The road to success has been rocky for Salina Savage and Barbara Stone, the owners of Apogee Logistics (formerly Savage Logistics) in Richland. But the women, who may seem like the most unlikely owners of a trucking company that specializes in hauling radioactive material and hazardous waste, have stealthily maneuvered around the roadblocks and over the potholes placed in their paths to build the business, earning plenty of respect along the way.
We risked everything.
Salina Savage, co-owner of Apogee Logistics
Savage and Stone met in 1988, when Stone was hired at the transportation company where Savage was already working. They became fast friends and then best friends. Savage left the company in 1992 to work in the transportation department at Westinghouse and later worked for Waste Management Federal Services. When Savage left that job in 1999 to work for another Hanford contractor, Stone took over Savage’s previous position, working at the Department of Energy headquarters as part of the motor carrier evaluation program.
“We met with the carriers and evaluated them to make sure they were in compliance to haul radioactive material,” Savage said.
That’s when Savage first noticed the need for carriers fully-licensed to haul radioactive and hazardous waste.
Savage started saving money and thinking about the opportunity. And in 2006, Savage arrived at Stone’s doorstep and asked her friend if she wanted to start a business with her. Stone said yes before Savage had the chance to explain the business concept.
The main Hanford contractor was changing and there would be some transition and opportunity, Savage said. Savage took the money she had been saving and both took money out of their 401k retirement funds and they women bought three trucks and five trailers. “We risked everything,” Savage said. “But we knew we could get approved (to haul radioactive and hazardous waste) through the Motor Carrier Evaluation Program and we knew the customers, and that we could get the work.”
The women got their MCEP approval in May 2007 and became approved carriers. They hired three drivers and Savage Logistics hit the road.
But the women had worked in the Hanford arena enough to know they didn’t want to put all their eggs in that basket. So even though they had their MCEP certification, they wanted to expand their opportunities and get more state work.
So they went to the state Office of Women & Minority Business Enterprises to get certification through that office, which would give them the ability to bid projects around the state as a woman-owned business. But the office turned them down for the certification.
“They said we didn’t know all aspects of our business,” Savage said.
The office personnel told them to certify their business, the women would have to get their Commercial Driver's Licenses. For all the experience the women had in the transportation industry, neither had every actually driven a big rig. The women were surprised by the news, but it wasn't going to stop them. They drove back to Richland and enrolled in truck-driving school.
They had to know their trucks from everything under the hood to where the rubber meets the road. "We studied all the mechanical parts of the truck, which we had to know to do the pre-trip (inspections)," Savage said. "And we practiced driving, backing up, backing around corners — everything." To obtain the CDLs, the women would have to pass both written and driving tests. "We passed our tests, and as soon as we had our CDLs, we drove to Olympia," Savage said.
They went back to the OWMBE, where staff was surprised to see them, Savage said, and proudly displayed their CDLs. "That obstacle became a good hurdle," Savage said. Obtaining the CDL was difficult, but it's also been an essential tool as the business grew, especially in the early years. "I don't know how many times I had to hop in a truck and go across the country," Savage said.
There were times when drivers weren't available and a contract had to be fulfilled, or just when a truck needed to be moved across the yard. "We were able to do that," Savage Said.
It also made her more aware of what her drivers go through on a day-to-day basis, from the mounds of paperwork to sitting and waiting for hours empty check stations 40 miles from home before an inspector arrives to sign off on a load when they are hauling hazardous materials.
"It made me a better business owner, knowing what it's like to be on the road driving and missing my family," she said.
It's only been ten years since the women founded Savage Logistics, In 2017 they changed their business name to Apogee Logistics. Growth has happened at freeway speeds. Savage joined with Hanford contractor Northstar to get approved through the Small Business Association's mentor/protégé program, so they could become a prime contractor on projects.
They also diversified beyond hauling hazardous waste and radioactive materials. They offer construction services, warehousing, environmental services and equipment rental.
In 2014, they were awarded a multi-million contract to do demolition work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California as part of a joint venture with Northstar. They are also hauling concrete segments form Puyallup to Seattle for the Highway 99 tunnel project and cleaning up contaminated soil and wastewater for Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. And they warehouse and transport Battelle's radiation monitor portals.
The company now has nearly 30 employees, 25 trucks, and 120 trailers and their trucks can be found traveling across the contiguous U.S. and into Canada. They now occupy a 35,000-sq-ft Nucor steel office and warehouse on a five acre property at the Port of Benton at 1440 Battelle Blvd.
"We had four different warehouse facilities and wanted to consolidate to one," Savage said. Savage and Stone are excited about their growth and the future of their company. But of all their accomplishments, they are most proud of their safety record. "We are in the top 1 percent of safety and compliance with the DOT," said Savage. "We've passed all of our audits with no findings."
Savage said they are sticklers for the details — Savage on the ground, and Stone managing the office and taking care of the books. They are also sticklers for taking care of their employees, which is especially important at a time when long-haul truck drivers are in short supply.
"We have late model trucks — nice trucks — with leather interiors, televisions, and microwaves," Savage said. "We pay our drivers more, and pay by the miles and by the hour for loading and unloading." The employees receive medical and dental benefits, fully paid for by the company. Drivers are assigned their own trucks and receive incentive bonuses every quarter, based on the number of miles they drive.
Things are moving at a fast pace for the company, but Savage and Stone aren't taking their foot off the gas pedal any time soon. Savage is constantly looking for new contracts and work to further create independence from the company's Hanford work. It's the only way to stay competitive and insure the health of the company for the future. But it's the right time for the women to put everything into full gear, they said.
"There is no way we could have done this when we had young kids," Savage said. "And we don't have time to worry about empty nesting."