By Pat Peckham
When 28-year-old Brandon Farrar of Wausau started The Green Guys landscaping company, he had no idea how its focus would evolve to catering to senior citizens — or how it would affect his personal/family life.
He didn’t exactly start out with a huge bankroll for advertising and equipment. After graduating from Wausau West High School and the Enrich, Excel, Achieve Learning Academy, he worked for several years in sales at the GNC store in the Wausau Center mall before being hired at the Hilton in Rib Mountain as conference manager. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, he might still be at the Hilton, but the bottom fell out of the conference business.
Farrar needed work, so in mid-2020 he popped an ad on Craigslist under odd jobs. He chuckles when he remembers some of his first takers. He found himself raking leaves and hauling them away in the trunk of his Cadillac DeVille. He started calling his enterprise The Fall Guy, still raking leaves but also picking up other yard and garden work and odd jobs around the homes of his customers, many of whom turned out to be elderly and/or disabled.
It seemed to him that there was a lot of work out there for somebody willing to chase it. A surprising proportion of his customers were telling him they had tried to contract with the bigger landscaping companies in the area but were having a hard time even getting a call-back. It occurred to him that a big part of success was just showing up.
He wasn’t counting on this new venture improving his relationship with his father, Tim Farrar. Since he was in his late teens, that relationship was on the rocky side. Dad wasn’t a fan, for example, of Brandon’s idea of having a hole in his earlobe large enough to hold a small pinky ring.
This story appeared as part of City Pages’ Senior Spirit issue, all about seniors and their loved ones. The next issue comes out in October.
At the time he was getting more and more odd jobs, though, and Brandon recalls, “My mind was racing with ideas, but my dad saw my dedication and he gave me some pointers and said he’d leave retirement to help me with estimates and such.”
Their relationship began to change from that point. Tim had owned and run Quality Masonry for 35 years. Brandon had worked for the company here and there from age 13 to 18, but then Tim tore his rotator cuff in 2013 and had to sell the business. Eight years later when Tim offered to come out of retirement enough to help with what is now The Green Guys, Brandon started to recall the family lore about how his dad got going in masonry.
Tim had no mentor. He taught himself as he got the jobs. Brandon says, “My dad was not a school guy,” but got the masonry bug in his late 20s. Each time a customer asked if he could do a particular thing, he said yes. Then when he didn’t actually know how to do that thing, he’d head for the library and find a book about that sort of job. More jobs followed each successful completion, leading to more trips to the library and Tim learned how to do the work. He consumed one book on masonry after another.
“Once he saw that I was dedicated, he was ready to go,” Brandon says. “He told me, ‘That’s all I wanted to see is that dedication.'” With Tim’s years of experience earned as his company was on the line and Brandon’s energy and enthusiasm, “We knew we had something pretty good.”
Brandon’s respect for his dad has only grown since. Dad gets the credit for making sure they have a profit at the end of the week. He isn’t at job sites that much but is more the estimator and consultant. He meets with customers, Brandon says, and is able to quickly size up what the job will entail and how much they need to charge. Brandon says, “Within a minute, he can figure out what it’s going to take. It’s quite a skill he has.”
If the customer doesn’t like the number, they work out a way to get the truly necessary parts done at a comfortable cost. Brandon says of Tim, “He’s a professional. That’s for sure.”
Tim admits he was not entirely confident at the start, but in two years they’ve only had two arguments. “At first I had some hesitation,” he says. “There was a lot of conflict.” Talking in a customer’s yard, he says he’s finding it very rewarding working with his son. “We’re bonding together,” he says.
Brandon says he is unlike his dad in that, while Tim decided to make masonry his life’s work, he’s not certain he wants to be building retaining walls into old age. “My true passion is comedy,” he says. He is currently in rehearsals as a cast member in Wausau Community Theater’s production of the early 1970s musical Pippin.
It makes for a busy life. Nine-hour workdays precede three-hour rehearsals, cutting into time needed for sleeping and eating.
While comedy and theater hold some allure, Brandon knows where his focus needs to be. He aims to expand to the point where the company can afford larger equipment, take on larger jobs and put on a second crew. He is confident of success.
He wants The Green Guys to be known as a company that holds true to its word. “In this regard, we’re the professionals,” he says, and they won’t try to wiggle out of a deal if costs go up unexpectedly.
At the same time, he does not want to slack on craftsmanship. “I’m too OCD for that. I see something wrong and I can’t handle it,” he says.
Things really got going for The Green Guys in 2021, he says. Part of the credit he gives to his dad for being good in sales, but, “It has been mind-boggling how much business I’ve been able to drum up.”
Tim says part of that is just their policy of always answering phone calls and always responding to messages. Many times he’s heard from customers who started calling better-known landscaping firms but couldn’t get a call-back.
They were working in late June on a retaining wall at the Town of Maine home of one such customer, Ernie Soczka. Looking over what had already been accomplished, Soczka said, “I had a problem trying to find somebody to do it. It was either too big or too small. They wanted to either do a subdivision or a lawn.”
Soczka, now 79, bought the33-year-old home just out of Wausau in 2007 after retiring as a manager of multiple power plants in California. The retaining walls on either side of the entrance to his walk-in basement at the back of the home were buckling and he considered re-doing them himself – until he remembered all the rocks on the property. “I said, ‘Oh, what the hell. I’m too old to do this.'”
Tim’s more than happy for The Green Guys to step in. Looking over retaining wall blocks held securely by metal reinforcing rods and packed with stones that add to the weight, he says, “That wall will never move.”
They have openings to take on jobs yet this summer and fall, but Tim says they’ve had no empty weeks. Last year between April and October they had work every week.
Brandon has been paying attention to customer preferences. He says, “What I’ve noticed in older people is that they want to take care of the things they have. That’s a beautiful thing and a lot of companies overlook that because they’re looking for bigger jobs.”
In a time span when a larger company would be at one or two large-job sites, The Green Guys would be at three or four sites doing smaller jobs. Sometimes a small job done well turns into a bigger job, though.
Brandon recalls tackling a retaining-wall job at a home overlooking the Wisconsin River near Merrill. With a crew of six, he figured they’d be finished in a week. That part looked so good, though, the owner decided to have that whole section of the property done. It had turned into six weeks of work, building multiple tiers and using loads of blocks.
Talking about landscaping services they offer, Brandon says, “I’m up for anything,” and is considering doing more work building or rehabbing decks. It happens, though, that “Wausau has a lot of retaining walls that are going to crap. That’s good for me, but….”
He says a satisfying thing about retaining walls is knowing the ones The Green Guys work on will last for decades. He plans to do in the future what his dad has done in the past, drive around town and point with pride at jobs they’ve done.
When it comes to retaining walls, quite a number fail or buckle prematurely, but “If you do it right, they will work out well.” The times he’s noticed more failures is when a home-builder’s own crew puts up a retaining wall at the same time they’re working on carpentry. “They just don’t do a very good job,” he said. He suggests people having a home built arrange for a separate contract with a mason for any retaining walls. Often when rebuilding retaining walls, what The Green Guys find behind the walls is construction site trash stuffed into the gap and buried. Properly filling the voids in the wall, especially when they get taller than 4 feet is important, he says.
Brandon says The Green Guys don’t need to do 100% of a landscaping job if the customer wants to put on the finishing touches. While toting around 20 pounds of mulch for long periods can be too much for an older customer, that same customer might want to personally go to the nursery, pick out shrubs and trees and plant them. “A lot of elderly people want to do that part themselves,” he says. He has no problem prepping an area, putting in landscaping fabric to save on weeding later and leaving the rest to the owner, save for perhaps coming back to spread a mulch for a nicer appearance.
He says the materials available these days to contractors like him are often better than in the past, but if the workmanship is lacking, the end result won’t be great. “We’re bringing quality back. The way I work is dictated by a level of morality, doing the best I can.”
He finds the work gratifying. “If we’re not there to do it for them, there’s nobody else. I’ve had so many people tell me that.”
Like other companies, they can’t always find all the help they need when they need it, Tim says, but they’ve had some success stopping by a local men’s homeless shelter and offering work to anyone who wants it. Some will take their first day’s pay and never come back, but he says at least two men who were addicted to hard drugs worked for them long enough to get out of the homeless shelter and get a place of his own.
Company contact info
Brandon Farrar, owner/operator of The Green Guys
Email [email protected]