For Nabil Salama, being an Egyptian immigrant to Canada meant starting a new life and new opportunities. But like any newcomer, many steps along the way were fraught with uncertainty, such as language, culture and finances.
Despite it all, he remained ambitious, focused and determined, never letting naysayers or his circumstances stop his dreams to excel in the jewellery industry. His is a Canadian success story – a model of accomplishment that teaches us that the sky’s the limit. It’s also the story of Express Gold Refining, the little mom-and-pop business that changed the landscape of the industry in a very short time.
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather before, dating back to 1915 in the Jewelry District in downtown Cairo, Nabil desired to follow family tradition in his newly-adopted country.
And so, venturing in the precious metals dealer and refiner business, he set up a small storefront in downtown Toronto in 1994. Nabil came ready and equipped with the technical know-how gleaned from five decades in the industry, and his eldest son Adel brought in the business and marketing dimension.
Of course, it’s not easy to open a new business from scratch, but equally not easy as a new Canadian. There was a language barrier and cultural differences. Fortunately, Adel – who was schooled in Canada with a business administration degree – spread the word through advertising, promotion, and sales, going store to store, getting the name out. His wife Sandra took on an accounting role and back-office work. It was family helping family.
Still, there were initial challenges that seemed out of their control: the one main company that was doing refining in the downtown core was taking two weeks to process the materials. Nabil became frustrated, wondering: Why does a small jeweller have to wait for two weeks to get their money when they’re crunched for money, or gold, to keep going? Creating a competitive advantage in the marketplace, Express Gold Refining decided early on to provide next-day service. Speed and delivery became their signature entry into the market. And that’s how the company’s name came about: Express Gold Refining.
While competitors caught up, Express Gold Refining then upped the ante with a “refine while you wait” service.
Nabil also discovered, unfortunately, that other refiners showed more respect to lucrative clients and showed no courtesy to the “little guy,” like himself. In light of this, he vowed that his own business ethic would be the opposite: everyone should enjoy the same deference. Big or small transactions, every client is treated like gold. It’s that customer service that has translated to eighty percent of clients coming in through referrals.
The business grew, and so did their needs, necessitating a move to a bigger showroom at 21 Dundas Square.
Five years after the opening, in 1999, Adel entered the clergy, leaving an opening for youngest son Atef to fill the void and take on both a managerial role and technological transformation. Atef graduated from the University of Toronto’s Masters of Engineering and Telecom, having worked at large multinationals such as Sprint, AT&T, Scotiabank, IBM, Cap Gemini, and Ernst & Young. He came in with the mindset to grow the company, inspired by the giants he was once employed by.
The family continues to build Express Gold Refining, with the aim to provide access to all jewellers, of all sizes, the service expected from world-renowned refiners to the local jeweller and manufacturer.
In addition to their impeccable work ethic, their success is also owed to keeping true to their motto: “Let us earn your trust.” With each transaction, clients know they are getting their money’s worth, and what keeps them honest, according to Atef, is that “we believe that we’re accountable to God in our dealings and our values.”
Nowhere is that more evident than having become a trusted partner of scores of jewellers, manufacturers, wholesalers, pawnshops, refiners, precious metals dealers and dental labs in Ontario, and even across North America.
By way of example, Express Gold Refining forged a partnership in 2000 with Johnson Matthey – a global precious metal refining company. In no time, the collaboration became so trusted and professional that Express Gold Refining became Johnson Matthey’s preferred dealer in Canada. (Recently, Johnson Matthey was acquired by Asahi Precious Metals, and though the name has changed, the relationship hasn’t, and Express Gold Refining carries all their products and uses their assaying facility as a final determination of precious metals content.)
To provide more space for clients, and more space for technologically advanced equipment, in 2010, Express Gold Refining moved again, this time acquiring a building at 215 Victoria Street, also downtown. There, they have multiple furnaces to melt any size of refining lot. They also have installed a burning oven, on-premises, to burn polish dust and sweeps.
Also, on-premises is a complete cutting-edge lab with varying sensitivity assay machines, including an AA machine and a microwave plasma atomic emission spectrometer.
All told, the history of the Express Gold Refining, a family-owned enterprise, is an immigrant success story, one of determination and vision — and continuing to carve out a highly respected place in the industry.