Nicole Dudley, Franchise Business Review’s client services director sits down with Donnie Carr, President of Christian Brothers Automotive. Christian Brothers has worked with FBR, surveying their franchisees, since 2007. They’ve been named a Top Franchise every year since 2008, earning them a place in the FBR Hall of Fame. In addition to their placement in the FBR Hall of Fame, they also perennially capture the top spot in the category for automotive and have claimed spots on our Top Franchises for Veterans and for Culture.
Carr firmly believes that the more satisfied their franchisees are, the more successful they’re going to be. And that’s why they make improving their franchisee satisfaction a priority, giving them an award-winning culture. Watch the video below or read the transcript of the conversation to see how they work hard to keep their franchisees happy and successful.
Nicole Dudley: I’m here today with Donnie Carr from Christian Brothers. He’s the President of the brand. They’ve worked with us since 2007, so it’s been a lovely 14 years. We’ve also been able to include the brand throughout that time as a top franchise.
Each year, they’ve been a steady holder of our Best in Category for the automotive sector. We’ve also been able to feature them throughout the year on lists such as Top Franchises for Veterans, and Culture, which was new last year. We’ll be doing that again, so that was really nice to call out for a lot of brands and also the Most Profitable Franchises.
Donnie, I appreciate you taking the time today. I want to just start it off with, for you, what does it mean to be an FBR award winner?
Donnie Carr: Thanks, Nicole. It’s a pleasure to spend some time with you today. I’ll tell you, for me, in the organization, it’s an absolute honor to be a top FBR award winner.
I think one of the things that makes a brand so successful is its franchisees. When they’re rating you with a high level of satisfaction, we know, or at least have an idea that we’re doing a good job of the resources and the support that we’re providing them. We even have an entire wall dedicated to our FBR awards.
Nicole: Yes. I’ve seen it, not in person, but I have seen pictures of it.
Donnie: I’ll take you there now.
Nicole: [laughs] Next time, next time. Has working with us changed the way you do business? If so, how would that be?
Donnie: It absolutely has changed the way we do business. Every year, we put out our Franchise Business Review survey. We greatly look forward to getting that information back.
Then, at the beginning of the year, we set specific action items goals based on the feedback we’ve gotten. For example, in the year 2020, there were a couple of areas that our franchisees rated us lower.
We want to improve our communication. We want to improve our franchisee involvement, and so we shared that with our franchisees. Then, we set specific things in place to help improve in those areas.
Nicole: You talked about making changes to communication and things that they’ve called out. Has being a part of our programs, not only operationally, but on the development and marketing side, helped you measure any reduced costs or even increases in revenue or growth?
Donnie: Yes, so the more satisfied our franchisees are, the more successful they’re going to be. Giving us the opportunity to know where we need to focus greatly helps us.
At the same time, when we’re bringing new franchisees into the family and they’re going through that discovery process and they’re reaching out to our franchisees, the better they’re hearing from them, the better off we are and the more likely they’re going to want to be candidates and future franchisees of Christian Brothers Automotive. That’s helped tremendously.
Nicole: How do you and the team position some of the data that you received into your strategic planning? Beyond just looking at some key points, how do you put that all into place for the year and then how do you share it out with the team?
Donnie: We’ll have every team look through the data, especially those that are specific to them in the areas that they focus on. Then, what we do is we’ll all get together. We’ll share, “Hey, these are the different goals. These are the different action plans that we have to improve in all of these areas.”
Then, we just started a six‑week communication plan out to our franchisees talking about our goals. One of the key areas we’re going to focus on, and how we get there is through some of the satisfaction results that we got from our franchisees – things that they feel like we need to do better as an organization to continue, to grow, and to improve.
They’ll hear from each of our departments and specific things based on FBR and some other things on how CBA is going to grow and how we’re going to attack those areas.
Nicole: I don’t know if maybe that whole six‑week plan idea came out of the year that we left behind us most recently, known as 2020. It was certainly a difficult year for many. Can you share any success stories with us?
Donnie: To be honest, I’ll take a lot of success from 2020. At a store level, we’ve implemented several new processes. We always had a customer shuttle, but we started doing pick-up and drop-off for guests, just to increase the opportunity for social distancing.
Then, I think in general, when you have a difficult time like last year, it really shows true colors. I’m extremely proud to see who we are as an organization when things were the toughest and numbers were down 50 percent from what they were in the previous year.
You got to see that we were part of an organization that wanted to take care of its people and want to do what’s best. I think the other neat thing is we were down for about eight weeks, and then shortly afterwards, we rebounded very quickly.
We are blessed and very fortunate to be in an essential business. We ended up having one of our better years that we’ve had. That’s something that they’ve always said: We’re somewhat of a recession-proof business. Now, we can claim to franchisees that were a little bit of a pandemic-proof business as well.
Nicole: We’ll be focusing on recession-proof coming up in Q2, so we’ll see if we see Christian Brothers on that list as well. In general, other than some of the successes you saw, did the pandemic change how you recruit, how you do your marketing, to even growing the system?
Donnie: We changed a couple of things. We’re obviously doing our recruiting virtually now. We’ve added a couple of things that we’ll keep once we go back to in person, but outside of that, we haven’t made too many dramatic changes in the way that we go about sourcing and vetting of franchisees.
Nicole: I’ve definitely heard the whole “bringing things virtual”. I’ve even had some brands tell me they actually plan on just staying with it. It has allowed them to get through the process a lot faster. They’ve even seen better conversion, so I think obviously it depends on the system and things like that.
When you’re looking for people to join Christian Brothers Automotive, how do you measure who’s right for you? What do they need to bring to the table?
Donnie: The thing that’s most important to us is their ability to lead people. We’re going to measure things like influence, grit, coachability, drive. We want to see how they are going to lead that team because that team is then going to serve our guests. If that team isn’t led well, our guests won’t be served well.
That’s what we really focus on. We’re in the automotive industry. The large majority of our franchisees don’t come from the automotive industry. We’re looking for people that are great leaders, want to take care of their people, and want to make an impact on those people in the community that they’re a part of.
Nicole: What type of opportunities do you offer to your owners, so they can learn and connect, not only with each other, but maybe others on your corporate team, so that they can see what best practices are, and how other owners are being successful?
Donnie: We have an annual convention, which is fantastic, but I think the thing that is different or has a huge impact for us is we have peer groups. We give all of our franchisees the opportunity to be a part of a peer group with fellow franchisees. We have a coach here at the office that helps facilitate that conversation.
They’ll get together either over video call or they even get together in person just to talk through what’s working for each other, what’s not working for each other. Then, they show that they have great accountability.
They’re going to be honest with each other. They’re going to speak with truth and love on, “Hey, what are some of the things that you’re doing really well, and what are some of the areas that you need to improve upon?” I think all of us need that on a regular basis.
Nicole: Definitely, after the year a lot of people ended up having. Are there any changes or innovations within your business that you had to make that you’re going to keep post‑pandemic?
Donnie: We’ll absolutely continue to pick up and drop off. One of the things that we were very fortunate of is we transitioned to what’s called a digital vehicle inspection. At the end of 2019, we made sure all of our stores are on it.
This way, when your car comes in, we can take pictures. We can annotate those pictures. We can take videos. We can send that all to you, so it’s like you’re standing in the bay looking at your vehicle. We can show the value of the repairs we’re recommending and then also just have a very high level of transparency of what is going on with your vehicle.
That’s something we were very fortunate that we had. That’s something that has seen a lot of value and something that we’ll continue to improve upon in the coming years.
Nicole: Donnie, I hadn’t heard that. That’s something that you’re going to keep doing and that you put into place as quickly as you could to help. That’s a neat way to be able to keep track of what’s going on, as you’re waiting for your car to be ready.
The final thing I just want to focus on because, again, it was something that came out of last year with our focus on culture for franchises, and I think it was a big push to be able to share those brands that do come back highly in those areas from their owners.
Describe your franchise culture. How do you foster that, not only among your franchisees and your leadership team, but even the employees, the franchisee level, and the corporate level?
Donnie: It’s something that takes constant touch. We have what we call our culture commitments. We have our high-level core values, which are joy, excellence, transparency, and neighborly.
Then, we have our neat, little handout that dives into all of our culture commitments, which is something as simple as, seek first to understand than to be understood, or be what you expect of others. It’s things that we talk about on a regular basis.
I think setting very clear expectations for both our home office team and our franchisees on what it looks like to love our neighbor as ourselves, to serve our guests well, to serve our team as well, and then even more so, or just as important, is to hold each other accountable to those expectations.
No one is above kindness or loving their neighbor. I think we have attempted to create a culture of accountability here at Christian Brothers Automotive, where we’re speaking with truth and love. It’s because we really genuinely want what’s best for one another, and we know that’s how we’re going to get them.
Nicole: It shows up when it comes back in your data, of course. It’s been great working with you for the 11 years that I’ve been here and I can’t wait to continue that and see where it brings us, but I appreciate your time today.
Donnie: Thanks, Nicole. Always a pleasure.