle. Preparing for one market and then cleaning up and preparing for the next keeps Tony and his team busy. Even in the summer, they pack up pieces to be sent to the Las Vegas show. But the two weeks before the Market are always the busiest.

“Two weeks before you’d swear it won’t all get done,” Tony jokes. “But it’s going to be open at 7am on the first day regardless!”

Tony oversees much of the work that goes in to making sure that every floor is spotless and every showroom is set up before the doors open on the first morning of the Market. He comes in at 6am on the days leading up to Market just to make sure everything gets accomplished.

And as Tony walks through the buildings and the docks, it seems that everyone knows him. They call out to him as he walks by, or he shouts a greeting to them. Because for Tony, his job is more than just tasks to accomplish: it’s people to know.

“You have to figure out each individual and each showroom,” Tony explains. He refers to the little, unique things about each person that makes them tick. It may be going out to lunch or just listening, but whatever it takes to connect with someone, Tony knows a good leader is willing to do it.

Photography by ZoZo Photography

As he moves around his office, a crew member comes up. Before the man can ask his question, Tony is leading him where he needs to be.

“I knew what he was looking for before he asked,” Tony chuckles, and he prides himself on being the kind of leader who can anticipate his workers’ needs even before they do.

Tony loves the busyness of it all, and he loves that he gets to meet so many different people.

He remembers thinking in the beginning of his job that some of the people associated with the Market were being rude to him. He later learned that many didn’t speak English, and had traveled from all over the world to get there. After that, he began to work to learn to communicate with everyone, even if it meant translating through multiple people over the phone.

“I probably know one person in every country of the world,” he says. And he has seen everything unloaded on his docks from penguins and tigers to Trisha Yearwood’s limo.

“There’s no telling what you’re going to see!” he says. “But it really takes something to surprise me.”

Tony Rayburn | Photography by ZoZo Photography

One thing that has surprised Tony over the years is the amount of history buried deep within the walls and rooms of IHFC. First called the Southern Furniture Exposition Building, the IHFC has a long history in High Point. When Tony was first put in charge of managing the Main Wing building, he began collecting little clues to the Market’s history. Although he says that saving different pieces of IHFC’s history started as a joke in his office, he now has crafted a museum of sorts beneath the floors of IHFC.

Tony has found everything from an initial blueprint of the building from 1919, to the first ever ticket from the String and Splinter Club. He found a bound resource guide from 1926 and the announcement of the first air conditioner installed in the 1950s (which still works today!). One of his crew members even found an old ticket in the crack of a wall for the admissions fee into the Market that once cost $0.25.

Photography by ZoZo Photography
IHFC’s Main Wing manager, Tony Rayburn | Maria West Photography
Photography by ZoZo Photography
Photography by ZoZo Photography
Photography by ZoZo Photography
Tony Rayburn | Photography by ZoZo Photography

Tony has saved pictures of the building from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, as well as artist renderings of future building projects. The walls of his office are filled with memorabilia from Furniture Markets past, and has now spilled into the hallways nearby.

“The next generation needs to know it,” Tony says about the history he collects. “That goes for any business that has been a business this long. Someone needs to know it.”

Photography by ZoZo Photography

Photography by ZoZo Photography
Photography by ZoZo Photography
Photography by ZoZo Photography

And as a faithful collector of history and caretaker of so much that goes on behind the scenes of Market, Tony Rayburn is one of the people that has made the Furniture Market such an integral and successful part of our city.

“Whatever needs to be done, I’m here to help these people,” Tony says. “Let’s get it done!”

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