July 12, 2012

Hesse Fence & Deck owner thrives on creativity

Greg Hesse sees a connection between his profession – building fences and decks – and his passion, which is music.

Greg Hesse sees a connection between his profession – building fences and decks – and his passion, which is music.

“I’m a very artsy-fartsy kind of guy,” said Hesse, who owns Hesse Fence & Deck and plays guitar in a band called Timbucktoo. “A lot of what we do, other fence companies won’t try. We kind of dig the improvisation involved.”

That could be anything from a double-arched gate with a custom iron insert and gothic hardware for a residential customer’s backyard to a fence around Kapaun Mount Carmel’s baseball field that looks completely different on each side.

“Over the years we’ve gotten into more custom design than I thought we would,” Hesse said.

Hesse started the company 30 years ago – actually, 32 if you count the two years he operated it as Wood Fences Unlimited. He changed the name because he started building decks and because his last name “at least in east Wichita, is well known.”

Hesse’s father ran a sporting goods store for years. “Watching him, I thought I’d do better as entrepreneur than working for somebody else.”

Hesse got most of his training in Colorado, building condos in the mountains and then working for an uncle’s hurricane fence company in Denver.

“I learned a lot of carpentry from a lot of skilled carpenters,” he said.

He returned home to enter Wichita State University as a 21-year-old freshman, but dropped out when his fence-building business took off. Sales rose every year until 2010, when they dropped dramatically, he said.

Now, they’re climbing again.

Hesse prefers to build fences with cedar that he imports from Idaho and Washington, and to fashion decks mostly from redwood.

“That’s our specialty. I love the warmth of the wood.”

But he also puts in black iron fences required by many homeowners associations and decks made of composite materials. Wood preservation has also become a significant part of his business over the past decade as more people invest in preventive maintenance, and patio covers have become more popular because of the “excruciating heat of the past couple summers,” he said.

He usually has about eight people working for him, including longtime crew leaders Mark Elliott and Derek DeWerff. Together they’ve put up hundreds of decks and thousands of fences.

Hesse likes the fact that his business is seasonal, at least when winter actually brings wintry weather.

Then he can write songs, play his guitar and “go hide in the Ozarks.”

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