Environmental Consultants and Contractors

Nicole Savage-Seaman describes how her family business got started as nothing out of the ordinary, but she says the tragic circumstances that led her to run it two years ago were nothing but, and at the least, unforeseen.

The company was founded by her father, Russel Savage, who was doing site remediation work for an area construction company.

In 1989 he and Greg Weber left that company and eventually started their own business, Nature’s Way Inc., which in 1995 was re-incorporated as Nature’s Way Environmental Consultants & Contractors Inc.

Today, at commercial and residential sites, Nature’s Way removes heating oil tanks, gasoline tanks, performs bioremediation and disposal work. The company also is called upon for emergency spill response.

“Our business is dirt,” said Savage-Seaman, who remembers eating breakfast as a youngster during her father’s business meetings in the kitchen of the family’s Alden home. Back then, she said construction vehicles and other pieces of heavy equipment were part of the landscape in the backyard.

Then in 2007, at age 51, Russel died unexpectedly.

“There was no succession plan,” she said.

So Savage-Seaman, who earned an undergraduate degree in psychology, left her job and in early 2008 began running the family business.

She was 27 and working in Lockport in a human resources role for Niagara County. Her experience was in management, insurance and employee benefits, but she had little knowledge of the science or state-mandated processes required to do bio-remediation work.

She is grateful for people such as Weber and the staff who take care of customers while she oversees operations. She earned her MBA from the University at Buffalo this spring and enlists services through the Canisius College Women’s Business Center.

What’s going on: Nature’s Way drills at commercial and residential sites to test for soil contaminants. Places where old gas stations and dry cleaners used to stand, Savage-Seaman said, are often where the company’s drill rigs and earth probes are put to work.

Engineering firms often hire Nature’s Way to conduct environmental tests or remove contaminants.

“We do investigative work for compaction and contamination,” she said.

Compaction tests, she said, are to determine how much the soil would be able to support for a new-build.

Culture shift: Savage-Seaman said while weathering the storm of her father’s sudden passing, she was in the midst of overseeing a major layoff at Niagara County. As a result, she couldn’t leave that job abruptly and join Nature’s Way.

And although she had known most of the staff by the time she got there in 2008, she said, “it was an extreme change in roles.”

Specifically, she went from being the boss’ daughter to co-worker and owner.

“I came from a more structured organization where I managed one department to one with less structure where I oversee the entire operation,” she said.

Projected 2010 revenues: $4 million to $6 million. Revenues had been in the $7 million to $9 million range, but fewer government jobs and contracts in the last year or two have negatively affected revenues.

No. of employees: 25.

Principals: Savage-Seaman owns 51 percent of the company and is joined on the board of directors by family members who split the remaining 49 percent: stepmother Joanne Savage, brother Russel Savage and sister Lindsay Savage.

Savage-Seaman and Weber, who is vice president, are the lone company officers.

Largest expenditure the last 12 months: A used dump truck cost around $40,000. The big red 2003 Peterbilt sits out back behind the main office building, which dates back to the 1800s. Savage-Seaman said the company owns all of its own equipment. To save money, Nature’s Way usually buys used equipment and vehicles.

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