A woman of substance and style who knows her way around pavers and the social scene
By June Allan Corrigan
Her photograph graces magazine covers, pops up in ads and even appears on a billboard. Usually she’s showing off a slinky evening gown to great advantage.
However, Charissa Farley is far from being a mere fashion plate. As president of Farley Interlocking Paving, a paving installation contracting company and a paving stone distribution company based in Palm Desert, she has conquered and continues to make inroads in the traditionally male-dominated construction field.
Farley comes from a long line of females who broke barriers. “One of my grandmothers was the 66th woman in the country to get her pilot’s license. My other grandmother traveled around the world several times when women weren’t traveling alone. Both of them were single for long periods of time. My mother is the same way. Once her kids grew up she ran off to sea, basically jumping on a cruise ship and working on it for years, seeing the whole world,” she says.
After studying business, Farley went into construction management right out of college. Never one to miss an opportunity, she spied an excellent one when her then-husband took over a family tile business. He was content to run a smaller craftsman-style operation but she wanted more. Once she learned about pavers in the early ‘90s and saw their potential, there was no stopping her. It was a great niche – nobody in the valley was doing it at the time, construction was on the upswing and data about pavers was readily available online.
Farley acknowledges the support she received from her ex-husband who remains with the company to this day and is still one of her best friends. She reminisces: “I was saying let’s go big! ….. while he was saying well, not for me, but knock yourself out, sweetie. I’ve got your back. So basically I had a very supportive partner who told me to go get ‘em girl, go get ‘em.”
Full steam ahead
This entrepreneur did indeed go get ‘em. Today Farley is recognized as the “Queen of Pavers” with a thriving business that serves the Coachella Valley and locations as far south as San Diego and as far north as Santa Barbara. She and her company have won numerous awards and she holds some unique certifications.
Farley accomplished it all while raising three kids and fostering several more. Somewhere in the mix, she also found time to increase her social presence and become very active in the community. For instance, she’s very proud to be marking close to 10 years serving as a Desert Cancer Foundation board member. Co-chairing that organization’s Gift of Life gala has become part of her social whirl…. and job.
“Whether it’s Coachella or Fashion Week…. you know, I’m a part of this community and my business is a part of this community…… and being connected – it’s good for your soul and it’s good business! So I show up everywhere,” Farley says.
Given her social calendar, the whole idea of posing for ads wearing an evening gown starts to make sense. Farley came up with the campaign as a branding strategy but admits it wasn’t easy.
“It was an uncomfortable thing putting myself in an ad. The first one didn’t feel really good,” she says. “Little voices in my head kept asking: Am I too old? Am I pretty enough? Will people think badly of me? Will they think I’m a narcissist?”
Despite her initial reservations about the campaign, her business savvy eventually overrode concerns. Farley recognizes the ads set her business apart and to a large degree, appeal to the demographic she’s trying to attract. They also stem from her belief that women need to keep evolving.
“We shouldn’t feel like we have to diminish as we age. We should feel good, feel more comfortable in our own skin because we’ve had a lot more practice! I’m kind of unabashed about that and so my marketing is shameless and my social presence is shameless. I’ve arrived. I’m here. I might as well enjoy it,” she says.
Kind and capable
If you ask close friends and her mostly female office staff about Farley, two things come up — her amazing kindness plus her ability to wear many different hats. A hard hat, for sure, along with jeans and flats when she’s out on job sites — but other times you’ll just as easily spot her wearing a St. John’s suit and heels to visit high-end clients.
Good friend Elizabeth Scarcella says: “Many small business owners aren’t that versatile. They don’t know how to be kind to their staff, especially female staff, then be a little more rigid with laborers and then be very refined and practice proper etiquette with high-end customers. She has to work with manufacturers too, and prevent them from taking advantage of her. Charissa can do all those things.”
Farley was also capable of keeping her business afloat during the Great Recession even while operating on increasingly slim profit margins.
“My joke during that period was this is not a business, this is a co-op. I just steer this ship so we all have jobs,” she says.
If a misconception exists about her position, it’s the idea that it’s easy. “This is a tough business. I can blink and lose twenty grand on a job. One thing goes wrong – this is concrete and it’s heavy. People don’t realize. There’s heavy equipment, trucks, people can get hurt, there’s safety issues. This is not for the faint of heart.” Farley says.
The term workaholic has also been leveled at her. Farley doesn’t think she is one anymore. She’s learned to meld work with play by a) surrounding herself with female office staff (many of them family) whom she genuinely enjoys being around and b) combining a lot of advertising and marketing with social events that she and staff attend for fun. Throw in regular sessions of Bikram yoga along with hiking, biking and swimming and Farley sums it up succinctly when she says: “There are good days and bad days so you might as well suck out every bit of joy. Every. Single. Day.”
Farley Interlocking Pavingstones, (760) 773-3960, farleypavers.