To say that opening a car repair shop in the middle of an economic downturn was a leap of faith is an understatement. True, established auto repair shops were closing all around Derek Tungmala. True, his automotive vendors told him he must be out of his mind because they were losing customers right and left. True, Tungmala had absolutely no experience running a business.
Still, it was faith that made him move forward and open Auto Rehab in Flagstaff. Now, nearly five years later, he has opened a second location nearby.
The name of the shop is unique, but there is a reason for that. Tungmala is a recovering drug addict who has managed to stay clean and sober for nearly a decade. He credits his success with the discovery of faith.
“I learned a lot of what was wrong and what led me to the life I live now, which is a very strict life focusing on honesty. I definitely see the value of it now.”
He moved to Flagstaff about eight years ago.
“Trouble is easy to find anywhere, but here is where I was able to stay clean and sober. It is easier,” he said.
Flagstaff is where he met his wife, Sally, to whom he has been married for more than seven years. They have a toddler and are expecting another child soon.
He regrets the years he spent under the influence.
“I was messing with drugs since I was 13 or 14,” he said.
He said he called himself a “functioning drug addict” in the beginning and was able to work for a living by fixing cars.
The road to recovery, he says, has not always been easy. When he began applying for jobs in Flagstaff, he was not immediately hired. There were blanks on his résumé. He went for an interview at University Auto Repair.
“I pretty much told them the truth. I left thinking that was the stupidest thing I have ever done,” he said.
Tungmala was surprised when he got a call back from Bob Orr, who told him to bring his tools. He was giving him a chance.
He worked there for four years.
Still, his dream was to have his own shop.
“Most of my church friends always wanted work done,” he said. “I like being personable with people, trying to make their needs fit their budgets.”
Starting his own business was an incredible risk. “We stepped out and tried it and it was at the time of the economic downturn. Three shops had gone out of business that year I opened.”
In addition, he had never before signed a five-year lease on something that cost $2,000 a month. But, because other shops were closing, he was able to buy some of their equipment at bargain prices.
Tungmala’s second location was intended to be an overflow space. Now, it is a fully functioning auto repair shop that is as busy as the first.
He said he often feels the vehicles he works on need rehabilitation rather than repair.
“Honestly, the name felt fitting,” he said.
And he looks for people who can use a little rehab as well.
“A lot of my employees have histories similar to mine. I look for character. Integrity goes farther than talent.”
Tungmala says a lot of people are accustomed to automotive shops that try to upsell services. Tungmala’s style is to tell customers what needs to be done soon and what can wait. “We don’t use the scare tactics.”
Jim Clifford has seven cars and Tungmala has worked on all of them.
“Derek is a great guy. He knows what he is doing, he has a great business sense, knows autos very well and is very professional,” Clifford said.
What business words of wisdom do you live by?
“Integrity and finding value in my employees.”
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“The hardest thing I don’t want to do is usually the right thing.”
Where do you see yourself and your business five years from now?
“It sounds crazy, but we feel we are working toward the potential franchise. What makes us unique and different?”
Where is your favorite place to travel?
“My wife and I just got back from Thailand. That would be the place.”
How do you unwind?
“A lot of unwinding is home. Next would be hunting and fishing, or just being outdoors.”
By Patty McCormac
The Auto Rehabs can be found at 799 W. Route 66 and at 204 S. Mike’s Pikes. Learn more by visiting the company’s website at www.auto-rehab.com.