Q&A WITH CINDI SMITH, CHRISTIAN BROTHERS AUTOMOTIVE FRANCHISEE IN DALLAS
Cindi Smith is one of the earliest Christian Brothers Automotive franchisees. When her store opened in Dallas in September 2003, it was store No. 23. Today, she and her husband, Mal, have built the location into one of the top performers in the country. That’s quite a feat considering that Christian Brothers now has more than 150 locations.
Before becoming a Christian Brothers owner, Cindi was a nurse practitioner. She worked in emergency rooms, worked with pregnant women, and eventually became a hospice nurse after a deepening faith compelled her to provide comfort to people at the end of their lives. After 35 years as a nurse, she was ready for a new challenge. She discovered Christian Brothers Automotive through her sister.
This is her story:
How did you make the decision to get into Christian Brothers?
Well, my sister has a shop in Frisco, Texas, that has been open about 2 years longer than mine, and she thought it was a fantastic business opportunity.
Can you explain how faith shapes the culture at Christian Brothers Automotive?
It really is the basic principle. Mark’s first question wasn’t, “Do you know anything about cars?” I would readily admit that I do not speak automotive. but rather, “Tell me how you came to know Jesus.” I remember it like it was yesterday because they were looking for personal relationships, not just a canned response. I know more about cars today than I had ever hoped to know, but that’s not what they are looking for.
Talk to me a little bit about how you have seen the organization grow over the years.
The basic principle of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has always been there. The training and coaching that they have for franchisees is much, much, much better today than when they just had a small number of stores. There has been a huge change in what you can do online for both marketing and learning.
Back when Christian Brothers first started we had a nice lobby and tried to make women feel more at home and tried to have an atmosphere that was more like a doctor’s office, and we have always stressed customer service. Now we are developing extra special ways to take care of the customer experience.
Christian Brothers Automotive franchise has succeeded by partnering with outgoing people who love to serve customers and make a difference in people’s lives.
How would you say the Christian Brothers customer experience stands out today?
I think there is still a huge lack of trust in this business, and we work to establish trust with our customers.
One thing that I would say to a new franchisee, which I didn’t fully appreciate when I got in here, was that it’s a negative retail business. What that means is it’s not something people are looking forward to spending money on. It’s like going to the dentist’s office. Nobody really wants to be here. On top of that, if they have not personally had a bad experience in the automotive industry they probably know someone who has. So we still spend a huge amount of time building trust, and one of the neatest parts of being in this business is that people so often have searched for quite a length of time to find someone that they trust. When you can be that person that they can come to again and again, and refer their friends and family to, that’s gratifying.
How do you tend to spend your days running the business?
I shuttle customers, do the bills and the paperwork, and greet customers. I try to go out in the shop and just say hi to the guys. We keep track of what‘s going on with the customers, and there is always the numbers side of the business, so we try to stay on top of that. Every single day is different.
Each Christian Brothers location offers a courtesy shuttle, what does the shuttling involve? What types of interactions do you have?
We take customer’s home or to work, or sometimes over to the mall. That is a huge part of our business and we want everybody to feel like they don’t have to have a friend or somebody waiting on them. And then we will always go back and pick them up.
You just talk about so many different things and it’s amazing the things that people will share about their life. People are always asking how Christian Brothers got its name, so that is always a fun story to tell. Sometimes they think it is somebody’s last name, but you can get into all sorts of conversations about your faith or just things going on in people’s lives.
We will try to share notes about things that we learn about people, and make notes in the computer so we can give them a warmer greeting and take better care of them. That way, if we stop by to get their car ready for a cross-country drive, the next time we see them we remember to ask, “Oh, how was your trip to Disneyland?”
What do you enjoy about the business?
It’s the conversations that you have with people that say, “I am so glad I finally found somebody to trust.” Another thing that I just love — and this happens more than you would think — is that people come in and they have an estimate from a dealership or another shop and they are getting a second opinion because they’ve been told they need a large repair, and we discover that it’s something that either they didn’t need at all or that may cost significantly less and be a much simpler repair than they were told. It is always a great thing to be able to surprise a customer like that.
Another thing is that we have opportunities to live our faith. We had a man that was supposed to start back to work and he needed his truck for work and he did not have the money to fix it. He was crying at the counter, and I told him that I would pray for him. When he left I thought, “Don’t pray for him! You own a shop! Fix his truck!” We called him up and told him to get the truck back here and we just fixed it. Didn’t charge him a thing. Sometimes God puts people in your path and you can just help them. And of course you can’t do it all the time, but you get a sense when someone is truly in need. Every single Christian Brothers that you would talk to has multiple stories like this. Sometimes we get together as a group and do things.
Financially, is the business performing the way you had hoped?
Our business is definitely performing well. I think we were number 9 out of 150-plus stores last year, and we have seen substantial sales growth in the last two years, which is amazing for a business that’s more than 10 years old.
The important thing is having the right people on board and sharing your vision. Our lead technician has been here since two weeks before we opened, so that has been huge. When I bring on a new person, everybody interviews him. I don’t try to make that decision by myself. You surround yourself with good people and let them go, and you take their advice and input. Somebody has to make the final decision, obviously, but it’s definitely a team sport around here.
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 customer service. The company provides full-service automotive repair for all domestic and foreign vehicles, and prides itself on providing a pleasant, professional and clean automotive service experience every time. The company’s service model includes courtesy shuttles that make it easy for customers to drop their car off and get a ride to home or work. When the car is ready, they pick their customers up. This makes it easy for customers to have their vehicle serviced Monday-Friday. It also makes it possible for Christian Brothers to close on the weekends, and allow franchisees and employees to spend that time with their families, church, and friends.
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.