If you asked Jonita White just a decade ago where she’d be today, the answer wouldn’t likely be as a franchise owner of a Christian Brothers Automotive service center. She had a good life with her husband Adam in San Diego, but then made the decision to move to Frisco, Texas, to be closer to her parents.
While Adam took a job with Sprint, Jonita took a job at Bank of America — and along with their two children, weekends were spent working on her parents’ farm. Life was good, but something was missing — and that was being able to control their own destinies.
That is when the Whites decided to buy a franchise.
“I didn’t expect to be doing this,” Jonita said. “I’m not a car person at all. My husband, being a man, tinkered with cars, but honestly, neither of us are real car people.”
After moving from San Diego to Frisco, the Whites were taking their cars to Christian Brothers Automotive and heard about the franchise opportunities. What drew the Whites to Christian Brothers Automotive wasn’t about cars at all.
“It was the company’s beliefs and morals, which are also our beliefs,” Jonita said. “Christian Brothers Automotive doesn’t want owners to be car people, but people that offer a service to their customers. For us, it was about the way they service their customers with integrity and quality.”
This desire to service people is in Jonita’s blood, you could say, and goes back to her career in San Diego, where she worked with the Kaiser Permanente health system. In her career, she managed the facilities of 18 different locations and oversaw all aspects of running those locations. Whether it was the doctors and nurses or the patients, all were her customers.
The same holds true with Christian Brothers Automotive, except now it is the employees and the customers who are all family.
“Running this sort of business is about rewarding hard work,” she said. “Our shop is very much a family business, but this is true of Christian Brothers from the home office to us. It is very much a family shop, not corporate.”
Ideals Make an Ideal FitThe corporate ideals of Christian Brothers Automotive fit very much with what the Whites were seeking. While the goal is still to provide a good living and security for the family, money isn’t the most important thing at the end of the day.
“I very much believe that I’m looking out for our customers’ best interests when they come to our shop,” Jonita explained. “This is about doing the right thing — love your neighbors as you love yourself.”
This work ethic is instilled in every employee, and this has allowed the technicians to be less stressed while on the job and generally much more at ease.
One key point Jonita instilled from the first day is that customers should be informed of necessary services, but pressure shouldn’t be applied to increase the bottom line. At times, this has meant suggesting not to do some services.
“If a car isn’t worth repairing, I’ll let them know,” Jonita said. “There is no reason for someone to spend money if it won’t fix the situation.”
At the same time, Jonita knows that many people continue to struggle and are keeping their cars longer as a result. She makes sure those clients understand the work that must be done and what can be put off.
“People want to keep their cars longer, and we understand this is how people get to work and get their kids to school,” Jonita explained. “To us, cars are not often even the main issue. The main issue is the getting to work and picking up the kids. It is just a means of transportation. So if you need your car fixed, we’ll make sure we can take you to work or help you get your kids.”
Jonita’s Christian Brothers Automotive franchise strives to provide these services to help people in part because this is a Monday-through-Friday business. While that doesn’t provide some flexibility to customers, Jonita said this is why they offer rides and strive to accommodate the customer’s needs.
At the same time, this schedule ensures employees can have time off to spend with family, rejuvenate and even go to church.
Family SupportJonita said the support from Christian Brothers Automotive headquarters went above and beyond her expectations, and this included the training that was provided. Instead of just being handed keys and a manual, the company stood by her every step of the way.
At first, it was long hours — typically 12 hours or more — but after learning the ropes, it is a routine that Jonita said she truly enjoys. She heads into the office around 8 am and is still home for dinner in the evening.
Part of it was finding the right staff that has the same ethics she and her family maintain.
“I have found the best people I could hope to find, and I haven’t run into anyone who didn’t want to work,” Jonita said, and added that there have been no issues with being a woman of color running an automotive shop in Texas, either.
“It was a concern, but the industry is changing and there are now more women,” Jonita said. “I never had any problems from my employees, and maybe only one or two male customers. But now, I smile and wave, and everyone waves back.”
The shop has had a couple of female employees and each pulled her own weight, with one even going on to be a manager in the industry at another shop. Because Jonita’s shop is run by a woman, it has put many of the female customers at ease.
“I have seen over the past six years many women walk through the doors with some fear, but when they see me, there is relief,” she said
Jonita also said she would encourage any woman thinking of getting into the business at any level, from technician to franchise owner, to just go for it.
“We are empathic and have compassion,” Jonita said. “So I say, follow your dreams, and it will pay off!”
Growing the BusinessAfter opening the first location in 2011, and with her daughter out of school and her son a senior in high school, the timing seemed right for Jonita to open another location.
“This second one will open in July and will be about 25 miles from our current location,” she said. “It will work out, because we live half way between the two. I am still close to both.”
This is a big move for Jonita, but the timing seems right. However, she was quick to add that two is enough and having a dozen locations has never — and will never be — in the cards.
“This is really enough for me,” Jonita explained. “I know I need to be at both locations for them to succeed and for this to remain a close-knit family. Even a third would be way too much. I know some people would say they want more and can hire a GM to run the shops, but I know I need to be there. I have customers who ask for me, and they are like family, too.”
After nearly a decade in the business, Jonita said there is little she wished would have been done differently.
“Well, I do wish I knew a little bit more about cars, but God has blessed me with employees who train me about cars,” she said. “Still, I wish I knew a little bit more about cars, but there is all the time in the world for that.”
In the end, it still isn’t about being a car person. It is about serving every customer with a smile and providing quality service.
“I tell the staff, no matter who comes through the door, you have to treat them right. If it is an older man, then treat him like he is your father. If it is a younger woman, respect her like she is your daughter,” Jonita said. “We do that, and we’ll be doing good.”