St. Louis company becomes worldwide mover and shaker of road salt

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. – Champion Salt, a local company in only its fourth winter season, brings in nearly 400,000 tons of road salt from around the world to the United States.

Carl Bolm, chairman of Champion Salt, says they were just awarded a contract with the Missouri Department of Transportation. He says Champion alone will bring in 100,000 tons into Missouri.

BSR Services, headquartered in a 60,000 square-foot facility in Maryland Heights, is a local snow and ice management company. They saw a real need and started Champion Salt to ensure quality salt for BSR and other companies.

And business is booming!

They have over 40 salt trucks, up to 500 seasonal employees, and now have facilities in providence Rhode Island, Chicago, and Detroit. But the road that leads to the salt mines is a long one full of pitfalls.

“We leave from St. Louis, we make a stop in Chicago, we travel through Dubai, and finally get over to Cairo International Airport,” Bolm said.

He explains doing business in Egypt can be challenging.

“They’ve been trading and bartering and negotiating for thousands of years, so everything, if you’re downtown at the market or in Cairo or the business, buying salt is a negotiation.”

Also, international law makes strategic partners that speak Arabic and additional translators a must. Then there’s the dollar exchange, both official and non-official tariffs, and fuel concerns.

Once the deal is made the real journey begins.

“You’re trucking it from a mine in Egypt to a terminal, you’re loading it from the terminal to the vessel, the vessel is sailing 21 days from Egypt to go to the (US) Northeast, then it’s unloaded onto the ground, it’s then reloaded into a truck,” Bolm said.

Some vessels from Egypt sail to New Orleans, where a vessel holding up to 60,000 metric tons of salt is loaded onto barges that can hold 1,500 to 1,800 tons. The barges move up the Missouri, Illinois, or Mississippi rivers to locations where it can be off-loaded and taken to one of Champion’s facilities.

Bolm says the price of salt is about 25 to 30 percent of the total cost and transportation makes up the remainder.

So why do they travel so far for salt?

“It was the purity, the quality, the size. All of our salt is third-party certified,” he said.

And he says the risk is that you’re going through all of this to get it into the states, not knowing if it’s going to snow or not. However, if we have a bad winter, Bolm says it’s worth it.

“People get hurt or worse on slick sidewalks or roads, and we all know that. So, this is a necessity and I feel very proud to be in this industry,” he said.

Champion Salt has purchased new equipment to treat all of its own salt this year with a coating that will make it more effective. You’ll also be able to recognize Champion salt by its blue-green color. It’s dyed, making it easier to see the areas that have already been treated.

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