Creating a Christian Franchise: The Christian Brothers Story
How an answered prayer brought a new perspective to auto repair business
In 1981, Mark Carr was working as a graphic arts salesman for a photographic mural company. He had recently moved to Houston from upstate New York and was experiencing some success in his role. Despite his success in the graphic arts industry, Mark felt discontent. He felt like he was built to be doing something different.
One night, he prayed and asked God to provide him a business. The very next day, while Mark was attending a Sunday school function through his church, a gentleman from his class walked up to Mark and mentioned that he was an automotive technician and asked Mark if he would help him start an automotive repair shop.
The two men did not know what to call this new venture, but they were encouraged by their Sunday school class to call it Christian Brothers Automotive, since they were two brothers in Christ. In August 1982, Mark Carr and his partner opened the first Christian Brothers Automotive repair facility in Mission Bend, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
Customers appreciated that Mark did not have typical industry experience and could more closely relate to being a customer, but not everything was perfect at first. One day, a customer who attended Mark’s church came in to pick up his car and said, “you know, your shop is filthy, and it doesn’t smell great.” After pouring so much time and effort into building up the store, that feedback was tough to swallow.
Mark stepped outside, took a fresh look at the shop from a customer’s perspective, and realized his customer was right. Like most auto repair shops, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be. It wasn’t really clean, and it smelled like you would expect a car repair shop to smell. He could see why a mother with kids would be uncomfortable and would not want to spend one minute longer than she had to in the shop.
He went back to his office and began creating a list of reasons people dislike having cars repaired. The list quickly grew to 25 items — from filthy shops to more troubling issues with trust and honesty. In a moment of insight, he realized there was an opportunity to improve the overall experience.
He set out making changes by painting, buying new furniture, improving the landscaping and rethinking how his shop treated or even thought of its customers. The list became the backbone of how Christian Brothers Automotive operates, and it made a huge difference in how his store and every subsequent store operated.
That’s why the lobby is beautiful, why Christian Brothers offers complimentary shuttle service to customers — and why the company and its franchisees approach people with compassion and try to do everything they can to make their customers’ lives a little better.
“Let’s picture a single mom who has been divorced,” Mark says. “This is her first day at work in 13 years. She has two kids in the backseat, she’s late for work, it’s pouring rain, and the car breaks down. What do you do about that? You bring her inside, you treat her with kindness, you take her kids to daycare, you take her to work. Picture that woman having the worst day of her life, and let’s try to make it a little bit better. That’s the kind of compassion that we want to show people.”
It’s a mission, and a way of doing business, that has resonated with customers and with other Christian business owners, and it has created a stir in the auto repair industry.
From humble beginnings to a top-rated Christian franchise system
In 1996, a friend who saw the success of Mark’s first few stores approached him to help open an auto repair facility. Mark helped him locate and buy the property, hire the technicians and service manager, establish the vendor contacts, set up the parts department, select the equipment and inventory and guide him in the creation of accrual accounts for yearly expenses. When the new business was a year old, it had already surpassed Mark’s 12-year-old location in annual gross revenue. Mark observed that his friend’s business was outperforming his because of the fast-track training, robust systems and procedures and superior location.
It was in this year, 1996, that Christian Brothers Automotive became a registered franchisor and began offering its Christian franchise to interested people throughout Texas. Many of Christian Brothers’ first franchisees originated through Mark’s Sunday school class at Spring Branch Bible Church. These families or relatives of these families franchised the original seven Christian Brothers locations in Houston, Austin and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
The Christian franchise then grew into Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma, and by the end of 2001 it had 17 locations. More friends, relatives and now customers were learning about the Christian Brothers Automotive brand and wanting to be a part of the franchise, and in the next six years the brand grew into Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri and had a total of 50 locations.
Christian Brothers Automotive celebrated 30 years in business in 2012 and opened up store No. 100. As of this year, the Christian franchise has grown to more than 150 store locations. The home office team now consists of more than 60 superbly qualified team members who care for and support our franchise family.
And in the 30-plus years our company has been in business, not a single location has ever closed or failed; a testament to Mark’s list and to what “loving your neighbor as yourself” can really accomplish. This is unheard of in franchising.