Christian Brothers celebrates 20 years of franchising: Q&A with Keith Slemp

Christian Brothers celebrates 20 years of franchising: Q&A with Keith Slemp

Longtime franchisee shares his thoughts on Christian Brothers franchises’ enduring success and growth

Keith Slemp opened his Christian Brothers franchise 13 years ago in Murfreesboro, TN, a suburb of Nashville, and has watched the company grow from 26 locations to more than 150 over the years. He and his wife, Cheryl, are not the only ones at his location to see this expansion; their son Andrew has worked full-time at the franchise for five years, and two of their employees have been at the franchise for the whole 13 years in business. As Christian Brothers celebrates 20 years of franchising, Keith shares some of his experiences with the company.

Christian Brothers franchisee Keith Slemp assists a customer with vehicle repairs.

How long have you been a franchisee with Christian Brothers?

We are in our 13th year. I was in automotive parts distribution at the time I opened my franchise, and I have been in the automotive business all my life in one way or the other. My dad opened a service station and auto parts store after World War II. I worked for him until I was 22, then I left the family business and spent the next 28 years in various positions in corporate auto parts and manufacturing companies. In early 2004 is when I opened my Christian Brothers franchise.

Christian Brothers doesn’t usually go after folks that have previous automotive experience, but it served me well. I was glad to have had that experience in my past.

What made you decide to open your own Christian Brothers franchise?

My wife, Cheryl, and I had moved to Nashville a few years prior to us opening the franchise and I was still travelling quite a bit, as I had for the last 15 or 20 years. We decided it would be nice if we could settle into one spot and not move or travel as much until we got our kids out of school.

I first heard of Christian Brothers when they started building a franchise in the Nashville area and one of my salespeople told me about them. I drove by there on the way home as it was being built. Initially, I was actually interested in selling auto parts to this new franchisee, and it just evolved from there. I got to know the owners of that Christian Brothers franchise and liked what I saw. A couple of years later, I made the decision to contact [Founder and CEO] Mark Carr, and that’s how we got started.

In what ways has Christian Brothers grown and changed since you started?

We broke ground on this building in the summer of 2003 and we were the 26th store. Now there’s well over 150 shops. In my opinion, it’s grown at a nice, steady, controlled rate. They’ve done a nice job of keeping up their infrastructure with their growth. That’s always a challenge when you grow. They have the infrastructure to support not only the new shops, but also support the existing franchises as we’ve grown. They’ve done a good job balancing that.

Christian Brothers Automotive storefront

Christian Brothers Automotive has grown much larger over 20 years in franchising, but we remain as committed as ever to our guests and our values.

In what ways has the corporate team helped with your franchise over your years as a franchisee?

When I was starting out, they built a beautiful building and they helped me get an SBA loan. It would have been difficult for me to get a loan of that magnitude without their help.

As we’ve grown, I’ve been pleased to see marketing and training become more of a key component of what they offer. The training has become outstanding.

What kind of relationships have you formed with the guests who come to your location?

This business affords me the opportunity to build friendships and get to know the folks in my community. My staff and I have become the go-to guys that take care of the family cars, rather than having people who come in one time and then you never see them again.

Approximately 75% of our business is repeat business, and the majority of our guests live within three or four miles. We have a really strong community network of longtime guests that we’ve been able to meet and help over the years.

How do you feel you’ve grown as a business owner over the past 13 years?

We’ve become more technically adept than we were 13 years ago. We use technology a lot more than we did back then. I’ve kept up with that because it’s a key part of what we do here, both in the office and out in the shop. The cars have changed dramatically and they will continue to change and get more complex.

Christian Brothers has hired the right people to help us stay up-to-date technologically. That equipment and training has been a real blessing to us.

I’ve gotten better at understanding people, especially my employees, as I’ve gotten older and gained more experience in business. Christian Brothers has helped me to be a better manager of people. We do the right things with our business to hold on to good people. In some businesses, people come and go, but two of our original employees are still here — our Service Manager Tim Gossett and Technician Ramie Moss.

Where do you see the brand going into the future?

As a company, we’re continuing to expand and grow. There are new Christian Brothers franchises in different states every year. When I started 13 years ago, it was relegated to just a few states, but now we’re a nationwide franchise.

How do you think Christian Brothers’ values have helped it stand out in the market and endure over 20 years of franchising?

The values that the company holds are the same ones I learned from my dad many years ago in the business, like the Golden Rule: Treat other people like you want to be treated. Do the right things with honesty and integrity. If someone comes in with a car that’s not worth repairing, you need to be honest and open and tell them that it takes $2,000 to fix this car but the car’s not worth $750. We’ll recommend to people that they take that $2,000 that they’re thinking about spending with us and put it into a newer car. It’s as simple as doing the right thing, taking care of people and treating them like you want to be treated.

What do you enjoy most about being a Christian Brothers franchisee?

It’s pretty cool to own my own business and work at my own pace. It’s been a very rewarding 13 years. The corporate world I used to be in was a pretty tough rat race, and this has given me room to breathe a little bit. Not that this isn’t fast-paced and hard work, it is, but it’s also allowed me a lot of family time and flexibility that I would not have enjoyed had I not gone out on my own. We took a risk, and the Lord blessed us and we’ve been successful, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity.

Own a Christian Brothers Automotive franchise

Founded in Houston in 1982, Christian Brothers is an automotive repair facility based on a core philosophy of honesty, integrity, reliability and exceptional service. The company provides full-service automotive repair for all domestic and foreign vehicles, and we pride ourselves on providing a pleasant, professional and clean automotive service experience every time.

If you’d like to learn more about owning your own Christian Brothers franchise, contact us to learn more. We’d love to start a conversation with you.