Christ guides owners of two businesses

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 05:32 PM

Robert Summers didn’t want his business name to include the word “Christian.”

“I thought it was a terrible idea,” he said.

That was several years ago, and today, a large banner reading “Christian Family Automotive” faces busy U.S. Highway 74, just outside Stallings.

Robert, 30, and his wife Kelly, 24, have owned Christian Family Automotive less than three years. They chat on a black couch in the spacious waiting room across from a small, plastic picnic table and cubbies of books and toys for customers’ kids.

Robert remembers asking God for a business name and kept coming back to “Christian something.” He thought it was corny and worried that any mistakes at work would reflect negatively on his faith. The banner went up anyway and he has been pleasantly surprised.

Down the highway in Monroe, Dan Abbuhl, also a Christian, is in his 16th year running Interlink, a computer sales, service and repair center. Wearing a short-sleeved blue Polo with “Interlink” stitched on the left, he waves to two walls lined with laptops.

“A computer store in the whole scheme of eternity is just but a vapor,” Abbuhl said. Yet, it can make a big impact on customers’ lives.

How they run their businesses

Robert, Kelly and Abbuhl are big on honesty. Many people know little about cars or computers, they said, so it’s up to them to dish out sound advice.

Abbuhl recalls one woman in tears because another business wanted to charge far more than anticipated. Yes, he runs a business, Abbuhl said, but he’s also concerned about the people. He tells employees that overselling customers or doing work they haven’t approved will get them fired.

“I will not put up with someone stealing from the customer just for the bottom line. It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about integrity.”

Abbuhl and his family prayed over the company building before moving in to purify the atmosphere. He doesn’t always hire Christians, but does ask that any music played is Christian.

“I want it to be uplifting,” he said.

Across town, Robert and Kelly started Christian Family Automotive – servicing Union County – with the economy still in the dumps. But, as Robert said, “When God keeps convicting you over and over and over again, eventually you should probably give in and listen.”

The couple opened shop sandwiched between Aamco Transmissions and Shepard Automotive, with Goodyear a couple of doors down. It’s actually a good thing, Robert said, because they share knowledge and resources.

The business name keeps him accountable to customers, he said: “Am I thinking more about my checkbook than their needs?”

On the coffee table in the waiting room, a man left a few Bibles with a sign to take one for free. Magazines include “Time” and “Real Simple,” but another deemed risqué was tossed out.

“We’re not trying to make it an overwhelming Christian environment,” Robert said. “We’re trying to make it a comfortable environment.”

While Interlink is closed Sundays, Christian Family Automotive is closed both Saturday and Sunday. Owners say this leaves time to rest, attend church and be with family.

The impact

A man once brought his computer to Abbuhl and said after a string of bad events in life, he wanted to give up. Abbuhl encouraged him as he and some employees have done for other customers over the years. Some feel like they have no one to talk to, he said, and some let employees pray for them.

Abbuhl’s small signs out front also start conversations. One says “God is good and he’s in a good mood.” Some criticize the sign; others ask what it means.

“People think God’s mad at everybody, and that’s not the truth,” Abbuhl said.

Most of Robert and Kelly’s customers are Catholic or Protestant, they said, but they also have Jewish, Muslim and non-religious customers.

“There’s lots of crosses hanging from rear view mirrors, there’s Jesus bumper stickers, there’s lots of 91.9,” Robert said, referring to the Christian radio station.

Some customers see the young couple trusting God to keep the business going, Kelly said, and share their own leaps of faith.

Both Interlink and Christian Family Automotive have supported local artists, and both support nonprofits. On the cork board beside the front desk, Abbuhl posted a picture of an aspiring pastor in Malawi with a laptop under one arm. Abbuhl donated the refurbished computer and also donates to local families.

When supporting customers, Kelly said, there’s a fine line between running a business and having compassion to help them out. That’s a balance she, Robert and Abbuhl constantly work to keep.

Why a “Christian” business?

Why not be a Christian business without advertising it?

“I don’t do it to gain business,” Abbuhl said. He doesn’t push his faith onto others, he added, but, “I don’t think you should hide the fact that you’re a Christian. ... It’s part of my relationship with God.”

Abbuhl doesn’t think people necessarily walk in the door because of his signage or beliefs, but because when it comes to service, “I’m going to tell you what I would do if it was me.”

For Robert, the business name was “a conviction thing.”

What makes them different?

Christian Family Automotive isn’t that different from other good businesses, Kelly said; a business doesn’t need Christian owners to be honest and fair, and not all Christian owners operate the same way.

“The concept of treating people fairly, being honest, looking out for others’ needs before your own ... all those characteristics are things that people value regardless of your faith,” Robert said.

Yet, not all businesses act on it.

“That’s what sets us apart from a lot of people in our industry – that we actually do care about you, we care about your car, your situation, your family and your budget,” he said. “It’s not a business for Christians. It’s a business run by people who are Christian and believe that those values can translate into business.”