The Fast Lane
Jud Cook, center, has found more success with Christian Bros. than he expected.
Winner: Christian Brothers Automotive
Finalists: Big O Tires, Carstar, Valvoline Instant Oil Change
Jonita White will warm your heart if given just a minute to work her magic. A self-proclaimed people person who loves building relationships, White found her life’s calling as a two-unit Christian Brothers Automotive franchisee in the northern suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth—no mechanical experience required.
As of this month, she’s been with the franchise for eight years and just opened her second shop in Little Elm, Texas, nine miles west of her first auto repair shop in Frisco. Having looked at “all gamuts” of franchising with her husband, including food, childcare and home health, she ultimately found her way into the auto space after calling a few Christian Brothers franchisees whom the company suggested.
After a few calls with corporate officials and franchisees, White found the intangibles she was looking for: a service-focused franchisor, opportunities to help those less fortunate in her community and the chance to network up a storm.
“I’ve learned by observing,” she said about picking up the required wrenching knowledge and lingo. “No one on this Earth knows everything, so it’s about surrounding yourself with people who know what you don’t know.”
Whenever nerves kick in, like the days before her first grand opening, White always felt like the home office was right behind her, if not standing right beside her. In her words, she and her staff did not open on their own.
“My coach Zack Bynum was with me, I had IT people here to make sure the computers were working correctly, I had our technical department for the stand tools here with me—I had probably five home office people here with me, so I wasn't by myself,” she said.
With time, White’s nerves eased even more while the never-ending challenge of finding good employees has become increasingly difficult. Her second shop, in Little Elm, is across the street from a high school, and she’s started a partnership with students to educate them about careers in auto repair and the trades at large.
These days White struggles to juggle daily duties at both shops and admits to occasionally missing her first location, which she still visits but not as regularly after switching her focus to getting the second shop up and running. Even so, she still finds time for the local chamber of commerce, Rotary Club and other networking events that put fuel in her belly, and also her profit and loss statement.
“My passion has always been people, and in this industry it’s not about cars, it’s about people,” she said. “Follow that passion, because I don’t feel that I’m working, I really don’t. I am just doing what I’m called to do.”
Across the Gulf in Tampa, Florida, Jud Cook signed up with Christian Brothers after a long career in the military, ending as a retired Army colonel. Thanks to a generous retirement earned from 30 years of service, his focus was also on softer merits, rather than solely on dollars and cents. By his own admission, that’s “turned into a lot more than I ever expected or even required.”
Cook is direct but thoughtful looking back at his process of discovery with the Christian Brothers leadership team. He appreciated that it wasn’t just about the amount of money in his bank account, rather than matching values and building trust with the people behind this faith-based automotive repair franchise. He also appreciated the built-in recession resistance, as tough times mean people hang onto their cars longer than ever.
“Christian Brothers is full of great people, it’s a faith-based company and all that kinda stuff, but it also represents an idea,” Cook said about the franchisor’s culture. “To me, that passion I talk about is service to people.”
In five and a half years as a franchisee, he’s had countless opportunities to help single moms, build a culture of service among his staff, and has found enough financial success that his forthcoming second location will be primarily used to support his personal philanthropy outside of work.
Like White, Cook advises prospective franchisees to write down “honestly what they want their life to look like in the future,” focusing on things like finances, their spiritual life and other goals that can be more important than the ultimate industry category you choose.
A winner in The Fast Lane category, Christian Brothers set itself apart with an unusually thorough Item 19 that includes detailed information for the past two years such as median and average revenues and a very in-depth income statement.
The company’s social media could be better, but there’s no arguing with sales growth of 8.6 percent in the previous year and continued unit growth in an industry that’s seeing big national brands gobble up mom-and-pop shops of the industry’s past—a time sorely lacking the professionalism and white-glove treatment commonplace in today’s best auto repair chains.
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