The founders of B&N Transmissions in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, have had a journey that few in the industry have experienced. The shop founders are two brothers who fled their native country of Uganda, Africa in the 1970s under pressure from President Idi Amin, known as the “Butcher of Uganda.”
Brian Charania moved to Canada first and settled in Montreal in 1972. Then, a couple of years later, his younger brother Nazib moved there. “Brian had been a mechanic in Uganda for a few years before moving to Canada and landed a job at a transmission shop when he arrived,” says Najib.
While Nazib was born in Uganda, his family was of East Indian descent, and therefore Amin wanted them to leave. “He didn’t like anyone who wasn’t black, and I had no idea we were different. But he ordered those of Asian descent to leave, so we had no choice.”
After working for a few years in local transmission shops in Quebec and Ontario, Brian and Nazib branched out on their own. They opened their shop in 1977 near downtown Ottawa, Ontario, which borders Quebec.
Initially, the brothers moved to Ottawa to work for another shop. After a year, they started B&N Transmissions derived from the first letters of their names. “We worked for somebody for one year and then said, ‘let’s open our own place.’” That was a big step, Nazib admits. “It was a new country, new language and all those things. But Canada is a land of opportunity. It was a lot easier to succeed in those days even though you had to work hard.”
Today, there are more than 23,000 auto repair and maintenance businesses in Canada. And more than a third of them are located in Ontario and Quebec. Nazib says there are around 400 shops in Ottawa alone, but the number of transmission repair shops has dwindled to only a handful over the years.
“There used to be a lot more transmission shops, but for some reason, either from lack of keeping up with technology or more general repair shops taking on transmission work, it has reduced quite a bit,” he says. “For example, in our area, we are within a radius of about 10 to 12 kilometers of Quebec. We used to have 25 transmission shops in the area when we started in ’77 up to the late ’80s, but now there are only about seven or eight shops. Most of the franchisees that we used to have in Canada, like Cottman, AAMCO or Mister Transmission, have pretty much disappeared.”
Brian, who is 80 years old, has retired from the business, but Nazib is still active. “My nephew Louie runs the front office. I am more on the technical side now, doing test drives and diagnostics. And then we have another family member, Shafeek Hasim, who is the shop foremen. He is more of a technical guy.”
In 1980, B&N moved to their current location at 1086 Gladstone, where they have a five-bay facility. “We have an elevator to the second floor where we do all of our rebuilding and stocking of spare parts. From just two brothers starting out, we’re now up to 11 people – three in administration, three rebuilders and four R&R people. We build our own torque converters and reman mostly domestic transmissions,” says Nazib. In addition to the shop, they a little one-bay next door with all the machinery to rebuild torque converters.
According to Nazib, 60 percent of their business comes from selling transmissions remanufactured converters to other shops. The rest is retail. They also have a contract with the city to repair transmissions on city-owned vehicles.
B&N focuses mainly on domestic (North American-made) transmissions from the big three and reman a few Hondas, Toyotas and Mazdas. He admits that electronics have made diagnosing today’s transmissions especially difficult, which is why he sends his technicians to as many training seminars as he can that are offered by ATSG, ATRA and others.
“We send our people to whatever the Canadian version of ATSG and ATRA is here. They bring their seminars into Canada.”
An interesting sidenote: Nazib tells us that Louie’s older brother, John, who worked for B&N for years, now runs a shop they own in Angola, Africa. They got an opportunity to open a Bosch-certified shop in Angola just north of South Africa. Nazib didn’t want to go there again after his childhood experiences. However, John and his family jumped at the chance and are now running the shop.
B&N’s website points to their honest service and affordable pricing. After speaking with Nazib, Louie and Shafeek, we can honestly say they are some of the nicest, most courteous folks we’ve interviewed. It’s not hard to see why they’ve maintained a steady business for 40 years. The reviews posted on their website and social media pages illustrate how much their customers appreciate their honesty and friendly attitude, and top-quality workmanship.