Each day about 12,000 semi-trucks travel through the border town of Laredo, Texas. On any given day these trucks can be seen hauling anything from fresh strawberries to farm tractors. In one of the country’s largest cross-border traffic hubs, passing trucks and the warehouses that serve them are a big part of life in Laredo. To Clay Epstein and his family, the trucking industry and border trade is also a business opportunity.
Along Texas’ border with Mexico, the Epstein family has learned to adapt and diversify to serve the needs of those around them. While the family’s business, Dr. Ike’s Home Centers, indeed serves builders, remodelers and DIY homeowners, the company’s three retail locations also carry products specifically to serve the trucking and transportation industry as well as the oil and gas industry.
“We sell a lot of materials for crating and boxes serving the trucking and warehousing industry,” said company vice president Clay Epstein.
About 50% of the company’s business comes from serving the DIY homeowner and small tradesmen, Clay said. As the new home market around Laredo hasn’t always grown at the rate of the rest of the country, adapting to serve other industries has helped make Dr. Ike’s a mainstay of the Laredo area for the past 85 years.
In 1932, Clay’s grandfather, David Epstein, started in the construction business serving South Texas and Northern Mexico. As David Epstein worked in construction, son Ike Epstein, upon his return to Laredo after college and service in the U.S. Army, opened his own business, Economy Lumberyard, Inc.
As a remodeler, Ike called himself The House Doctor. His tagline became “Let the doctor fix what ails your home.” Soon the Economy Lumber logo was a generic figure wearing doctor scrubs with a stethoscope and a doctor’s bag that held construction tools. As Ike built his remodeling business, he grew to be known as “Dr. Ike.” In the late 1960s, Ike Epstein began to sell his supplies to other remodelers and builders in the area.
As Laredo grew, Ike and his wife, Doris, saw the need for a home center, combining the best of a full-line lumber yard, hardware store, and interior design center. This led to the opening of Dr. Ike’s Economy Center, which later evolved to Dr. Ike’s Home Centers. The first location was in Laredo, where the Epsteins currently have two stores. A third store is in Zapata, Texas, about 55 miles southeast of Laredo. All three locations are full-line lumberyards and home centers, with the original location at North Laredo housing the company’s central warehouse.
After a number of years away from the family business, Clay and his wife, Carolyn, have been back for the past decade helping Ike grow the business. Carolyn serves as company CFO and Clay is vice president.