When Shalom Laytin came to Tucson in 1983 and started working at the auto-repair shop founded by his brother Eric, he had a vision of turning it into a chain.

Now the Laytin brothers — the owners of Brake Masters — have about 90 stores in seven states. Shalom Laytin, 50, said he wants to continue to see the business grow and expand. About half are franchises, while the rest are corporate-owned.

Though running a family business and working with his older brother can be a challenge at times, Shalom said their personalities balance each other.

Both were born in Jerusalem. Eric is the more pragmatic one — handling the nuts and bolts of day-to-day operations — while Shalom said he's the dreamer who takes a broad look about what might be possible.

Shalom said he works hard to make sure his employees understand the company's emphasis on customer service and that's why the business has been successful. But customers do have problems and Brake Masters tries to address them when they come up, he said.

The Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona received 19 customer complaints about Brake Masters during the past three years. Two remain unresolved and have been referred to the BBB's Automotive Repair Advisory Committee, which will recommend a resolution to the customer and the company.

Brake Masters has been accredited with the BBB since 1986 and has a satisfactory record, which means it doesn't have an unusual number of complaints and those complaints have been properly addressed by the company.

Shalom Laytin sat down with the Arizona Daily Star last week. Here are excerpts of the conversation:

Q; What was it like in the very beginning, when your brother started the business?

A; He rented the corner on Grant and Columbus, which was our first store, and he had a small toolbox with him. He started fixing all the equipment himself, painting it up, and cutting the grass because the building was abandoned. That's how he started the business, and I came and helped him.

Q: Did you know when you first started working here that you wanted to expand the company?

A: When I came several months after my brother opened, I looked at it and I did envision in the depth of my mind and heart that, together with my brother, we would make it into a chain. But of course when you don't have money to pay the bills, that's all you can do — you can dream.

Today we're in seven states, and in nine months we should get up to about 100 stores.

Q: What were some of the steps you took when opening a second store?

A: It was very difficult because the economy was terrible, and opening the second store was a nightmare. I've never seen anything like that, and it took a long time to turn around.

I remember business was so slow in Tucson, and the interest rate was just about 16 percent — it was terrible, and it had the mentality much more of a small town. I went around the neighborhood with coupons and I knocked on doors to let people know we were in the neighborhood and we'd treat them well, because the economy in Tucson and the economy in the country was so difficult.

And let me tell you, once you've been in a bad economy, you don't forget it.

What kind of impact has the current economy had on your business?

Today, I've slowed down on opening stores somewhat. We have another 10 stores on the horizon, but we'll have to see how the new president does and how the economy does.

As a business owner, what are your thoughts about President-elect Barack Obama?

I talk to a lot of businesspeople and they're very concerned about the new president, that he's going to raise taxes. I have a good gut feeling about the situation. I think, on the one hand he'll raise taxes, on the other hand he'll take better care of medical bills. So I respect him.

● Contact reporter Dale Quinn at 573-4197 or dquinn@azstarnet.com.