By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint Edition
Little did he imagine that a devastating natural phenomenon would open up a wealth of opportunities for this young man from Louisiana. It would allow him to start a new life, to join the National Guard and to help build a business that has lasted for generations. I am talking about Danny Smith, the owner of Matt’s Building Materials formerly called Matt’s Cash & Carry lumberyard, located in Pharr and San Benito Texas.
He had worked with the founders of the company almost since its inception after Hurricane Beulah. Eleven years ago, he bought the company through special terms that the owners specifically requested.
Going back in time, while Danny was attending the University of Louisiana, he received an offer to come and work in the Valley in a lumberyard owned by Cecil McDonald, a businessman setting up shop in the Valley. At the time, Danny was also trying to join the National Guard in Louisiana but it was becoming difficult to do so.
Danny already knew the ins and outs of the lumberyard business by the time Mr. McDonald offered him the job. “Come and work for me in the Valley but you have to be here tomorrow,” Danny was told.
Mr. McDonald was an entrepreneur and visionary man from Louisiana who came to the Valley to start two lumberyards after Hurricane Beulah.
And just to give you an understanding about this natural phenomenon, Hurricane Beulah was the second tropical storm, second hurricane, and the only major hurricane during the 1967 Atlantic hurricane season. It tracked through the Caribbean, struck the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico as a major hurricane, and moved west-northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, briefly gaining Category 5 intensity.
It was the strongest hurricane during the 1967 season-making landfall in northeastern Mexico with winds near 160 mph leaving tremendous damages all over the Valley and Northern Mexico. The lumberyards that Mr. McDonald started were in great need for the communities in a hurry to rebuild their homes and businesses on both sides of the border.
The truth of the matter is that this trip to the Valley was the biggest experience for Danny, not only was he to start a new life far away from his beloved Louisiana but it would also make it possible for him to join the National Guard.
Many of you are very familiar with Matt’s Building Materials in Pharr and San Benito. Matt’s has serviced the Rio Grande Valley since 1969. It was the first local hardware and lumberyard to service the Hispanic community and is the only business of its kind from that era that still operates today. Very knowledgeable people in the industry have managed the company and one of them is Danny Smith, the current owner.
If you have not had the experience of visiting the stores, make it a plan. The owners are firm believers in taking care of business and being ready to help with any question you might have. Matt’s Building Materials is the most complete lumberyard in construction materials with flooring, paint, windows, doors, and more than 25,000 items in their stores. Matt’s services do-it-yourselfers as well as contractors with a fleet of 14 delivery trucks covering the entire Valley.
They have been able to stay in business especially during the difficult economic times of the last decade because they know the business. There are other factors that take place in this equation but the first rule is to take care of customers. “The only way we can be successful is to please our customers,” Danny says.
Kelly S., a customer of Matt’s Building Materials posted in a website, “This place had hardware, flooring, and sawdust well before any of that was pulled together in a nice little package with grocery carts and garden areas.” She continued, “They’ve got paint, they’ve got lumber, carpet, laminate, wood, and vinyl. They’ve got fans, doorknobs, light switch covers, and they’ve got sinks. They’ve got friendly helpful workers, clean big bathrooms, concrete floors covered in legit worker dust, and they’ve got five-hour energies. All the prices are fair or dirt cheap, depending on what’s on sale.”
Danny Smith was born in Brooke Haven, Mississippi 65 years ago and has been in the Valley for the last 42 years. He has lived a very interesting life, especially mastering the management of a very challenging business, as is the lumberyard.
He came to the Valley in 1971 at the age of 23 based on an invitation by the founder of the lumberyards Cecil McDonald. Ira Matt came with McDonald’s team as his accountant and keeper of the money. McDonald was a very successful businessman and saw the opportunity to start the lumberyards during a time of need and about 4 or 5 years later he saw another opportunity to develop coastal properties. McDonald acquired the last 10,000 acres of Boca Chica, which was comprised of 8 miles of river and 3 miles of beach. “He was going to build this big development without knowing he was putting himself in a bind,” Danny said.
According to Danny, McDonald found out that coastal development was very expensive and started selling his lumberyards in order to catch up with investments. Ira Matt, his accountant saw the opportunity and in the middle of several offers by other lumberyard operators he told McDonald, “I’ll pay you what you want.” They closed the deal in 1976.
So now the company was under new ownership and Danny came with it as well. Matt, the new owner asked Danny to stay with him to help manage the company. “Mr. Matt didn’t know anything about lumber, not even enough to recognize a 2” x 4” stud but he was brilliant with numbers and financials. He was able to know balances and deficits like no one I have ever met,” Danny said.
Danny pointed out that the new owner treated him like a son and eventually Mr. Matt decided to sell the company to him. “It took several years to find the right formula to close on the sale, it finally happened in 2002,” Danny said.
Now, Danny and his family are involved in the management of the company and even though the Rio Grande Valley economy has had its ups and downs, they have been selling like nothing happened. Their sales constantly increase even with so much competition around them. “The Lord has blessed me and my family,” Danny humbly recognizes.
He mentioned that he and his family have been called to live and work with integrity. “God calls us to pass blessings on and we try to do that,” he said.
Danny got married again 32 years ago, this time to Diana Olivarez who lived next door. He had a son, Jeremy who now runs the San Benito lumberyard and a daughter, Chelsey who teaches in Edinburg, both from a previous marriage.
Diana’s sisters used to babysit for him and one day Diana showed up to babysit and that’s how they got to know each other better. When Diana turned 18, Danny asked her to go out and have dinner with him and she said, “Let me ask my mom”.
The rest is history; Danny fell in love with Diana because as he said, ‘she is beautiful inside and out’. “Her spiritual values showed she had a good heart and she is the center of my life,” he said.
He noticed how she treated her own family; she was very respectful of her mother and family, and even of her father who was a very strict man.
Two years later they were married, Danny and Diana began to have children – Isaac, Rebecca, Benjamin, and Ana.
Danny has told his family to come into the business, but never “thinking of what you are entitled to”, but to find out what is their responsibility. “You need to find your responsibility, you are responsible to the creditors, to your employees but not to what you are entitled to because if you do, we are going to run into a problem,” he said. “If you don’t earn the business, you don’t deserve the business.”
For Danny, it’s important that his family and employees understand that they must come thinking about what needs to be done to add value to the business, and then the business will reward them.
“I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. It’s not about numbers, it’s about people,” he said. Danny is a unique and effective business operator. Today, the business is reinforced because his sons now play an important roll in the management of the business. Jeremy, Isaac, Benjamin, and Ruben (his grandson) are very much a part of the business. With a family so unified and hardworking, Matt’s Building Materials is here to stay and be enjoyed by future generations.
So if you have not visited Matt’s Building Materials, today is your chance. One is located at 404 E. Expressway 83 in Pharr, TX 78577 – (956) 787-5561 and the other is at 1140 E. Expressway 83 in San Benito, TX 78586 – (956) 399-2411. For more information, look for them on the web at www.mattsbuildingmaterials.com and check out their ad in this issue. Matt’s Building Materials is OPEN Monday thru Saturday, 7:30 am – 6:00 pm and closed Sundays. For quality products at low prices, and good old-fashioned customer service, stop by Matt’s Building Materials. TBB
Written by: – Roberto Hugo Gonzalez is the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient –
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