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Meet Ivan Vazquez of Savas Tires & Wheels in Bell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ivan Vazquez.

Ivan, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Mine is the classic American dream story. My folks immigrated from Mexico in 1977. My dad started as an auto-body repair man, opening his one-car garage shortly after arriving. My mom would hold down several odd ball jobs, including sewing cloths for the Jackson 5! I inherited some of their entrepreneurial spirit. When I was eight, I would pick lemons from our lemon tree and go knocking door-to-door in my neighborhood in South Gate, selling them for .10 cents a piece.

By the time I finished high school, the one-car garage my father started so many years ago, had turned into a thriving business. I had been learning the ropes of the business along the way. The commission was good, and since no one in the family had gone to college, I didn’t get much pressure to do so either. As I continued to grow alongside the business, I began to realize the importance of organizing, and structuring a business that had outgrown its entrepreneurial roots– it was time for a manager. I signed up at Golden West Community College, taking courses part-time in business administration. By the time I finished my course work, I was fully in charge of our wholesale division, running a 28,000 square foot warehouse and managing 25 employees. Then the recession came.

Like so many companies, we were caught off guard by the dramatic shift in the economy. Coupled with tariffs imposed on products we were importing from China, we had to shift course and reduce cost, quickly. As luck would have it, the warehouse adjacent to us was relocating its out of state operations to California, and they needed more space. I helped to negotiate the sale of our facility, and we re-centralized our operations out of our location in the city of Bell.

It was both a financial and psychological blow to sell the warehouse, but we were still in business and we just needed to keep our heads down and muscle through the changing economic environment. Personally, the experience taught me that I needed a backup plan, because for the first time, I really understood that everything could be lost. I applied and enrolled at CSULB, taking courses part-time to earn my degree in Operations and Supply Chain Management.

Graduating summa cum laude as part of the 2016 class, I couldn’t have made my parents, wife, and self prouder. Twenty years of first hand experience and years of course work under my belt, it’s still hard to relax and feel confident in what I’m doing 100% of the time. The business has more or less stabilized, and I continue to seek ways to improve our company’s processes, employee satisfaction, and overall customer experience.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Like any business that has been going for 35 years, we’ve definitely have had our share of challenges. Many things are universal constants in any business: striving to provide consistent positive customer experiences, focusing on employee recruitment & retention, and managing costs without sacrificing quality of customer service.

In addition to the challenges faced by any small business, we also have the benefits and challenges of a family business: working with different personalities and egos, communicating goals without making that next family gathering awkward, or ensuring that other employees feel that they have a way of advancing without having to marry into the family!

Finally, we have to survive in a hyper-competitive brick and mortar/online business environment, with consumers more knowledgeable than ever. In other words, there’s no playing games. You have to be on top of your game– know your products, services, and customer expectations. You have to know your business, and be able to deliver in a way that won’t make you cringe at your online reviews.

I certainly don’t have the answers with how to deal with every situation, but there are things we have found help to mitigate some of the rough spots. First, no business is perfect. We won’t always handle a situation perfectly, but we always learn from those moments where you failed to live up to expectation and improve upon it. If you get caught up worrying about what you didn’t do right before, you won’t be able to focus on improving the experience of the next customer standing in front of you.

Next, communicate, communicate, communicate. I may have the most luminous ideas and goals swirling inside my head, but that won’t do the company any good if I can’t convey them to the rest of my team. Don’t wait until errors occur or expectations are not being met. Talk to your team, and let them in on the goals and ambitions you have for the company. The successful execution of a well-thought out plan should lead to company success that both your employees and customers benefit from.

Finally, be honest with yourself. There’s been times where we’ve taken on new types of services that we weren’t fully prepared to handle. You have to be able to see the faults in your company and ask yourself how you can improve it, or if you can’t, close it up or change it. Customers know when you’re short-cutting. So don’t undercut the hard work you’ve been building on by not acknowledging and changing sub-par performance aspects of your business.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Savas Tires & Wheels story. Tell us more about the business.
We are a full-service automotive repair shop, specializing in everything under-car, and lite motor work. This includes repairs in axles, ball joints, batteries, belts, brakes, control arms, cooling system repair, oil & filter changes, preventive maintenance checks, radiators, spark plugs, starters, TPMS sensors, wheel alignments, window tint, and of course tires and wheels.

With 35 years in the industry, we are most proud of how multi-generational customers have relied on us. We often get customers that come in and say, “oh my mom told me to come here,” or “my abuelo told me to come to you guys.” We don’t do a lot of advertising, so we’ve always relied on word-of-mouth to get new customers through the doors.

We work hard to provide every customer with quality products and services at a value pricing, in a timely fashion. Nearly 90% of our work is completed the same day the vehicle is brought in. We service a wide range of vehicles. Everything from tire upgrades on your Maserati, performance upgrades for your Evo, or a 250,000 mile tune-up on that 91′ Honda Accord you use as your daily driver.

Our longevity in the industry is a testament to the quality, honesty, and fair service we strive to provide. We’re grateful to every customer that comes through our doors, hoping that one day, they’ll also tell their friends and family to check us out.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’ve always been a believer in that luck favors the prepared. With that said, God, luck, or whatever energy guides the universe, has definitely blessed our company. We’ve come a long way since my dad first opened the doors, and we are grateful every day for having the health and energy to continuing our enterprise.

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