In December, director Steven Spielberg’s new take on the musical classic West Side Story arrived in theaters, and even before its release there was already Oscar buzz. More than the original 1957 version, this take focused on the obstacles that many immigrants face when coming to America. Armando Tavani isn’t a fictional character, yet his journey to America and the obstacles he faced in launching his auto repair business may seem to be straight out of Hollywood.
It featured the early act; the motivation to move from his native land of Argentina due to economic woes. The plot advances where it looks like everything is going to work out—only to have everything hit the brakes when a global pandemic stopped the world. Yet, this is America, and dreams can come true, especially for those with the determination to pick one’s self up, refuse to quit, and press on.
If there was an award for hard work and perseverance, Tavani wouldn’t just earn a nomination, he’s this year’s front runner. And fortunately his story has a Hollywood-worthy happy ending.
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
For anyone thinking of launching a business, there are always going to be challenges, but trying to do so in 2020 proved to be especially difficult. Add to the fact that you live in Argentina and are looking to move to the United States and it takes more than determination.
COVID came later.
For Tavani, he wasn’t even sure what kind of business he wanted to get started in, and he had little experience in automotive repair. Yet something drew him to that line of work, and for lesser men and women they might have given up before they moved forward.
“Every step of the process has been a challenge,” Tavani says. “Nothing was easy, and it was a longer process than I could have imagined. But it was worth every moment I spent getting the business started.”
The new owner/operator of a Milex/Mr. Transmission auto repair store in Margate, Fla., he was only finally able to open for business in May, more than a year after he first arrived in America. He learned a lot about running a business and car care in the process.
“I really didn’t have an automotive repair background, but I was always interested in cars,” says Tavani.
However, Tavani had worked in the corporate world, and started a successful real estate business in his native Argentina and things were going well. However, while the United States suffered greatly following the economic meltdown of 2008 and the “Great Recession,” for parts of South America it was far worse. The economic crisis was also not the first, and likely won’t be the last.
“We had a few good years, but there is so much corruption in Argentina and things go up and down constantly,” he says. “Even when business was good, there was rampant inflation and prices were going up and up and up. In 2017-2018, we had a new government and there was brief hope, but when I realized it was always going to be the same, I decided I needed to find a place to give my family a better life.”
Tavani and his wife discussed a move to Europe, but language was a barrier. While there were opportunities and even an Argentinean community in Italy, it would be a challenge. Spain was also considered, but instead the Tavani family became like so many others that crossed oceans in search of opportunities.
America it was.
I Like To Be in America
It began little step, by little step. Southeast Florida, where he and the family had vacationed, made the most sense. There was a large Spanish-speaking community and no shortages of opportunities for those willing to work hard. After considering all sorts of franchise opportunities, even ice cream, he opted for something car related.
“I didn’t want to open Armando’s shop, but the auto repair industry made sense. There are so many cars and the market is so big,” says Tavani. “If I were to take a small piece of big cake, I knew there was more than enough to go around.”
He decided to stay clear of Miami, yet knew the market just north of there would present opportunities. That was how he came to run his own Milex/Mr. Transmission franchise. The next hurdle, however, was finding a location. Since flying back and forth wasn’t exactly an option, much of the early leg work was done online. The Internet allows people to search from thousands of miles away, but Tavani, who was starting the business under an A2 Visa, still needed to travel to Florida to see the best sites with his own two eyes and to finalize the deal.
After signing the franchise agreement in late 2019, Tavani arrived in the United States on March 9, 2020. It was days before the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down the entire country, and derailed his timetable.
The original plan was to get the business up and running; and then head back to Argentina in June to help relocate his family to South Florida. However, travel restrictions were changing by the minute.
He didn’t look back. Tavani was quickly able to get his wife and 10-year-old daughter to the United States. With the family in America, he was able to secure a visa extension and move forward with the business.
While the pandemic impacted the entire automotive service industry, the delays meant he could not return to Buenos Aires to apply for a permanent visa until February 2021. That in turn derailed when he could launch the business.
It was just one of several setbacks he faced—some which may have convinced lesser men to give up and return “home.” For Tavani that was never an option, even as he was still awaiting his permanent visa, America was his new home and he was determined to make it work.
Pandemic, Problems and Finally Success
For Americans, it was the year of the pandemic, complete with social distancing, masking up and hope for a vaccine. For Tavani, he also had to find a location—a second time in fact, as the first one fell through as the landlord decided to increase the rent.
He was back online looking at locations, and carefully considering his next moves.
“I talked to my wife and we agreed, we have to stay and see what happens,” says Tavani. “We started looking for a new location, and in August 2020 finally signed the lease agreement, which began at the end of September.”
Everything was already six months behind schedule. After that came the other challenges including getting the plethora of permits, rarely a smooth process but one that was made worse during the pandemic.
Having started a business in Argentina, Tavani was already used to government red tape and endless bureaucracy, and in fact it prepared him for the worst. Finally after all the signatures were collected and paperwork filed, he returned to South America, obtained the permanent visa and was ready to get the business rolling.
By that time he had hired the first, and most important of his employees—one who has become a true partner in running the shop.
“I needed to find an ASE-certified technician for the business license, and I was so lucky to find Kyle, who is a great young guy,” says Tavani. “That was followed by a service writer/manager Alex and shop technician Aldo.”
Finally in May 2021, the shop was up and running five-and-a-half days weeks, including Saturday mornings. Since that opening, Tavani hasn’t found himself to be a stranger in a strange land; instead he has adapted to his adopted new home. The culinary tastes of Argentina are a bit different from the Cuban and Salvadorian foods common to South Florida, and his Spanish has some subtle differences as well, but he says he’s adjusted to life in South Florida.
The fact that he is bilingual helped. Along with Aldo, who is from El Salvador, they’re able to converse with a wide variety of clientele.
“We have such a good mixture of English- and Spanish-speaking employees,” says Tavani. “We have so many customers who don’t speak a word of English. Aldo is able to explain to them even when things are fairly technical. I have spoken English my whole life, and I am so grateful to my parents who made me learn it at a young age.”
Since moving to Florida, the Tavani family has met others from Argentina, including one family that now owns a body shop. It’s helped with some of the home sickness, but Tavani says it’s possible to find many treats from home, from Argentinean candy to butter.
Getting His Hands Dirty
One thing that Tavani didn’t expect was to find the streets lined with gold or to immediately be living on “Easy Street.” He wanted to come to the country to work hard and be given opportunities that simply weren’t available to him. He added that anyone looking to open a business, especially an automotive service or repair shop should know that it could mean long hours.
“I’m involved in the shop, and I know I needed to learn a lot,” he says. “So I want to be there when Kyle or Alex have something to tell a customer. That gives me an opportunity to understand the process. I am never going to be an ACS-certified technician, but I am willing to learn. I may own the franchise, but I need to work like one of the guys.”
That has meant he’s learned to do oil changes, while he’s just as likely to be making the coffee in the morning and sweeping up at night.
“I love it,” he says. “I honestly do. I love getting my hands dirty and working hard. I would think anyone who gets in this business needs to understand that you’re going to go home with some dirt and grease on your hands.”
Even with long days ahead to get the first shop rolling, Tavani admits that the thought of expansion has crossed his mind.
“I do think about the next step, and really who in my position wouldn’t. But I know that I’m not in that stage of the business,” Tavani says. “This baby boy can’t even crawl, and I need to be here all day. But oh, yes, I know when I reach that point, I’ll be so excited to have a second one.”