Faber Brothers Construction began as a local builder of farm structures but has morphed into one of the county’s biggest and busiest general contractors
It’s not like typically earnest Rick and Ron Faber to make jokes about a building project gone awry.
However, on a recent morning, sitting in the conference room of their Lynden-based Faber Brothers Construction company, with glossy photos of their finest buildings proudly adorning the walls, the two nearly split their sides laughing, recalling a certain project from their past.
They goofed off on the job, didn’t get the proper permits and, ultimately, ran afoul of authorities.
Clients need not worry about the unusual behavior, though. After all, the incident happened nearly 30 years ago, when they were young boys growing up in Sumas.
“We started out building treehouses, illegally, without permits,” said older brother Rick, 45, the company president. “We had a two-story treehouse built underneath power lines. It was quite elaborate, but we got in a lot of trouble.”
Added younger brother, Ron, 41, the company’s vice president: “I would be delivering newspapers for the Lynden Tribune and would see a purse in the middle of the road with a string attached to it that Rick and his friends would pull on when people stopped to pick it up.”
A lot has changed since then, however, as today, by most accounts, Faber Brothers, one of the busiest construction companies in Whatcom County, is noted for its determined attention to detail and customer service.
Just about everything they needed to know about running the company, said the brothers, they learned from their father, Riemer, a carpenter.
“Building was in our blood,” said Rick.
One of the first things they learned was the satisfaction gained from a hard day’s work.
“That started right from day one,” Ron said. “Our father was our role model. He worked hard and encouraged us at a very young age to do the same. We were working before and after school on dairy farms, milking and doing chores. It’s stuck with us and we’ve never seen a reason to change.”
Following in their father’s footsteps, Rick and Ron, after attending a Christian school in Canada and graduating from Nooksack Valley High School in 1979 and 1983, respectively, pursued careers in the construction trade.
Out of high school, both took jobs at a local farm-construction company and quickly rose through the ranks and honed their skills.
By 1987, however, they were ready to start their own design-build company and saw some ways to set themselves apart from the competition.
Looking around the county, said Rick, it appeared that many builders were just putting up the same type of structures they’d been doing for years and were not working in conjunction with their clients’ long-term plans.
Before putting up a building, Rick believed, it would be more prudent to sit down at length with a property or business owner and determine master plans, site plans and long-range goals.
“What put us on our own was the frustration of building stuff that we knew was going to soon be functionally obsolete,” he said. “It was agonizing to see people spending the dollars they were spending in the wrong direction. We just couldn’t stand it any more. We said, ‘These people need to think bigger and make some better decisions.’ We’ve kept that philosophy through today.”
The early days of the company, which was based out of Rick’s garage and focused primarily on farm building, weren’t without challenges.
“We put in 10-hour days in the field and, after dinner, five more hours in the office. We did everything from secretarial work to sales to running crews,” Ron said.
However, with their backgrounds of working at farms and dairies, and their experiences of working long days as kids, the brothers were well-prepared for the grueling hours that came with running a business.
Shortly after starting their company, Rick and Ron, who both studied drafting in school, realized that the design process, which was increasingly being done on computers, was a bit more sophisticated than what they were accustomed to. So, following another lesson they learned from their father, they turned to their family for help and brought their more computer-savvy younger brother, Tim, on board.
“We didn’t know how to run a computer so we forced our littler brother to learn it and take some evening courses,” Rick said. “Eventually, he went to ITT Technical Institute and, at that point, we saw the value of what (computer-aided drafting) could do.”
While farm construction was going well and the company had grown to a staff of 20, by 1994 Rick and Ron, along with new project manager Mike Leland, who’d previously owned a construction company in Kirkland, noticed some changes around the county that prompted them to evaluate the future of the business.
“The ag work was starting to fall off and we could see that Whatcom County was beginning to become a more metropolitan area and that farms were decreasing,” said Leland, who today serves as Faber’s marketing and sales manager. “We really felt that our future was going to be in commercial building, and we could still use the design/build, full-service approach to help people with their planning.”
In 1995, Faber Brothers took its first step outside the farm-building realm and constructed the 22-unit Lion’s Head apartment building in Lynden. The experience, said Rick, gave company officials confidence that they could succeed in other areas of construction.
“That apartment complex was very important to us,” he said. “We realized we had the ability to take on whatever came in front of us. At that point, we said, ‘Look, we appreciate where we came from but we don’t want to be pegged as just farm builders, because our talents exceed the work we’re doing.”
While the company now takes on a wide range of projects, averaging about 100 per year, every commercial and industrial job it does seems to get bigger and bigger, Leland said.
Some of Faber’s most notable projects, he said, include buildings for Interfaith Community Health, DeWaard & Bode, Nature’s Path, Walton Beverage, Grandview Industrial Park and the Border Patrol Sector Headquarters in Blaine.
Recently, Faber Brothers has been selected as the general contractor for high-profile projects such as Emerald Bay Events’ proposed Ferndale events center, Wilson Furniture’s new home on Pacific Highway and the Bakerview Square shopping center.
In the near future, company officials expect to be involved with more building projects between Bellingham and Ferndale, on scattered properties they own on both sides of Interstate 5.
Leland believes Faber Brothers is in high demand because of its full-service approach to business, which can alleviate a lot of work for its clients.
“We like to get the client from the very beginning of the project, before they go to a Realtor or architect, so we can help them evaluate their property, fit their project on their land and help them with the permit process and budgets,” he said. “With today’s environment, it takes longer to do the permit process than it does to do construction. And today’s business owner is trying to run his business — he can’t afford to take six months to a year off to try to build a facility so we do that for them.”
Indeed, say some business owners who’ve worked with Faber Brothers recently, the company takes a lot of stress off their clients.
John Beebe, owner of Bellingham Auto, said he was “scared to death” in 2002, when he wanted to bui
ld his new location on Hannegan Road, but Faber Brothers put him at ease.
“They were able to see the project from our point of view and every time we needed to make a change we simply made a phone call,” he said. “By the time we hung up, there was a fax for a new design waiting. They were able to turn our concerns into solutions.”
Because of the past success, Beebe said he’s now working with Faber Brothers on a possible second location for his business in Burlington.
Rick credits much of the company’s success to its 35 employees.
“I think what sets us apart as a company is that work is important to us, but also that our employees lead a balanced life and embrace a certain lifestyle,” he said. “We make no bones about it, we’re a Christian-based company. For us, that’s important. We always say, ‘It’s God, family and work.’ That’s our order of priorities and it started with our father.”
Tom Lovelace, who’s had Faber Brothers build three of his local Papa Murphy’s locations, along with his Lynden office, said the company’s customer-service and attitude goes a long way.
“What stands out is that they’re quality guys,” he said. “It starts at the top and trickles down to every level. They take the time to walk you through a process and educate you along the way. They make it a real simple process from the start.”