Christian Brothers Automotive Corporation: Adding Values to Value

Christian Brothers Automotive is an American success story. CEO Mark Carr founded the business in 1982 during a difficult time in his life.
“I barely made it out of high school, and when I graduated I lived in a trailer,” said Carr. “I was a garbage collector – I worked on the back of a truck lifting a barrel, and cleaned toilets before I went to school in the morning.”
Carr moved to Texas in 1980 and met someone at a bible study who was interested in starting a business. Carr was on board, but didn’t have any idea about how to run a business. But that didn’t stop him and the concept grew from there. Christian Brothers Automotive was born.
The repair shop – located in the Mission Bend neighborhood of Houston, Texas – had humble beginnings, but has since grown into a national brand with 74 locations in nine states. It’s a perfect example of the power of strong business ethics and the importance of operating a business on the core belief that all of us should treat one another with neighborly respect. Christian Brothers Automotive shows that a company doesn’t always need a lot of financial or technological backing to get moving in a positive direction. It just needs the right vision and leadership.
From the beginning, Carr has been a hands-on leader. Customers responded positively at the first location and word spread quickly. He was approached by others looking to start their own businesses.
“I knew we had something special,” said Carr. “Still, I never dreamed it would be like this.”
National Expansion
Carr’s first location operated on a very tight budget. He even finished the building details by hand. Now Carr is still the president and CEO, and he continues to work on the finer details of the company. Carr keeps the wheels turning and the business moving forward through a philosophy based on honesty and integrity.
“We have a simple slogan: love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t care who you are, everyone wants to be treated fairly and honestly,” said Carr. “No one wants to feel like someone is taking advantage of them. We are honest and expect the same from our franchise owners.”
Carr structured stores for others for much of the 1990s before officially launching a franchise system in 1997. The company experienced large growth in 2002 and has been expanding quickly ever since.
“My philosophy is to keep everything simple,” says Carr. “Our training is strong, our systems are clear and simple, and, because of that, we have never had a store failure.”
The performance of Christian Brothers Automotive is reflected by numerous accolades from organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Franchise Business Review.
Success has been a theme for Christian Brothers Automotive. The company started in Houston and grew to Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin, Texas. The company has also expanded to Kansas, Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, and new stores are coming soon to Colorado and Michigan. Carr expects to have more than 100 locations by the end of 2011.
Corporate assistance for each franchise is available any time, and is reinforced at the annual conference for service managers and franchisees. Consistent business systems and identical storefronts have helped grow Christian Brothers Automotive into a strong national brand.
Each location has a waiting area that doesn’t make people feel like they’re waiting at an auto repair shop. Each location has hardwood floors and soft, leather furniture. The design is meant to be inviting and comfortable.
Working Toward a Better Future
The attention to detail and integrity at Christian Brothers Automotive is proving very successful. The company is up nearly 10 percent in same store sales from the year prior. The automotive repair industry isn’t affected by the recent economic downturn and has proved to be a boon for Christian Brothers Automotive.
The unique business model of Christian Brothers Automotive sets it apart in the franchising community as well. Unlike a traditional franchise, which takes a percentage royalty from gross sales, Christian Brothers Automotive runs its stores as partnerships with its owners.
But even with the recent success, some issues keep Carr awake at night. He says any entrepreneur focused on growth worries about something. Carr’s greatest frustrations are focused on the banking sector.
“We’re trying to stimulate the economy, but it’s so hard to get an SBA loan,” Carr says. “The system is slower than before, but with our success rate and strong background we’re in a better situation than other companies, and I’m thankful for that.”
To further speed its growth, Christian Brothers Automotive recently added a new marketing department. The company is strengthening its branding efforts and adding new programs to help each franchise owner grow his business in a sustainable way.
Carr is constantly working to add components to his strong, national company. Christian Brothers Automotive found success the right way and is well-positioned for future growth throughout the United States.