By Matt Wiley
Honesty, integrity, leather couches. None of those things are exactly what comes to mind when thinking about getting your car serviced. But, these are just a few of the many “amenities” that separate the recently opened Christian Brothers Automotive franchise on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. in New Tampa from the usual greasy car shop.
“Notice anything about our waiting room?,” asks Marty LaBarbera, owner of the New Tampa Christian Brothers Automotive franchise on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. behind Auto Zone auto parts store in the Trout Creek area next to Burger 21. “There’s no one sitting in it, but the garage is full.”
LaBarbera says that the garage has been pretty full since the shop — which services nearly every make and model across the automotive spectrum (including BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Porsche, Nissan and most other European, Asian and American makes and models) opened on January 2. Whether it’s a “check engine” light, brakes, A/C or transmission service, or just scheduled maintenance, Christian Brothers has New Tampa and Wesley Chapel covered.
“This is retirement for me,” LaBarbera explains, after a long career in the prison system in Texas. “About six years ago, I was planning ahead to retirement, knowing that I wanted to get into something else. Cars have always been a hobby for me. I knew I wanted to get into some kind of automotive business for retirement. I stepped into a Christian Brothers in Austin, TX, near where I lived. I was amazed by the appearance and the cleanliness of the place. I knew I had found what I wanted to do.”
LaBarbera says that he was instrumental in bringing a Christian Brothers franchise to New Tampa when company officials decided to expand to Florida from Texas. When company officials expressed interest in the Tampa Bay area, LaBarbera scouted for locations and suggested New Tampa since it is a modern and still-developing community. New Tampa is the 111th location for the auto shop franchise, which has a separately-owned location on S.R. 54 in Land O’ Lakes.
“It took about two years to get everything worked out, to purchase the property and get the construction done and all those things,” he explains. “So it’s been kind of a long process, but it just takes that long, I guess.”
In the time it took to open the New Tampa location, Christian Brothers already had opened two other locations in the Tampa area, one in Westchase and the S.R. 54 location. Each shop is built exactly the same and is run the same way.
“They learn as they build and collect best practices,” LaBarbera says. “Their operating protocol is consistent. As franchisees, we have to agree to that entire protocol. My attitude is that, if there were 110 shops before me and not one has failed since 1983, why would I not want to run it according to that plan?”
Besides the iconic brick look to the outside of the shop, the first thing that catches most customers’ eyes is the waiting area, which is void of the stereotypical TV playing the usual daytime programming and uncomfortable chairs. Instead, the waiting area offers a clean environment, leather couches and coffee that a Christian Brothers employee will make fresh just for you. And it’s usually empty.
“Every shop has a courtesy car,” LaBarbera explains. “The mindset is this: ‘Why don’t you drop your car off, I’ll take you to work and pick you up when we’re done.’ And now your Saturday is free. Don’t you have something you’d rather be doing on a Saturday than sitting at an auto repair shop for a few hours? So, I’m on the road most of the day most days.”
LaBarbera says that what really sets Christian Brothers apart from other auto repair shops is its foundation as a Christian organization.
“The auto repair industry has developed a bad reputation because it’s easy to take advantage of people since we’re working in an area that most people are unfamiliar with,” LaBarbera explains. “You have to trust us. We’re just honest. We may not tell you what you want to hear (about your car), but we’re still truthful with you.”
Another Factor Is Quality
“I don’t apologize for our prices,” LaBarbera says. “We’re not competing to be the lowest cost repair shop in the area. You can get things done cheaper; even we could do things cheaper. We could use cheap oil, cheap filters and hire inexperienced workers for low wages. But, we believe it’s the quality that really sets us apart. When you drive out of here, I want you to be confident that a good job was done on your vehicle.”
LaBarbera, his service manager and two technicians share more than 50 years of combined experience in the auto repair industry. Each technician holds a Master certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
“On a typical day, customers will come in and tell us their car is making a noise,” LaBarbera explains. “Greg, my service manager, will ask questions and focus the issue down to something more specific and give the info to the technicians. Then, they spend about 60 percent of their time on diagnostics. They plug a computer into a customer’s vehicle that reads all of the vehicle’s system computers to see where a problem may be occurring. When a check engine light, or other notification, appears on your dashboard, it provides the computer with a code, which serves as a clue as to what could be causing a problem.”
But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Christian Brothers’ master techs do additional extensive diagnostics research to see what problems other people have previously had with whatever vehicle is being worked on to see if a similar problem could be occurring in your vehicle.
“The old school way is part-swapping,” says LaBarbera. “A shop will look at symptoms, and tell the owner, ‘It could be this,’ and replace that part. Then it doesn’t fix the problems and you’ve spent the money on that new part.”
Instead of “swapping,” LaBarbera says that when it comes to parts, Christian Brothers works as a value shopper for you.
“When we put a part in your car, we make sure we get the right part from the right vendor for the right price–and that probably isn’t the cheapest one,” he explains. “So, bargain hunters may not want to come here, but if you’re value-conscious, and you want something done well and are willing to pay for quality and longevity, without paying the sun and the moon, we’re here for you. We make the recommendations for you and then you make the decisions.”
New Tampa resident Sherry Laursen is happy to speak to the quality of Christian Brothers.
“I’m a local real estate agent with Coldwell Banker and people always are asking me where a good place would be to take their car,” Laursen explains. “There really isn’t a place in New Tampa except for those quick shops that have bad reputations. My 17-year-old son, Dylan, took his 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix there after school recently. They gave him ‘above and beyond’ customer service. I was super impressed with them. They easily could have taken advantage of him, but didn’t even try.”
Having car issues? Stop by Christian Brothers Automotive, located at 20303 Trout Creek Dr. behind AutoZone, or give them a call at 402-1262. For more information, please visit CBAC.com and search “New Tampa” in the store locator.