It’s one thing to open a business and build trust among customers. But what do you do when you buy a business that already has blown that trust?
That was the challenge that Wassek and Rima el-Rabaa faced a little more than two years ago when they bought Xpress Automotive, a full-service auto repair shop at 15629 S. Desert Foothills Parkway, Ahwatukee.
“We were never allowed an in-depth look at the financials at the time we were buying the business,” said Rima. “And we found out later that the business also had some challenges with its reputation.”
Added Wassek: “The business had an 'F' rating with the Better Business Bureau when we bought it.”
But the Lebanese couple feel they have turned the corner on that initial challenge. They are now rated A by the BBB.
“The most important thing we have been able to do is regain the trust of the old, loyal customers,” Wassek said. “I credit the people of Ahwatukee for giving us the opportunity to show them that we were going to do things differently than the old owners, and they would get great service at a great price when they used Xpress.”
Added Rima: "Regaining the trust of the customers was our biggest hurdle. But we were amazed at how willing the people of Ahwatukee were to give us the chance to prove ourselves and show that we were not going to be the same as the previous owners. It was up to us to prove to them that we were different, and I think we’re doing that every day.”
Their road to the business and to Ahwatukee was as varied academically as it was globally.
Wassek moved to Tucson from Lebanon in 1984, where he graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in hospitality management. He had followed his three older brothers to America, who had come here five years earlier to escape the civil war that was tearing their homeland apart.
Wassek returned in 2000 to Lebanon, where he met Rima.
It was kismet.
“It was amazing, we met and fell in love immediately and were engaged after just two weeks.”
At the time, Rima was earning a degree in civil engineering and helping out with her parents’ wholesale business.
So how did the couple end up servicing motor vehicles after they left Lebanon and came to America in November 2001?
“I had been involved with cars my whole life; my dad owned his own business doing automotive upholstery repairs, and we used to watch him work all the time,” recalled Wassek.
“My father’s passion for cars rubbed off on me and my six brothers and now all my brothers and I – and even Rima – share my father’s passion and enthusiasm for anything to do with cars.”
The couple also zoomed in on Ahwatukee quickly.
“Ahwatukee was our first home after our marriage,” said Rima. “We have always loved the community because everyone was so welcoming, caring and supportive, especially for me when I was first here after immigrating from Lebanon. Someone was always offering to help me do something, or learn something, or teach me something about my new home town.”
Rima had been working at a bank for a while, but when she was laid off, she and Wassek decided they wanted to find a business they could run together.
“We had always dreamed about owning our own business and believed that things happen for a reason,” she said, calling her layoff “a sign for us to have the courage to hope and look for a business to either start on our own or buy.”
Wassek said the search was somewhat complicated.
“At first, it was almost as if too many ideas were coming to us; there were so many businesses we looked at and we had a very hard time deciding which direction we wanted to go,” he explained.
“But as we went through the process, some fell off our radar, others were just not quite not what we dreamed of."
They used their own experience to guide them in setting up the business.
“Having been a customer of so many different repair shops over the years and searching for a trustworthy, reliable shop," Wassek said, "we knew what it would take to make something like this successful.”
He said he and Rima were motivated by “our belief in this business’ ability to grow and our own ability to provide the kind of automotive and customer service we knew people were looking for.”
They run the business together, with Rima involved in marketing and promotion and her husband meeting with customers or assigning work to their two technicians – who, Rima stressed, aren’t considered employees but family.”
“It’s a good mix for us, as it allows both of us to play to our strengths. And as we add new customers, it feels like we’re adding new members of our family all the time," she said.
Xpress Automotive provides a full range of services, from routine maintenance to major repairs.
The couple focuses on growing their business at the one location rather than opening more garages.
“At this point we’re happy with our one location,” Wassek said. “Because of where the business was when we bought it, we’re extremely cautious of expanding too quickly. We don’t want to sacrifice the quality of our work or the trust we’ve built with our customers.”
Information: 480-372-5887 or Xpressautorepair.com.