Tracy Lawrence’s “Time Marches On” moseys through the speakers of El Rio Western Wear in Waco. Owner Eduardo Martinez recounts he and his parents’ journey in the biz.
The song’s a nostalgic nod to just that: the passing of time and allll the changes that come with it in one family. (Also, something about someone’s girlfriend?)
Cowboy tunes and a landline’s ring score the soundtrack of my time with Eduardo. There’s a reliability in the walls of this place. One gets a thorough sense – the Martinezes know what they’re doing.
Eduardo’s voice is a story of its own – a gentle and confident mix of Texas with a slight twang, reminiscent of his family’s history. I noticed, as we talked, he’s someone who is going to shoot you straight, quick, and honest. With information, you guys.
Here’s what easy-going Eduardo had to say:
So, what made you want to start El Rio Western Wear? What was the vision?
“It was my parents who started it. They actually started selling statues. Then, they moved to women’s clothing and then after that kinda died down, they started selling men’s clothing and then boots, and – that’s kinda where it all started, from them tryin’ to provide a little bit of income. I’ve been working with them since I was small, since I can remember.”
That’s cool. What year did they start the business?
“They started selling those statues maybe in 2003? And they moved to the boots and the hats in 2004-2005. And, we’ve been doing it ever since.”
“We started selling at the flea market and things, you know, got good, and we actually opened a brick and mortar store in 2006.”
“We just moved over here last August. The new location is probably double the size of the old one.”
So, you grew up watching your parents run the store. What made you want to be a part of this?
He tilts his head, searching for an answer.
“I don’t know! I’m just kind of used to it. And I liked it. I’m the only one of my siblings that actually, I guess, actually got into it -- into the business. I saw the success...and, I just kinda - I just wanted to continue what they started.”
Are you close with your parents?
“Yes. We’re very close.”
What did you do prior to this? How old were you when they opened up the shop? Sorry, kind of a personal question.
“Fifteen. I was just starting high school. We’d moved from Houston. Fourteen or fifteen.”
Did they ever want to start a business in Houston, or did they come here and decide it was the right time, right place?
“They actually started IN Houston, but that store failed. And they just...we had family members here and they decided to give it a shot here and that’s how it grew.”
I’m looking around: El Rio has so much of a selection! What is your selection like, comparatively? When a customer walks in here, can they get exactly what they want?
“We try to keep most things in inventory, try to be different from Cavender's. We do carry major brands – Cinch and all that, Ariat and all that.”
“And we try to stay competitive. We try to keep in competition with Ritchie’s. Because Cavender's is real generic. It’s like – this one guy said, ‘You’ve been to one Cavender's, you‘ve been to all of them,’ because, they’re going to carry pretty much the same thing.”
Who's your clientele?
“It’s a little bit of everything. Right now it’s kinda middle-aged, older crowd. We’re trying to get a little bit of that younger crowd to take an interest in the cowboy outfit, stuff like that.”
I love hearing the history of the store, Eduardo. In terms of being a part of a local business in Waco, do you like being in Waco? And, if so, why do you like being a part of this economy?
“Well, coming from Houston, which was a bigger city, Waco gave me more opportunity – for me to grow as a person, get involved with a lot more people, get personal, you know?”
“I grew up here - well, my teenage years, I grew up here - and because of the business, I’ve come to know a lot of people. You know, I go out to eat – I’m gonna know somebody, at least. Which, in Houston, that’d probably be way different.”
“I like that about Waco: it’s not too big, not too small. Right between Dallas and Austin. I mean, you can easily go up there and come back. But as a community, I think I like it more than I would’ve Houston.”
I see. Almost like a smaller town kinda feel with the bigger population?
“Well, you know Waco’s been growing for the past, what? Five years? It’s gotten real big. It’s grown a LOT.”
On a personal level, as business owners in Waco, what’s been your greatest obstacle?
“Trying to get new customers. Trying to get the new traffic flowing through here. Because, like I said, it’s a small town. So, if everybody has the same thing…”
“New inventory. Fresh! And sizes. I think that would be one of the challenges that we have. Trying to get new faces, trying to get new things in the store.”
How do you know if you have new customers coming in?
“I’m here five to eight hours almost every day. I know what faces run through here all the time and which faces are new.”
“This is basically my second home; I spend more time here than I do at my house!”
(I hear that a lot from business owners.)
“I would know who comes here as a regular and who doesn’t.”
What’s something you think would be surprising for people to find out about you or your business?
He laughs, repeating my question, “What would be surprising?”
“I guess...I’m still learning. We’re still learning.”
The phone rings (again); the person in front of Eduardo has his full attention. He’s truly there to help.
“I’m always tryin’ to learn – everything – new styles, new trends…”
So – El Rio, you – are the fashion experts?
“Well, we have to be attentive of what’s going – what’s in style, what’s hasn’t been in style, what’s going out of style, what’s still trendin’...”
Corporate clothing stores employ buyers whose one role is to stock up on relevant goods. For a shop like El Rio, the owner wears that hat. When clients come in and they’re looking for something specific, Eduardo is the one who did the research. His clients benefit from all of his knowledge.
“Yeah, we have to have something that’s there for people to buy, because if it’s not what they’re looking for, we’ll go out of business.”
El Rio Western Wear is waiting for you to reap its local benefits. Swing on by!