A Tradition of Excellence

Farmer Group’s tried-and-true business model fosters success

For Victoria-based Farmer Group of Companies, the old-fashioned way of doing business is new again. Incorporated in 1951, Farmer is a third-generation family-owned company, and distinguishes itself by operating as a traditional general contractor.

The most obvious example of this traditional approach to business is how Farmer uses its workforce to do its own concrete work, as well as rough and finish carpentry—something worth noting as more and more contractors are subcontracting these key elements of the construction process. By using its own skilled labour force, Farmer is better able to control the critical stages of a project, which in turn ensures high-quality work.

“We have taken care over the years to remain faithful to our roots, and being a traditional contractor has yet another advantage: it allows us to better develop supervisory people who in turn look after our projects. We are old-fashioned in that we have always spent a great deal of energy mentoring younger employees, preparing them for ever-larger responsibilities, and promoting from within,” says Farmer president Barry Scroggs.

In addition to cultivating a rich pool of able superintendents, estimators and project managers, this approach to business has resulted in unusually robust employee retention, with some Farmer employees having worked for the company for three or even four decades. “We now have sons of employees in supervisory roles,” says Scroggs, who joined Farmer in 1970 as a labourer. “It is a great system because it also allows us to groom people who will take the company into the next 60 years of operation.”

Maintaining its traditional approach to business, Farmer recognizes the importance of working together with its clients to see a project through from conception to completion; and its workforce of 200-strong has a single objective: to construct quality projects within its clients’s budgets and schedules. “Seeking to accomplish this over a broad range of sectors is a considerable source of pride for us,” says Scroggs.

With its experience in the residential, commercial, institutional and industrial sectors, plus its knowledge in all disciplines of construction (including general contracting, construction management, design build and trade contracting), it comes as no surprise that Farmer is enjoying a productive 2013. It is nearing completion of The Sovereign, a boutique-style residential and commercial property in Victoria’s downtown core. This development has attracted much attention because it contains an automobile elevator that is accessed at street level and descends three levels into the building’s foundation. The Sovereign is the vision of Chard Development Ltd., a well-respected long-term repeat client of the Farmer Group.

Farmer is also in the midst of completing the interior and exterior renovations for the relocation of Island Savings Credit Union at Victoria’s Mayfair Mall, and has recently completed new branches including Duncan Centre, Saanich’s Tuscany Village and Jubilee in Oak Bay. Additional new branches and upgrades are scheduled throughout Vancouver Island.

With several projects on the go, Farmer is keeping busy as it is in the beginning stages of two long-term projects: Duet, a new condominium complex for Chard Development in Victoria’s James Bay, and the design-build Oak Bay High School Replacement project. The latter will draw on Farmer’s expertise in the sustainable building sector as the $46.5 million project will accommodate 1,300 students, and is being designed to meet the latest seismic requirements and LEED Gold human and environmental requirements.

Duet will be under construction for two years, and Oak Bay High School is a three-year project. “Overall the market has improved in the last couple years, and there are plenty of opportunities that will keep us within our preferred geographical range of Vancouver Island,” says Gerrit Vink, Farmer Group of Companies manager of operations.
Farmer’s Special Projects division looks after residential renovations, building remediation, heritage restorations and smaller residential, institutional and commercial improvements. “One of our current special projects involves a 12-unit wood frame condominium,” says Vink. Scroggs says of the division, “It is an example of staying true to our roots. George Farmer [Scroggs’s great uncle] launched this company in 1951 as a residential builder before branching out into commercial, and early on he realized the important role of renovation in all sectors.”

Yet another old-fashioned value that seems fresher than it has ever been is Scroggs’s firm belief that his company does not exist solely to provide employment to a group of people, but also to be an avenue for him and his colleagues to be involved in the community. “After all, we live in the community and are a part of it,” he says. “We are in the business of building community, so it makes sense that we try to give back whenever possible.”

This altruistic mindset also drives Farmer’s long-time involvement in industry boards and associations, including Vancouver Island Construction Association; British Columbia Construction Association; Canadian Construction Association; Association of Carpenter Employers and the Local Carpenter Apprenticeship Committee. “It is a way of keeping in touch with industry developments, and we can help make sure that good construction practices are fostered, as well as fairness and honesty in all business dealings,” says Vink, who sits on the Vancouver Island Construction Association Board of Directors. Scroggs remarks, “Participating in trade organizations is something that George passed on to my dad [second generation owner Brian Scroggs], who passed it on to my brother [vice president and general superintendent Lyle Scroggs] and I, and we have passed on to Gerrit.”

Scroggs is very excited about the future of the Farmer Group. The benefits of traditional contracting are not difficult for potential clients to appreciate if they are truly concerned about their bottom line; Scroggs and his colleagues know that adhering to their values and focusing on quality will continue to serve them well.

Furthermore, focus is being placed on grooming younger colleagues for the next 60 years of operation. “We have a great support network of experienced staff and tradesmen for our younger talent to draw from,” says Vink, citing examples of young Farmer employees who have recently taken on challenging projects with great success. “It may have been a bit ambitious to put them onto projects of that magnitude, but we were confident that with the right support they would turn into something really special, and hopefully go on to have long careers with us.”

Vink himself is a prime example of Farmer’s propensity to nurture talent and promote from within. “I joined the company 14 years ago as a University of Victoria graduate, and my first job was as a site clerk,” he recalls. “From there I became a project manager working under Barry, then senior project manager and so on, all the while mentored by wonderful and helpful people.” For the record, Scroggs intends for Vink to be part of Farmer’s ownership within the year.

Scroggs emphasizes the value of mentorship and how it provides security for the company. “A lot of companies in Victoria are in the same boat as us, with people in upper management people in their late 50’s faced with the challenge of how to move forward,” he says. “It takes at least five years to develop and implement a good succession plan, and in this regard we are confident about our future.”