About 15 years ago, “recovering lawyer” Dave Reichert bought one of the oldest continuously running businesses in Oak Cliff. Wirt Davis II was in his 80s and wanted to sell the company his dad started in 1923, Davis Hawn Lumber at Beckley and Louisiana.“It was about a yearlong process where we were trying to figure out, is this a viable business with Home Depot and Lowe’s and big-box stores,” Reichert says. “Does it still make sense to have a hometown lumberyard?”Eventually Reichert and his wife, Darian, decided it did make sense. Since then, they have brought Davis Hawn into the 21st century while keeping in touch with the past.
You’re a licensed attorney; do you still practice?
No. I liked practicing law, but I didn’t have a passion for it that I wanted to spend the rest of my career doing that. I was just looking for something I could throw myself into. As a lawyer, I helped people buy and sell businesses … a lot of securities law and contract-based law. I always kind of thought the clients I worked for were having more fun. I was always analyzing risk, but they were the ones that got to take that risk and see what happened. So I started looking for businesses to buy. I was always fascinated with construction in general, and then I found out about Davis Hawn that might be for sale.
So how do you compete with big-box stores?
We’re in a huge market in Dallas-Fort Worth. Everybody competes in Dallas because of all the building we have going on. We have a community hardware store, and that’s what really competes with Home Depot. But we’re like the 7-Eleven convenience store of hardware. We’re very knowledgeable, and it’s convenient, and it’s a very different shopping experience than you would get with those [big stores].
How do you stay competitive with the lumberyard?
The lumberyard caters to people who care about quality … they’re building to last. We don’t pursue production builders, apartment-grade stuff. That’s pure commodity lumber. They’re not interested in quality and service … price is the main thing they’re interested in. We’re also part of a lumberyard owners’ buying group, LMC. We do about $8 billion in sales among all these lumberyards [that are LMC members]. It allows us to buy lumber really low, even though we’re this small lumberyard. So we’re the best of both worlds. We have a neighborhood feel, like an old-fashioned lumberyard, but then also great price and a great product selection.
How did you find a niche for yourself?
We had to figure out who we are and who we’re not. We can’t be all things to all people. We’re good at taking care of people who have a little bit trickier job or a more high-end job. Attention to detail is what we found is our strong suit. We’ve got our own architectural mill. We make moldings, historic wood siding, doors, window sashes, and that niche is really for the historic preservations people. We have all these great old houses, and when they’ve got a problem, we can make the part for them. People think if it’s not at Home Depot then they don’t make it anymore, and that’s not true. You just have to find the right place.
You also throw a lot of barbecues. What’s that about?
It’s just fun. Part of it is trying to get people to the lumberyard, because we’ve got a cool old place that people enjoy. That’s where the barbecue started. We thought, “We’ve got to have some great food to get people down here.” Darian entered me in Blues, Bandits and BBQ without even telling me, and lo and behold, we won best brisket the first year. And then this year won best sausage. But our goal is just to get people down here. We just view it like we’re throwing a party. Get some architects around some builders around some carpenters. We have a big old smoker that we can take to job sites and do cookouts for workers as a thank-you to our customers.
Davis Hawn has been around more than 90 years. Any goals for the future?
You know, people are discovering how cool it is to come over to Oak Cliff and finding new restaurants and places to shop and interesting little pockets. We want to be that kind of place. We’re a best-kept secret, but we’re OK with it not being so secret.