Saved from recession by hotel projects, Santa Rosa's Farrow Construction turns to fire rebuilds

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John Farrow has made a career out of building and reconfiguring his real estate development and construction business to fill customer needs others wouldn’t or couldn’t. And after pursuing one such opportunity — a scoffed-at trash bin project — to a nationwide operation, Farrow has redirected the business back to the North Bay for the wildfire rebuild.

And in fastening on a concrete business and acquiring local housing projects to help with reconstruction of the thousands of homes lost in the October 2017 fires, Farrow’s construction industry ventures are experiencing revenue growth of 150% in the past two years, set to be growth of five times by next year.

“When the fires hit, it was kind of a wake-up call for us,” Farrow said. “We had done developments in residential and single-family homes before in our past lives and iterations of Farrow.”

From a mostly commercial general contractor, Farrow now has 80 home rebuilds under construction, including 44 of 46 sites in The Oaks development in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood. It features fire-resistant light-gauge steel framing and stucco finishes. Steel was picked because of less job-site waste — around 2% for steel versus over 20% for lumber — and cost, which at the time of ordering was 8% less for steel framing than wood, Farrow said.

Under consideration for another Farrow project is land in Santa Rosa for a 30-home development.

The first iteration of the company came almost 30 years ago as Marin County- and San Francisco-based Farrow Contracting, focusing on building, renovating and remodeling high-end single-family homes. In 2001 came Farrow Commercial Construction and a move to Sonoma County, doing commercial construction and renovations throughout the North Bay.

That led to the trash bin bid for Wyndham Resorts & Hotels’ Trendwest timeshare location in Windsor. The contractor building that project wasn’t available to build the bin enclosure, so Farrow went for it. That led to contracts on big projects across Wyndham’s portfolio and work for multiple hospitality property owners across the country.

The hospitality industry work was attractive, particularly during the lead-up and aftermath of the Great Recession, Farrow said. For a number of contractors, that stretched started in 2006 and lasted several years.

“Hospitality is a very interesting animal, in that even in low economic times, they still have to maintain their brands to brand standards. They still have to build. They still have to renovate. They still have to upgrade. They still have to comply,” Farrow said.

So Farrow’s revenue grew 300% during that period.

Then came the fires, which burned some of the homes of Farrow’s employees and significantly damaged Cardinal Newman High School, which his children attended. He pulled back his teams based in Colorado to Santa Rosa, putting them up in trailers at job sites in the burn areas. The company leased Christopherson Homes’ former offices by the Sonoma County airport then expanded to Wikiup Business Park, near the Mark West and Larkfield north Santa Rosa neighborhoods destroyed in the fires.

To support the need for concrete on new foundations needed for his company’s rebuilds and those of other contractors, Farrow last fall acquired Carl’s Ready Mix concrete plant in Santa Rosa. And to help with design needs on rebuilds, the 707 Design Studio was launched.

After the addition of the concrete business, annual revenues for several years of $20 million to $30 million jumped to $50 million to $60 million. The forecast for 2020 is upwards of $100 million.

Now at about 60 employees, the Farrow construction and development companies are looking for room to grow. One of his ventures purchased nearly 1 acre at 700 American Way at Conde Lane and has applied to the town of Windsor to build an 8,000-square-foot office building with shop and design showroom.

Today, Farrow’s mix of projects is about 70% residential and 30% commercial, almost flipped from just a few years ago.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Contact him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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