Christian Brothers Franchise Review: Q&A with Brad Fink

Christian Brothers Franchise Review: Q&A with Brad Fink

How a former service writer moved up to franchise ownership

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In 2007, Brad Fink joined the Christian Brothers’ auto repair franchise location in Katy, Texas, as a service writer — a move that was prompted by his desire to spend more time with his family. One year later, when the location’s franchise owner opted to pursue another opportunity, Brad became General Manager and ultimately took over ownership of the auto repair shop. During these eight years, thanks to Christian Brothers’ philosophy that puts faith and family first, Brad has been able to devote more time to both than his previous job allowed. This is the 16th year of business for the Texas-based franchise location and — much like the automotive repair industry — it is still going strong. Here is Brad’s story.

What were you doing before you got involved with Christian Brothers, and what drew you to the franchise?

My background is in camping ministry. Prior to Christian Brothers, my wife and I were in Colorado, and I was running a camp. It had an affiliation with Christian Brothers through a relationship at summer camp where a few guys I had worked with had since then gone on to start to work for Christian Brothers here in Houston. I stayed in contact with them, and so I knew about the company. But camping was my heart, and the opportunity that we had in Colorado was wonderful. However, it just didn’t lend itself to cohesive schedules for me and my wife, and so there were a lot of times that we were apart.

She did not work full time for the camp, and so we started looking for other opportunities in Colorado that would allow me to leave work every day and come home. We couldn’t find anything. It was about that time that I got a call from Christian Brothers saying, “Hey we’ve got an entry-level position at one of our shops if you’d be interested in talking about it.” Long story short, we made the move from Colorado back to Houston. That was in 2007 when I started here at this shop, just as an employee.

I started at our Grand Parkway location in Katy here in 2007 as a service writer. In 2008 my boss, our franchisee, opted to take another opportunity, and so rather than re-franchise this shop, I was asked to come on as basically a general manager and be responsible for the shop. Since 2008, I have run the shop as an owner for all intents and purposes.

What the most gratifying part of being a part of this franchise?

Probably one of the most gratifying things about this company is the intention that the home office has, the leadership has — not only in developing successful franchises but also caring about and intentionally trying to help develop successful marriages. That’s why they’re adamant about weekends off and why we close at 6 p.m. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but the idea is you need to have your work wrapped up so you can get out of there, so you’re not missing dinner, not missing bedtime if you’ve got young kids, stuff like that.

It’s very gratifying to work for a company that cares as much about my relationship with my wife as it does about the success of our business. Being a franchise owner I’m in a little bit more of a flexible position as far as my schedule goes, where if something comes up I don’t necessarily have to be here all day every day. But I know that in any position — the position I put my employees in, the home office put me in — we do care about our employees and what goes on at home and their family lives, relationships with their spouses and things like that. It’s gratifying to know that I’ve got leadership above me that cares about that. It’s easy for me to impart that to my employees, as well.

Having a parent organization that wants to see you, as a person, succeed as much as if not even more than the business itself is unique. It’s unique in franchising, in general, and also unique to corporate America. That’s what I think is so attractive about Christian Brothers: To come on board and think there’s a good chance that if everything works out this will be the last company I ever work for, to know I could easily put four or five decades of work into one company because I believe in the people running it.

What sets Christian Brothers apart as a brand?

Our people. The type of people that we’re looking for are going to be the ambassadors of the brand. They will operate with a high level of integrity and consider taking care of people in a kind, calm, and courteous manner to be the standard of customer service. Those are the type of people Christian Brothers is consistently seeking. Those are the people we partner with.

In Houston, we have more than 20 locations, and there are four others within a very short drive from my location. Being able to partner in simple day-to-day things, and advertising, information sharing — things like that within our organization — is always a plus.

We don’t compete with each other, we help each other, so it’s different than a business that doesn’t have any territorial restrictions. At Christian Brothers, the whole approach to business is, “We want each and every one one of our locations to be successful, because the home office is successful when that happens, and a franchisee is successful when that happens,” and it’s just the way they have structured everything. It’s attractive because it basically puts success at the individual location first, as opposed to where the home office gets theirs and you get what’s left. It is very comforting to be a part of a company that views franchising the way Christian Brothers does.

Why is the automotive repair industry still going strong?

There have been a number of studies that show people are holding on to their cars longer. Obviously at Christian Brothers, we are trying to create very loyal relationships with our customer base, and so if we’ve done a good job, and they are by and large holding on to their cars longer, we have more and more opportunities to serve them on the repair side. So there’s more opportunity from a service standpoint to see these cars again and again. I think that’s the biggest indicator why the industry’s growing.

Obviously in the United States of America, there’s only a handful of cities that do public transportation very well, and so cars are a vital part of the day-to-day — to and from work, to and from soccer practice, the grocery store, and things like that –– especially here in Houston. It’s beneficial for us because we get an opportunity to save the day when something goes wrong. I think that’s the biggest reason why it’s still going strong.

What do you foresee with the auto repair industry in coming years?

It’s going to be interesting. I was not in this business when cars went from carbureted motors to fuel-injected. I talked to a lot of people that were, and there was a lot of fear and a lot of anxiety that came with that completely new fuel-delivery system. How are we going to work on these? How are we going to diagnose the problem? This is completely different, and what’s going to happen? We made it through that, and now we have transitioned into seeing more hybrids on the road. It’s kind of that same thing.

I don’t foresee any kind of major evolution as far as what you’re going to see on the road, but I think any good business that survives through industry shifts and changes has done so because they have planned, and they have prepared, and they have adapted. That’s what we’re always looking to do is make sure we give our people the latest and greatest information. We continue to send them to training, we try to provide as much information as we can about the new things that are coming out, the new designs of cars that are now just out of warranty that is different than the 99% of other cars that we see, but we’re starting to see them a little bit more. The opportunity that we have is to see and try to predict statistically what the industry is going to bring, and we’ve got to be prepared for it.

If we prepare well but still hold firm to our roots and the cornerstones of our company taking care of people in a right and honest way, then regardless of what comes, I think we have a good chance to be successful. It may be different than what we’ve experienced for so long, but I don’t foresee any reason why our company can’t continue to adapt and evolve based on what auto manufacturers are doing.

What sort of internal support and training do you receive from the corporate team?

There is a bunch of opportunity that they’re providing us to grow. They do annual conventions every year, not just for the franchisees but for service managers and technicians. We have an internal technician forum that’s solely for our company where our technicians can collaborate on specific repairs on a vehicle that’s got a certain problem.

For instance, we’re seeing a lot of Toyota Prius vehicles that have consistent problems. We’re able to tell employees, “Here’s how you tackle it, here’s how you address it, let me train you on how to diagnose these problems because these are becoming increasingly common.”

We have a lot of very technical training that we have at our fingertips that is based on the relationships our company has with a lot of the vendors out there. Just the sheer size that we have and the fact that we’re growing so quickly, we have some opportunities to have a very cost-effective manner to be privy to a ton of great information that our competitors aren’t. There’s a huge advantage in the fact that we’re growing, that we’re a big company that’s only getting bigger.

Probably every two to three months there are new initiatives being developed, planned and rolled out as far as ways to get more technical information, managerial information, and training for employees in multiple avenues and platforms. That’s one of the things Christian Brothers has done very well in our industry — stay on top of the technology that’s out there and provide a cost-effective way for us to use it so that we’re not behind the curve.

Can you walk us through a typical day at your franchise?

Business is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. I am usually in the building anywhere between 7 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. and stay the vast majority of the day. My role here is more coaching and support, so I am constantly trying to develop our managers from a customer service standpoint — best practices for how we talk to customers at the counters, how we talk to customers on the phone, efficient and effective ways to do what we do. I do the same with our technicians from a productivity and efficiency standpoint. I’m also kind of a “hole filler”; if there’s a situation that requires a unique solution, often I have the availability to do that personally.

We’ve got a big enough team where I don’t have to be in the building for the ship to continue to sail, but when I’m in the building I’m fine-tuning our approach so that when we’re on course we stay on course.

Basically I’m constantly looking for ways to improve and refine them and provide reasons to give our guys joy and encouragement while they’re at work, because if they don’t enjoy what they do, they’re not going to be productive here, and ultimately the customer ends up losing out if you’ve got disgruntled employees. So a big part of my job is just continuing to build and encourage my team as far as providing ways to make work more fun.

Is the Christian Brothers auto repair franchise one that you would recommend to somebody else?

Absolutely. Having been in this now going on almost eight years, I have learned a lot about what makes a franchise successful and the role that the franchisee plays in that part. I used to be pretty naïve, saying, “If you’re willing to work hard you can be successful in anything.” You can easily be successful at this, but it takes a unique set of traits to be really successful based on the type of model and platform that we’ve set up here — with the focus on customer service, the intent to be obviously different from our competitors.

You’ve got to be willing to be customer service-oriented first, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself second to your customers, to your team, even to your vendors at times. We’re not just selling a product, we’re selling an experience. We’re always looking for franchisees who get that and who are impassioned by making somebody’s day, impressing somebody, wowing somebody, and finding ways to make that happen on a consistent basis.

If you really have a serving heart, then this is a great place for you. And if you need to learn about how to serve people within this industry, then we can teach you. And then we can teach you about cars.

What else should prospective franchisees know when they join the Christian Brothers auto repair franchise?

I like the safe aspect of the company. I like the support that I’m going to get from the company. I like the fact that they care about me and my family, my relationship with my family and things like that. I think that’s one of the key differentiating factors of franchising with Christian Brothers.

There may be something else that you can buy that will make you more money. There may be something else where you can spend a lot less time in the building, but that’s not really what Christian Brothers is about. Christian Brothers is about developing people across the board. Employees in the shop, employees at the home office, employees from a franchisee standpoint. Christian Brothers is kind of a no-brainer in that regard, because the care and consideration and attention that you’re going to get from the leadership team at the home office probably surpasses any other franchise opportunity out there.

You pick up the phone, you call, you get an answer, you get help immediately. It’s an open door to assistance in any and every area needed, and that’s the thing. The home office is full of customer service-oriented people. They offer lot of encouragement, a lot of support. That’s what Christian Brothers is all about.

Learn more about Christian Brothers

Christian Brothers is a highly rated, faith-based, automotive franchise with a unique financial model. Christian Brothers assumes a majority of the risk by purchasing and constructing “built-to-suit” buildings, where the franchisee owns and operates the business. Christian Brothers does not charge a franchisee based on the top-line revenues like virtually every other franchisor, but instead on a share of the profits, which is calculated after expenses. Franchisees also pay themselves a salary before they pay the franchisor a nickel.

For in-depth details about the Christian Brothers Automotive franchise opportunity, contact us today!