THE AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR COMPANY’S FIRST FRANCHISEE LOOKS BACK AS THE CHRISTIAN FRANCHISE CELEBRATES 20 YEARS OF FRANCHISING
As Christian Brothers Automotive’s first franchisee, Chip Fenner has seen a little bit of everything. And on the occasion of our 20th year as a Christian franchise, Fenner shares some of his insights into how the company has grown over the decades and how our values have helped us endure and thrive.
Chip Fenner dances with his wife Sandi
How long have you been a franchisee with Christian Brothers?
Over 18 years. I was the first one. I knew [Founder and CEO] Mark Carr from church, and after becoming a franchisee we became closer friends.
How have you seen the brand grow and evolve?
I’ve seen everything. We had growing pains in the beginning, way back then we were hand-writing tickets because we didn’t have a good computer program yet. Over the years, they’ve streamlined our processes and systems to what they are today.
Mark’s original processes are pretty much the same; the basic truths and heart are all there. As we got bigger, we were able to add on additional support for the different systems that we use. It’s a lot more organized now, it’s all streamlined and put together. Support has really been beefed up to keep up with our needs.
How do franchisees help each other learn and grow?
Especially within territories, we’ll get together for lunch and ask each other, “What are you doing about this? What’s happening with this?” We encourage each other. It’s easy when you know the other franchisees and can to pick up the phone and ask, “What would you do in this situation? What’s working for you in this marketing area?” and any other questions you have.
When you break it down, what are the core things about Christian Brothers that have helped it endure and thrive?
As a Christian franchise, we’ve always been strong in the spiritual aspect. We get together at our conventions and you see the hearts of everybody there and want to be best friends with everybody that’s in this company. They’re godly men and women, striving for excellence and striving to please God in everything they’re doing.
Mark has been very smart in building leaders around him at the corporate office. At the last convention, a hotel magnate guy asked, “Why haven’t you grown faster?” and Mark said, “I want to make sure we’re getting the right people in the right place on the team.” He’s been very diligent about getting the right franchisees and the right leadership. In areas where he knows he may be a little weak, he gets the right person to help and listens to them. He makes sure our people are all like-minded, smart and godly people.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a business owner in your time with Christian Brothers?
Most businesspeople, if they think they’ve figured it all out, that’s when they’re going to start falling and not doing as well. I make sure that I’m constantly being challenged by my teams. I’m willing to listen. I may be wrong on something, so I take what’s being presented and adopt as many of the important pieces as I can.
It’s hard to be on top of it all when there’s so much new stuff coming out all the time. I own two shops, so it’s a little bit more demanding in terms of management. I stay on top of all the new stuff. I may not need all of it, but I need to listen to what I need at my shops and bring that back with me.
Are there any memorable interactions that you’ve had with guests over the years that have really stood out?
I’ve been doing this for 18 years now, and you build relationships. A couple of weeks ago, I said hello to one of my regular guests and walked towards my office, and she stopped me and said, “Hey, where’s my hug?” I walked back out there and gave her a hug and she introduced me to her mother. She said, “I had my mom bring her car out here because I wanted to make sure she went to a place that I trusted.” Those are the kinds of things that really soften your heart.
What challenges have you overcome on your journey?
I’ve been around for a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of the different challenges. I know the growth was hard; any company that’s trying to finance growth like that, it’s a major undertaking. Growth in any area is always going to be a difficult thing, but God showed Mark, “Stick through this and it’s going to be alright,” and he learned a lot through that process. You gain more humility and strength by following what God wants to put you through.
Business is tough; if it was simple, everyone would do it. You face challenges every day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because it gives you a sense of dependence on God as you’re going through everything.
Our trusted service helps us form relationships with customers that span years and even generations.
Where do you see the brand going in the future?
I think technology is going to be critical as we’re going forward. We’re getting into more and more complex vehicles. There’s going to be a shift on the repair side to more training and keeping up with technology as we move to different things like electric cars, self-driving cars or other things down the road.
I think the keys to our business have always been our relationships with the guests and great service, and I don’t think those are ever going to change.
How do you think our values as a Christian franchise have shown guests what Christian Brothers can do for them?
Our honesty and integrity come through when you have people that you know by name as you walk into the shop. It’s not just the next car coming in, it’s a relationship. People will come in and just put the keys on the counter and say, “Tell me when it’s ready.” We still call and tell them what’s wrong, but you love the faith that our guests have in us.
We’ve got a brilliant entrepreneur in Mark Carr, and he’s built a good team around him that will continue to grow. He knew he couldn’t do it all himself but he’s given the vision and gotten the right people in place to move it forward. That’s really what’s behind all of it.
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.