Fast-growing Legion Logistics in Florence receives important government designation

'Service-disabled, veteran-owned small business'
Fast-growing Legion Logistics in Florence receives important government designation
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 06:00:50-04

FLORENCE, Ky. -- In February 2015, Lacy Starling and Tony Coutsoftides changed the ownership structure of their Florence-based business, Legion Logistics.

Previously, each had owned 50 percent. That changed to Coutsoftides owning 51 percent and Starling the other 49 percent.

Changes like that require a certain amount of trust between the parties, but Starling and Coutsoftides know each other pretty well. They were married for four years, they still live less than a mile apart in Union, and they share custody of their daughter.

The ownership change enabled Legion, a logistics company that connects haulers with people who need things hauled, to become designated by the federal government as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. And last month, Legion was among the first nine companies so designated by the state of Kentucky.

Such designations are good for businesses because, in some cases, governments set aside a portion of their spending for companies with the designation.

"It's really cool that the state of Kentucky has decided to recognize this designation," Starling said.

Kentucky doesn't currently set aside a portion of its spending for service-disabled veteran-owned companies, but some local governments, such as the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government do, said Yvette Smith, executive director of the office of EEO/Contract Compliance for the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet.

The cabinet expects to receive more applications for the designation, she said, which are free of charge to the applicant.

About 70 Kentucky companies have the federal designation, Smith said, and those can file a streamlined application to get the state designation.

Starling and Coutsoftides had discussed changing the ownership to give Starling the majority, which would have qualified the company for another federal and state designation -- a woman-owned business.

While Starling is a "huge proponent" of providing advantages to women, she said, it seemed right to honor Coutsoftides' military service instead. Also, 25 percent of the company's employees are veterans.

After serving 10 years in the Army and rising to the rank of captain, Coutsoftides broke both leg bones in both of his legs in a parachuting accident and had to accept an honorable discharge.

After leaving the Army in 2002, he worked in the logistics business, including a stint with Union Township-based TQL, the largest privately held company in the Tri-State region. In 2008, he married Starling, and the next year, they began talking about owning their own business.

Legion was founded in 2009, with Starling as the sole owner and operator, because Coutsoftides' non-compete agreement with TQL had not yet expired.

For the first three years, they worked from their home along with their staff, which soon numbered eight. Some evenings, Starling carried their infant daughter in a sling around her neck and stirred spaghetti sauce on the stove for dinner as she said goodbye to the employees leaving for the day.

In March 2012, they moved the business into a Florence office building, and later that year, they divorced.

"We are both Triple-A-type personalities," Starling said. "That's probably another reason why we're not married anymore."

But though their relationship as husband and wife ended, their business partnership has continued -- with great success.

"We decided it was more important for us to be adults about the business and (our daughter) than it was to have any kind of ego," Starling said. "We joke now that we are more like siblings than a divorced couple."

"Our slogan is that it's only weird if you make it weird," she added.

Legion is a third-party logistics company, which means it doesn't own any trucks of its own, but connects haulers with customers looking for haulers.

It moves everything from auto parts made in Mexico to 127,000-pound battle tanks for the military. It even arranges flights for oil industry parts that weigh up to 10,000 pounds.

The company now employs 40 people and is on track to make about $26 million in sales this year, about the same as last year, Coutsoftides said.

He and Starling plan to grow the company by about 25 percent every year, adding six to eight new employees annually, over the next three years, Starling said.

They recently began leasing 2,600 square feet next door, which will enable them to move in more sales people, increase storage space, bring back their pingpong table and create a break room for employees.

The company has placed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the country three years in a row, most recently at No. 513 in August.

Every year when the Inc. list comes out, the company fields calls from venture capitalists wanting to invest, Coutsoftides said. In 2013, the owners turned down an offer to purchase the company that would have let them walk away millionaires.

They didn't feel they were done with the company. Or as he put it, "Legion was not fully cooked."

"The business continues to grow and change," Starling said. "Neither of us expected it to grow as quickly as it did."