Sage Oil Vac is a true American success story rooted in innovation and the determination to find a better way. In the early 90s, Gary Sage was a farmer looking for a better way to change oil in his irrigation equipment without spilling oil on himself or the ground. This led to the creation of the first oil vac system in 1993, an innovation that quickly caught the attention of neighboring farmers as the system was not only cleaner, but faster than conventional pump-driven systems.
Demand quickly grew as Gary’s farm employees cut, welded, painted and assembled the mobile oil change equipment in the farm off-season. “Orders taken in the spring and summer would be built after wheat harvest in July, and then the major building season was after corn harvest in the fall,” he recalls. “The timing made it difficult to appease the growing customer demand that expected the units to be on the ground or available with a short lead time.”
Additionally, not all of the career farmhands were keen on participating in the manufacturing business during the off-season. Their expertise didn’t necessarily translate into manufacturing skills.
Taking A Risk
Demand continued to grow as Gary attempted to keep pace. And in the fall of ’99, a customer order changed the trajectory and set the stage for Sage Oil Vac to become a major player in the mobile lube system business.
Gary’s largest customer at the time, Western Marketing, a lubricant distributor in west Texas, had been ordering one or two units at a time for about two or three years in the late 90s. They would let their customers use the Sage Oil Vac units for free, if their customers bought lubricants from them.
This became a very popular program for the oil distributor and as a result, the company needed more systems. And while Gary was in the midst of fall corn harvest, the owner called and wanted eight of the largest oil vac units as fast as he could get them.
New Markets Drives Growth
The Western Marketing order helped Gary realize the Sage Oil Vac product could find use in many other markets. Any machine with oil that needed to be changed in a mobile setting could benefit from the product. To serve this market, Gary decided to transform Sage Oil Vac into a full-time manufacturing business. In 2001, he established a full-time shop dedicated to fabricating oil systems in Amarillo, Texas.
Sage Oil Vac’s mission to supply mobile oil change equipment paired perfectly with the emergence of the domestic wind power industry. “Amarillo, Texas is the windiest city in the United States, and many wind turbines were being put up in and around the land of the same irrigated farmers that we were supplying oil vac systems to for their irrigation engines,” says Gary. A trip to deliver a system to a farmer in southwest Kansas gave him the opportunity to visit a Florida power and light wind farm with 60 turbines. He simply walked into the maintenance office and asked to speak with the site lead.
At the time, there was not an efficient way to change the 80 gallons of 320-weight gear oil in each gearbox located in the nacelle at the top of the wind turbine.
“We worked with this company to develop the first Sage Oil Vac GOEX system for wind energy and demonstrated the system just 18 months later,” explains current CEO Aaron Sage, who took over the business from his father in 2016. “It fit within our mission and there was a need. Today we ship this system all over the world.”
By exploring every opportunity that could benefit from a mobile lube system, Sage Oil Vac continued to thrive. In 2004, the company secured a game-changing partnership with the U.S. Army Reserves. It allowed Sage Oil Vac to double its annual revenue in one order. “Although not a big purchase for the Army Reserves, it was the difference in Sage Oil Vac being able to take the business to the next level,” recalls Aaron.
Overcoming Design Challenges
One manufacturing challenge that Sage Oil Vac has faced over the years is adapting the original design to the different applications where mobile oil change equipment is needed. Traditional lube equipment uses rectangular tanks, optimized for size and space to meet each customer’s needs. The vacuum and pressure used to operate the oil vac system called for a rounded tank.
Rounded pressure tanks are heavier than thin-walled atmospheric steel, aluminum, or plastic tanks. This presents weight challenges in some applications. “However, our system does not have pumps, so we offset much, if not all of the tank weight difference by eliminating the pump,” says Sage.
The design of the Sage Oil Vac system eliminates the maintenance associated with pumps on conventional mobile lube systems. Instead, the system relies on sealed tanks that hold pressure and vacuum with no leaks, for years. “Customers appreciate the 10-year+ cycle of a system because of the few moving parts,” says Aaron.
Taking control of quality
Another unique attribute of the business is that Sage Oil Vac does not rely on outside vendors to control the quality of its products. Critical components of Sage products are built in-house. “In 2021 the most important component, the tank, began to transition in-house, which provides control over the quality and design of the workhorse of the Sage Oil Vac product offering,” says Aaron. “The frames for the units are also designed, engineered, and built in our facility.”
All tanks on every system are pressure-checked three times – once before tank plumbing, once after tank plumbing, and again upon the final checklist of final completion. “We have never had a tank that failed in the field,” notes Aaron.
Positioned for the future
Sage Oil Vac has experienced exponential growth in brand awareness. Simultaneously, the sales team has worked hard to recruit and grow dealers as well as cross-promote and develop relationships in the truck equipment industry, resulting in large repeating key accounts in the heavy equipment maintenance industry. This has well-positioned the company for continued growth, which has included an acquisition of a steel tank manufacturer in March 2021, now under the name Amarillo Tanks.
Sage is focused on improving manufacturing efficiency. There is an initiative to move the business away from one-off customer projects dominating the product mix, to the repetitive building of a set product offering. This has moved the mix from 60% custom to 20% custom in the last five years.
The stage has been set for Sage Oil Vac to continue its gains and the company is positioned for strong growth in the next five years. “We will do this by listening to the customer, adapting our existing product to the changing world of how on-site fluid maintenance is handled, as well as developing new products that fit within our mission and can serve customers in the markets they are in,” adds Aaron.
To read more about what sets Sage Oil Vac apart from the competition, head over here.