On a windy New Year’s Day just one year ago, a fire ravaged the Pharr, Texas, location of Matt’s Building Materials and nearly burned the 220,000-square-foot retail store, warehouses and lumberyard to the ground. After starting in the door shop, the fire spread to the flooring department, warehouses, retail space and offices, destroying over 180,000 square feet of the location’s physical space.
The company, which also has locations in Palmview and San Benito, Texas, has faced many challenges over the years, but the fire was one of the most difficult.
Despite the latest trial, the company has emerged even stronger. The day after the fire, with the building still smoldering behind them, co-owner Danny Smith gathered his family—including his three sons and fellow co-owners Isaac, Ben and Jeremy—and team members together. Danny prayed for the first responders, their community, their team and family and the company’s future and shared uplifting words. Even in terrible circumstances, the company’s culture and mission—to support its employees and community and stand strong in its values—shown through in Danny’s words, Isaac says.
“After he prayed, he offered these words of encouragement: ‘That building behind me isn’t Matt’s Building Materials. It’s not the building, it’s the people. You are Matt’s Building Materials. We are Matt’s,’” Isaac says. “I stood there looking at my world crumbling; it was really hard for me because I lived and breathed that place, it was my first home. But my dad put everything in perspective. Our business was going to be good because God is good and has a plan.”
“That building behind me isn’t Matt’s Building Materials. It’s not the building. It’s the people. You are Matt’s Building Materials. We are Matt’s.” —Danny Smith, Matt’s Building Materials
Building on Strength
The company spirit Danny shared that difficult day has been a part of Matt’s Building Materials since the company was established almost six decades ago as Valley Cash & Carry Building Materials. Ira Matt purchased the business in 1975, renamed the company Matt’s Cash & Carry Building Materials and brought on Danny to assist with managing, purchasing and overseeing both locations in Pharr and San Benito.
The operation became the only lumberyard and building material store to cater to the Hispanic community, and through the years, added other home improvement products and services. In 2002, Danny and his wife Diana purchased the business from Ira Matt, and Danny gave his two longtime friends and co-workers, Luis Mancillas and Oscar Sandoval, a stake in the business as co-owners. The company’s name also changed to reflect the new ownership and developing market and was renamed Matt’s Building Materials.
Today, along with serving as co-owners, Isaac and his brothers are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. Isaac is the hardlines purchaser and oversees marketing and management, Jeremy works as a general manager and commodity purchaser and Ben is a general manager and oversees information technology and finances.
Isaac says he started working in the stores when he was 13, inspired by the work ethic he saw in his dad. He and his brothers had to start from the ground up, learning a little bit about every part of the business. Each of the Smith brothers was also required to graduate from college before they could earn a raise or take on a full-time position with the company.
“Our dad didn’t want us to be entitled because we were the owner’s sons,” Isaac says. “I didn’t appreciate it back then, but I definitely appreciate it now. Working in those different departments gives me a better appreciation for everything my team does.”
With his three sons at the helm, Danny has taken a step back from the business but is still heavily involved in steering the direction of the company.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate our dad; he doesn’t need to work as hard but he still puts in time and effort to help us grow and develop,” Isaac says. “Our dad has always taught us to treat everyone with respect, honesty and integrity. You need to be profitable, but it isn’t the main focus. If you focus only on profits you lose the human aspect and start doing things the wrong way.”
Better Than Ever
After the fire, inspired by Danny’s speech, the company sold “We Are Matt’s” T-shirts to rally the community during the rebuilding process. Staying true to their humble nature, the Smiths donated the profits from the sales to the Pharr Fire Department. The sale of the T-shirts brought in almost $18,000 that went toward fire education and to help others get back on their feet after a fire.
Not only did the employees and community get behind Matt’s Building Materials by purchasing T-shirts, many of the operation’s local competitors showed their support by buying shirts and sharing them with their own customers.
“Having other businesses support us was really sweet because it reinforced that we don’t make enemies, we build relationships with customers and competitors alike,” Isaac says.
“Having other businesses support us was really sweet because it reinforced that we don’t make enemies, we build relationships with customers and competitors alike.” —Isaac Smith, Matt’s Building Materials
Not long after the fire at Matt’s Building Materials, a local produce company also had a major fire in its warehouse. Isaac says one of the owner’s daughters called him to thank the Smith family for sharing their story, which helped her family get through their own tragedy.
“We didn’t do it to boast but to show that even in the midst of the storm, God is still in control,” he says. “I didn’t even know this person, and here they were calling me and telling me how we helped them, which was incredible. Some of the things that have happened since the fire have been amazing to see.”
The Smiths have started the process of rebuilding and plan on building even better than before. Isaac says the former building was inefficient and while tragic, the fire provided an opportunity to improve the physical building and the overall business.
For the Smith family, there have been three keys to the company’s recovery, Isaac says. No. 1 is their strong faith, followed closely by their team who doesn’t give up on the business and stands by it through thick and thin.
“Our community and vendors are also key to our recovery. We had so many vendors step up to help us, our insurance company was imperative and our local community came through with prayers, monetary support, food, warehouse space, forklifts, assistance with clean up and so much more,” Isaac says. “So many things had to go perfectly for us to be here, and they did. Commodity inventory—lumber, siding, roofing and plywood—was still available, our trucks were still there, the yard was intact and our team was still behind us.”
By the first week of February 2021, just one month after the fire, the Smiths put up Mini Matt’s, a smaller building that provided a structure where customers could still purchase commodities and some convenience hardware.
While the next year will be focused on having all hands on deck to rebuild, maintain and adapt to what they have, Isaac says Matt’s Building Materials plans to keep growing.
“We want to continue to adapt to the market and stay aggressive,” Isaac says. “We also want to stay humble and do business the right way.”