What's That Dino Doing On the Side of the Road?
When we pull off the highway in Hempstead, a gnome the size of a polar bear standing on its hind legs greets us. Nearby, a six-foot sasquatch loiters by the fence, squinting at the trucks zooming past. In an area dubbed Jurassic Island, at the far reaches of the eight-acre property, the lawn is freshly mowed, and displaced grasshoppers flit from the neck of a brachiosaurus to the teeth of a neighboring T. Rex.
This is Frazier’s Ornamental & Architectural Concrete, the rare purveyor of lawn paraphernalia that forces you to question the nature of your reality.
“We struggle with this all the time when we’re advertising,” says Billy Frazier, the business’s 73-year-old, second-generation owner. “But we are currently defining ourselves—well, we can’t be defined, but we have to put out something—as Frazier’s home and garden decor.”
It’s a place one must experience to understand, which is why Concrete Heaven, as Frazier has nicknamed it, sits strategically at the nexus of U.S. 290 and Highway 6, where it attracts its fair share of looky-loos zipping from Houston to Austin or College Station.
Among the big names who’ve dropped in: Joel and Victoria Osteen, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and disgraced U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. Big spenders come through, too. Recently a retired oil executive bought an entire menagerie of fiberglass animals—from life-sized dinosaurs to a massive gorilla throwing the Gig ’Em hand sign—and hauled them back to his Navasota ranch.
It’s a far cry from the business’s origins back in the 1950s, when Frazier sold watermelons out of his parents’ truck a few miles up the road. The operation grew into a full-fledged produce stand, and over time, the family folded Mexican pottery into the mix. Then, after Frazier’s father discovered a roadside business selling birdbaths and planters, they got into concrete, adding items like benches and flowerpots, and left fruit behind. Mom approved on account of the new stock’s lack of perishability.
“Produce has the shortest shelf life, concrete has the longest,” explains Fernando Gomez, Frazier’s stepson and heir-apparent to the business.
Frazier himself didn’t anticipate devoting nearly four decades to the store. A clinical psychologist by training, he spent his early years exploring the Mexican countryside and teaching English as a second language in the capital. But on a 1980 visit back to Hempstead, his aging parents gave him an ultimatum with a next-day expiration date: Would he take the business and allow them to retire in peace? “I didn’t really want it,” Frazier admits today, but he agreed.
It was Frazier who decided to expand into more eccentric concrete items, taking advantage of the company’s studio, where pieces are designed, hand-poured, and finished. Ever since, the stock has followed—and sometimes anticipated—trends in lawn decoration. When Travelocity introduced its viral Roaming Gnome commercials in 2004, the store unloaded pointy-hatted statuettes in record numbers. And this summer, dinosaurs of all sizes were the hot-ticket item, thanks to the return of the Jurassic World movies. Of course, some products resist the tailwinds of fashion: Praying angels and saint statues are ever-popular.
It’s all a far cry from the produce stand. A good business model, Frazier reckons, should never be set in stone. “We’re always open to change, especially as the economy and world conditions evolve,” says Frazier, eyeing his stepson. “But we have a really good foundation to build on: concrete.”