Christian Brothers makes strides in Colorado with franchise model
Houston—Back in 2008, Texas-based Christian Brothers Automotive officials had an interest in expanding their repair-shop franchise base to Denver, predicting a continued population increase for the largest city in the Rocky Mountain region.
As it turns out, their market analysis was accurate: Colorado ranked sixth on Forbes’ list for U.S. population growth in 2014, with most of the influx landing in Denver.
“We saw a lot of people moving into the Denver area, bringing with them cars and trucks, and we recognized they didn’t have relationships with shops,” said Josh Wall, vice president of franchise and strategic development, who oversees the growth of the 150-location chain that currently operates in 22 states.
After opening its first Colorado shop in 2010, Christian Brothers now has seven franchisees operating repair shops along the Front Range, with locations in Lafayette, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, Parker, Colorado Springs, and Monument.
In 2016, a new franchisee will open a shop in Ken Caryl and another in Greeley, which is currently under construction while a franchise partner is sought out. Early in 2017, he said, three franchisees will open shops in Fort Collins, Loveland, and Thornton, and an additional two are planned for 2018 in the Denver metro area.
The company also plans to break ground in New Mexico, he said, with a shop opening in Rio Rancho next year. In all, approximately 15-20 stores open nationwide annually, he added.
“All 150 of the Christian Brothers Automotive locations are built from the ground up as a single-purpose building,” Wall said, adding that they’re typically nine-bay buildings. For customer convenience, the company seeks out retail locations where people live and shop.
The faith-based franchise model is attractive to prospective business owners, Wall said, noting that they also use a nontraditional franchisee model. Both are cited as motivators for franchisees to align themselves with Christian Brothers, he said.
Even prospective out-of-state franchisees are finding the lifestyle in Colorado ideal and are choosing to relocate to the area, Wall said. Christian Brothers’ newest Colorado franchisees are husband-wife duo Adam and Sarah Vowell, who opened shop in Parker in August after relocating from Houston.
“When we applied for a franchise in 2012, we didn’t know if they’d even consider us,” said Sarah Vowell, since she and her husband were in their early 30s and didn’t have any capital to apply for the initial fee. Vowell, who had worked in the oil and gas industry, said Wall responded to their online request immediately, recognizing that her husband worked at a Christian Brothers shop in Houston. They were eventually awarded the franchise, opened their shop last August, and are looking forward to starting a family in Colorado, she said.
When Christian Brothers chooses a location, the corporation purchases the land and constructs the shop and then leases it to the franchisee, Wall said. The business owner pays an initial fee for training, systems, and marketing, plus an ongoing royalty fee.
Unlike many franchise programs, Christian Brothers does not collect a percentage of gross sales, he said, but rather earns a percentage of half the shop’s net profit, after fixed and variable expenses, including owners’ salaries and even debt payments, are accounted for.
“Our program is more like a McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A model for the auto industry,” Wall said. “We invest heavily in a support model with coaching, marketing, human resources, and more.”
New franchisees are assigned a first-year coach, who helps them build the fundamental practices for success, Wall said, with weekly coaching. They then transition into a mentor-coach program with five other owners, he said, similar to a 20-group, with monthly meetings.
The shops focus on all-makes, all-models light repair and maintenance, Wall said, pointing out that some are capable of heavy line repairs, including powertrain removal and replacement.
Christian Brothers’ mantra for franchisees is to provide complete transparency for customers and treat them as they’d like to be treated. When a repair estimate is written, it’s quoted to the penny, Wall said. “Guests need to have info as detailed as possible when making decisions.” All work is backed by a two-year, 24,000-mile warranty, he added.
The shops are intended to be comfortable and inviting, Wall said. “They’re designed to feel like home, with hardwood floors, leather sofas, and artwork on the wall.”
Extended business hours (from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) are designed to accommodate working customers, he said, adding that each shop offers shuttle service.
It all adds up to a superior customer experience, he said.
Rather than using a customer satisfaction index (CSI) as a scorecard, Christian Brothers relies on the Net Promoter Score (NPS), Wall said.
“Instead of asking customers multiple questions about their experience, what we ask is, On a scale of one to 10, what is your willingness to recommend Christian Brothers to a friend or family member?” he said. Customers fall into three categories: promoters, those who are willing to make referrals; average to good, those who are still favorable; and detractors, those who had a poor experience.
A shop’s “promoter” count, minus “detractors,” gives the business a net NPS score, he said. “Christian Brothers has the highest NPS score in the auto industry. That as a whole tells us we are doing a lot of things well.”