Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Peterson had risen to an aery perch in the health field, as chief financial officer and then CEO of a private, equity-backed hospital company operating in three states. But what he really wanted was a business he could operate with Andrea, his wife of 28-plus years. Enter Christian Brothers Automotive, a franchise his family had patronized for over a decade. Peterson had an interest in auto repair but no experience, so a franchise made sense. He and his wife also were drawn to the ethical foundation that Christian Brothers founder Mark Carr started with in 1982 and still continues today.
Name: Steve Peterson
Franchise owned: Christian Brothers Automotive in Castle Rock, Colorado
How long have you owned a franchise?
For approximately a year and a half. We first opened in February 2014.
My wife and I were looking to start or buy a business that we could work in together. In addition, I was looking for an opportunity to enter a new industry, and I had a particular interest in automotive repair. However, not having any previous experience in the automotive repair industry, we were not comfortable venturing into it on our own, so franchising was attractive because of the support offered by the franchisor.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I had spent the last 20 years in the healthcare industry, in financial and executive roles. Most recently, I was the chief financial officer and then chief executive officer of a private, equity-backed hospital company that owned and operated several acute care hospitals in three states.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
First, our family had been very satisfied customers of Christian Brothers Automotive for over a decade at several different locations in four different markets, so we had a positive experience from the customer perspective. Second, we were impressed with the ethical foundation upon which the company was founded and still operates. Finally, the level of support and assistance provided by the “home office,” both during start-up and on an ongoing basis, gave us a high level of comfort with a venture into a new industry.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I would estimate that the total cost for us would have been around $340,000, which included a franchise fee of $125,000, equipment costs, inventory and working capital. Of this amount, approximately $260,000 was funded by a SBA Loan.
[Costs] can vary, depending on where your business is located and your particular situation. Christian Brothers Automotive franchises typically start at $403,100. Because they purchase the land and pay for the building, it is possible to get into this industry with far less investment than other auto repair franchise options.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
First and foremost, our entire family had been customers of Christian Brothers Automotive for over a decade, so we had extensive experience with their customer service and operational philosophy.
In addition, I spent time in the shops of several owners in Texas, where the brand is based, prior to opening. I spent about a week traveling among these shops. This gave me a real sense of real-life experiences with the brand that I could bring back to apply directly in our business.The Christian Brothers family is amazing in this respect. Each and every owner I contacted truly dropped what they were doing, cleared their calendars and spent time with me to answer all my questions. That told me a lot about the system I was buying into.
Finally, Christian Brothers takes each prospective franchisee through an extensive discovery process to educate us on the industry, the business model and the company and make sure that there is a good fit between the franchisor and the franchisee.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I would say that staffing was the most challenging facet of opening the franchise. Being new to the industry, it was vitally important to us that we build a team that knew the business well and could function effectively together. Thankfully, we had a lot of support from Christian Brothers in this effort and built a great opening-day roster.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
The two pieces of advice that I would have are a bit contradictory, but make a lot of sense when applied to the process and on how to be successful.
First, choose your franchise partner well: You want someone who will give you the freedom to build your business using your ideas, strengths and abilities, yet provide you with the appropriate level of support to ensure your success.
Second, realize that ultimately the success of your business is your responsibility. While the right franchisor can be a tremendous contributor to your success, ultimately you will get out of the business what you put into it.
What’s next for you and your business?
We are continuing to hone the service experience that we provide to our customers, and focusing on further growth of our first location. In addition, we are beginning to explore the opening of a second Christian Brothers location.