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Family Values Help Shop Owner Thrive Despite 2020 Challenges

Located in Chapel Hill, NC, Brown’s Automotive owner Tonnika Haynes always keeps her eye on the customer.

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Carolyn Gray of DRIVE has an extensive background in marketing, media strategy and branding, including vice president of digital at Fox Broadcasting and co-president of Filmaka Studios. She brings that wealth of knowledge to Monrovia, California-based DRIVE.

Tonnika Haynes, owner of Brown’s Automotive in Chapel Hill, NC, says family and community are top priorities in her business success plan.

In 1980, when he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, William Brown opened Brown’s Automotive in Carrboro, NC. His daughter, Tonnika grew up in the shop, helping answer the phone and working in the shop during summer breaks.

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In 2001, when her father opened his new location in Chapel Hill, she took over as shop manager and when William retired in 2016, Tonnika Haynes became shop owner.

Now, she says the long summers spent with her dad at the business absorbing all his knowledge of the shop were an incredible asset, as Brown’s Automotive thrived during a difficult 2020 and has grown to be stronger than ever.

Tonnika Haynes


Brown’s Automotive is a NAPA AutoCare Center with 4 bays and 4 team members (plus herself). Surpassing her goal of $1 million dollars in sales during a global pandemic, Haynes says it’s a testament to how her father taught her to run the business. By paying attention to the basics of a well-run shop – like effectively inspecting each and every vehicle – the focus can now be on growing the business instead of chasing cars.

Haynes says that Chapel Hill is a college town with a small-town feel that has all the benefits of a city. She says she knows she’s lucky to have her business in such a warm and supportive area with customers who appreciate that her team will fix their car right the first time. “I am proud that we have the trust of our community. I am most proud that I have earned the trust of my female customers,” says Tonnika. “I like to care for our customer as well as the car.”

The Browns Team: L2R Bill Rote, Service Advisor; Josef Cuna, Master Tech; Tonnika Haynes, Owner; O’Bryan Graham, Shop Foreman/Master Tech; James LaMantia, B Tech.

With her father’s name on the building, Tonnika takes every car that comes through the shop personally. Cherishing the heritage of being around for over 40 years, she plans on always being a vibrant and trustworthy part of the Chapel Hill community.

Marketing at Brown’s Automotive was a centerpiece of the shop’s success in 2020. Google and Facebook helped bring in new customers every week, Tonnika says. “The phones are ringing and we couldn’t be happier.”

Tonnika and her father, William Brown.

Tonnika reveals some advice she received that’s been the most helpful to her: “Never be the smartest or wealthiest person in the room. Always keep learning because when you know better you can do better.”

Both her father and grandmother have always encouraged and supported her path of entrepreneurship, which continues today. Her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina has been a big part of her success too, she says, but recognizing that she doesn’t have to know it all – or do it all – has been liberating as well.

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Her motto and advice for anyone planning to improve their own shop is “Read, have a plan and get a coach!”

Before partnering with DRIVE, Haynes says managing her shop operations was uncertain. “It was like walking towards a goal on ice, in heels, with a blindfold on. I was looking good, but at any time throughout the day or week something was bound to happen, and I would end up falling and not reaching my goal. Now with DRIVE, I’m still on ice, and definitely with heels, but the blindfold is gone. I can see where I am going.”

And her goal is to serve both her community and celebrate her family. Careful attention to her business plan allows her to pay even more attention to her two teenage boys. From cooking to traveling for basketball tournaments, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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