Seeing Double: Twin brothers continue lifelong bond in business

Identical twins Eric J., left, and Ryan J. Vanderlan take a break from a job off Deer Run in the town of Watertown last month. The Lewis County twins launched their landscaping firm together while in college. In 2007, they incorporated as an LLC as N.V. Landscaping. Norm Johnston/NNY Business

Identical twin brothers Eric J. and Ryan J. Vanderlan graduated from the same high school, the same college and started a landscaping business together, complete with two dump trucks and two trailers.

Even more impressive, they’re still talking to each other.

“We’re pretty laid back,” said Eric, the “older” brother born 10 minutes before Ryan. “We even hang out sometimes on the weekends.”

The brothers, who are 27 years old and live in Lewis County, graduated from Holland Patent Central High School and SUNY Cobleskill. Eric earned a bachelor’s degree in Plant Science with a specialty in Landscape Contracting, and Ryan obtained his degree in Agricultural Business.

They took the information gained from their college classes and combined it with “real-life” training in both landscaping and outdoor masonry work. They actually started their company, New Vision Landscaping, part-time while still in college. When they became an LLC in 2007, the name was changed to N.V. Landscaping.

In order to finance the equipment and at the same time, continue to pay for their tuition, the brothers took on another job while in college. They both worked night and early morning shifts at a Wal-Mart distribution center warehouse.

“When we first started, I think people wanted to support us because we were two young, motivated and ambitious brothers,” said Eric. “People saw the drive in us.”

Growing the business involved “a lot of trial and error,” but they’ve figured out how to make it work, said Ryan.

While both brothers could have pursued other career opportunities after college, “it’s just not what we wanted to do,” said Eric.

“We wanted to run our own business,” he said.

Eric and Ryan both live in Lowville, although they have separate apartments. Eric is married to wife, Renee.

Their work includes landscaping and masonry, specializing in “outdoor living spaces” such as patios, kitchens and fireplaces. This type of work has become more popular in recent years, they said.

“A lot of people have told us instead of spending money on travel, they want to put it toward their homes,” said Eric.

The brothers work throughout the north country and also in the Albany and Rochester areas. Some of their jobs have come through connections made with former classmates at Cobleskill, while others have been “word-of-mouth” advertising by customers.

The brothers have continued their education since graduating from college. They are ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Paver Institution) certified installers, and NCMA (Nation Concrete and Masonry Association) certified installers of Segmental Retaining Walls and Steps.

The two organizations set standards for installation, material quality and techniques used for building. The brothers also recently became Techo-Bloc Certified Professional contractors as well.
During the busy season, they employ two other people. But one of the brothers is usually at the project at all times, they said. That’s one advantage to being in business together, said Eric.

“We have so much expertise together,” he said. “Because there are two of us, we can always have an owner on site. I can leave for a meeting, and Ryan can stay on site. Or it can be the other way around.”
The brothers are so used to being mistaken for each other, that they typically answer for whatever name may be called. They have gone to meetings and customers aren’t always sure which one is which, but it doesn’t really matter, Ryan said.

They share all the information needed to complete the project, he said.

“We do have people do a lot of double takes” on the job site when they first discover there are two of them, Eric said.

In fact, they were so often mistaken for each other when they were growing up that their mother started dressing Ryan in red clothes and Eric in blue clothes.

“I don’t own anything red in my closet,” Eric joked.

If one brother got in trouble, it wasn’t unusual for the other one to get blamed as well. It was just all part of growing up as identical twins, they said.

“My parents said if he did something, I probably would have done it, too,” Eric joked.

Norah Machia is a freelance writer who lives in Watertown. She is a 20-year veteran journalist and former Watertown Daily Times reporter. Contact her at norahmachia@gmail.com.