Sports cars, fancy cars, you name it – Jonita White likes them all. Good-looking and warm-hearted, she stands out in the male-dominated world of auto repair. With her husband, she owns Christian Brothers Automotive Frisco West at Stonebrook Parkway and Farm to Market Road 423. When her store opened in 2011, White became the second woman to own a Christian Brothers franchise. “My shop was 82 – so out of 82 shops,” she says. The number is even more remarkable when you consider that even now, Christian Brothers’ more than 250 locations in the United States still have only 12 female owners.
With a background in banking and finance, White moved houses in Southern California before moving to Frisco in 2006 to be closer to her native Texas parents. But when she arrived, the market collapsed. For her it was back to the drawing board. She looked at various franchises, like Subway and Pizza Hut, but the local auto repair shop seemed more appealing than throwing sandwiches and throwing pizzas.
“We used to drive our cars to the Christian Brothers in Frisco,” says White. “And we loved the service, the motto and the values.” She found out the store was a franchise called Home Office and, voila, was an auto repair shop. But, in her opinion, it was not such a big leap from real estate. “You’re still dealing with people,” she says. “It’s all about relationships. And me? I’m a relationship person. I love people.”
The relationship part was easy, even for a self-proclaimed introvert. The car part required work. Christian Brothers sent her to classes and gave her reading materials to bring herself up to speed. “I think it took me maybe three years to really feel comfortable,” she says. “Now they can tell me, ‘Hey Jonita, that air compressor doesn’t work on that air conditioner,’ and I can speak that language having worked in the industry. And no, I didn’t know at first and that’s okay.”
But she never felt stressed or unsupported, which referenced the encouragement from the Christian Brothers. “When people believe in you, I work all the harder,” she says. “I don’t want to disappoint her.” She is now fluent in car language and still hasn’t stopped learning. White says, “Until you’re six feet under the ground, you should be studying every day.”
Taking your car to the shop is a daunting, anxious task for most. White calls the apartment hunt “happy-go-lucky,” but when people bring their cars in for repairs, they’re anything but. For women, there is also the prospect of entering a male space.
“I don’t think women expect a woman to run the store,” she says. “I think they expect it to be male dominated. But it’s an added relief when they see a woman.”
Not only does White run the store, she also commutes customers — an important aspect of her business because that’s where she builds relationships. “I can find out what’s going on in the household, how many children, birthdays, anniversaries,” she says. This information is archived. “So next year we will send them flowers for their anniversary. We found out that their child is in the hospital, so we’re sending them flowers. We found out grandpa just passed away, send them some flowers.”
Although White’s business is franchised, she has the autonomy to do whatever she needs to do to take care of her customers — many are single moms who could use that extra helping hand. “I had a client last week — a single mom who’s now a grandma,” says White. “She needed her car repaired and didn’t have the money. And that’s how we fixed her car – $4,000. She only had $500.” For White, it was about doing the right thing, not just focusing on the bottom line. The same goes for Christian Brothers.
Once a year, Christian Brothers hosts a single mother’s day with a free oil change. “For me, I’ll pick the three worst cars that come in and fix them for them for free,” says White. “Mothers who can’t afford to take their breaks. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, how do you drive these kids around? I can’t let you go from here.’ Of course, we get our vendors to donate things, and Christian Brothers as a company donates money as well. But we take care of the single mothers.”
Along the road
In 2011, Frisco was a different place. FM 425 was two lane. “We were the only store on that street,” says White. “There was nothing there, just cows.” No Walmart, no CVS, no Chick-fil-A. There wasn’t even internet: White brought her computer online with a flight map. There used to be cows. And now, as White points out, no more cattle neighbors.
The area around White’s auto shop is busy, but now with two grown children, she wants to slow down, spend more time traveling and hire a general manager to lighten the workload. But for now, she’s happy to be in Frisco. “I’m so blessed to be in this area of Frisco,” she says. “I have fabulous people working for me. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
In case you missed it, here’s a recap of Local Profile’s Women in Business Summit 2022.