Mark Carr opened his first Christian Brothers Automotive location in Houston in 1982. With the automobile as the driver to just about everything we do, Carr’s goal was to create an automotive repair facility driven by honesty, integrity and exceptional customer service. His goal was pretty straightforward: Carr wanted his shops to provide repairs in a timely and trustworthy manner, embracing, what he calls, an “open shop” policy, designed to give customers the information they need to navigate repair-related decisions with confidence.
In essence, Carr, founder and CEO, wanted to put the owner’s in the driver’s seat of their service experience.
Today, with more than 240 locations in 30 states, Christian Brothers has not only become a standard of service excellence, but also one of the country’s leading automotive repair franchises. Since he opened his first shop 39 years ago, Carr has never had a franchisee close a location.
We sat down with Director of Construction Derrick Rodgers to get his take on the trends shaping the new age of commercial construction and how Christian Brothers is adapting to the future.
Give us a snapshot of the project.
We oversee two types of projects currently: developing new Christian Brothers Automotive stores from the ground up and retrofitting some of our older stores to a more contemporary design.
What are some of the things Christian Brothers looks for in your facility’s design?
One of our core values is transparency and we wanted our store design to better reflect this. So, starting in late 2020, all new stores now offer guests a waiting area that is more open in design by providing a large window into the repair center enabling guests to watch first-hand as their vehicles are being serviced. In addition, Service Advisors are now more accessible with freestanding, movable desks that allow for better guest interaction.
Since our team members’ comfort and ability to gather as a team are critical to us as well, we are now incorporating larger meeting spaces for them. The overall décor and design are more contemporary, which signals to guests that CBA is modern in its approach to vehicle care as well, which is why our existing stores are also starting to transition to this new layout.
What were the goals?
To help value engineer the phenomenal product that we have been building since 1982. Our building construction and design helps our franchisees grow their businesses and attract new owners to our franchise family.
How does the overall design of the Christian Brothers facilities cater to what facility managers are looking for?
Our managers are looking to convey to our guests the experience mentioned above—one that’s transparent and caring—and we think that our new design does a great job of signaling our values to guests. They can see clearly into the repair bays and watch how our team members lovingly and carefully take care of their vehicles.
What are today’s customers looking for?
Our guests want to know that they can trust that an auto technician has their, i.e., the guests’ best interests at heart and will take care of what their car needs to keep them and their loved ones safe. They don’t want to be sold services their vehicle doesn’t need and they want to know that the job is done right the first time.
What’s the brand’s short-term strategy? Long-term?
Our short-term and long-term strategies rest on our mission: to glorify God by providing ethical and excellent automotive repair service for our guests. All decisions we make at the Home Office- and Store-level must align with this mission. Our franchisees bring this to life each day by providing an unmatched auto repair experience and giving back to their communities as often as they can.
At the Home Office, we are focused on researching and developing programs and implementing state-of-the art technology solutions to enable our franchisees to best serve guests, while donating both financial and human resources to our community as well.
What’s the biggest issue today related to the construction side of the business?
The construction sector is facing rising costs on material and labor like we have never seen before. It is forcing us to look at other avenues for our design and build process to keep our costs down, so that we can build state-of-the-art facilities for our franchisees that are not cost prohibitive to them.
From what you see out there, how is the industry handling construction in this new landscape?
In 2021, we are looking at value-engineering our buildings. We need to look at alternatives in order to build a state-of-the art facility that is not cost prohibitive to our Franchisees.
What type of challenges have you seen?
Our largest challenges have come in waves of material shortage and labor shortage, which leads to an overall increase in costs. The supply and demand for materials and labor is currently very tight. Finding skilled labor to construct our buildings has become very difficult.
What changes do you expect to see in 2021?
I don’t see our material costs reducing in 2021. I believe we will start to see some type of reduction in 2022. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we will see the material costs lowering to pre-pandemic costs. I think the demand is too great to see that type of reduction.
What do you expect to see when we get back to some sense of normalcy?
I hope to see the material and labor costs level off. Again, I don’t feel they will return to as we knew them pre-pandemic, although I have hopes. I also anticipate that the lead times which are extremely high currently will return to a normal lead time.
What are the brand’s plans moving forward?
We are looking to continue to grow at a rate of approximately 20 to 25 new stores each year.
Story by Michael J. Pallerino, editor of Commercial Construction & Renovation magazine. Over the past 30-plus years, he has won numerous awards, including the “Jesse H. Neal Editorial Achievement Award,” recognized as the Pulitzer Prize for business-to-business magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Describe a typical day.
A typical day consists of managing a spectacular portfolio of projects in our timeline that include the permit phase, construction phase, and closeout phase. And I’m also involved in the redesign and remodeling of our older stores.
What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?
Continuing to help value engineer a phenomenal product that we have created since 1982 to help our franchisees continue to grow their businesses, and to oversee the development of new stores, which attract new business owners to our fantastic company.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Handing the keys to a new and completed location that helps change the lives of our franchisees. In a small way, we are helping our Franchisees achieve the American dream of owning their own business.
What was the best advice you ever received?
In the world of construction, problems arise daily. The best advice I have received is around “control.” Someone told me once you cannot change things that are out of your control, but you can control your reaction. To me that helps remove some of the painful issues that arise in the construction world.
How do you like to spend your down time?
I am an avid golfer and fisherman. I love spending time with my 3 great kids and my beautiful wife.