With so many cars on the road valeting seems like a growth industry. While there is a lot of business to grab, there are also many competitors. However, it can be a great opportunity for first-time entrepreneurs or those with a passion for vehicles. Good market research, as well as maximising potential revenue streams by making the most of assets, is key to success in this market.
What is car valeting?
The standard definition of valeting is a high-end cleaning job for the interior and exterior of a car. The service is more upmarket than a car wash, which will offer a basic cleaning service, while a valeting will provide a more in-depth clean followed by protective coatings such as wax.
Repairing bodywork and refurbishing alloy wheels does not tend to fall into a valet’s remit but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer this as an additional service. Offering this service is more worthwhile if you cater to other businesses, such as driving schools and taxi firms, in order to maximise the amount of money you can make from each account.
It’s worth making clear that valeting is not car washing – the margins and business model are totally different. Manual car washing is extremely hard to make profitable because not only is it time-consuming to wash cars, but the staff costs and the rise of automatic, faster car washes eat into potential profits. Valeting is a more ‘luxurious’ service demanding higher prices, which leads to profit.
Mobile versus fixed unit
Mobile valeting has become widespread in recent years – there are obvious advantages to the consumer, as they can have their car cleaned up without making a special trip. From your point of view, your potential market increases dramatically although the distance you drive to a job must be considered alongside costs such as fuel and time taken. Rapidly-increasing fuel costs make mobile units costly.
Going mobile initially may be the best choice to avoid over-investing in the business. Bear in mind you will need to make sure you have water and electricity hook-ups for your jobs and may also need to negotiate on rates if you are using the car owner’s supplies.
Start-up costs are lower if you opt for a mobile unit. Renting business premises will be expensive, as will retrofitting them for purpose. You'll also have to pay for overheads such as lighting, cleaning and electricity. However, you will be able to offer a more complex service from fixed premises, and some customers with expensive vehicles may insist on it.
Some valeting businesses will also clean the engine using a combination of pressure washers, commercial steam cleaners, degreasers and all-purpose cleaners to remove build-up of unwanted residues. Offering this service can help you win additional business (or upsell your existing clients) but you need to consider if it’s likely to be popular. If not, the extra capital investment in dedicated goods may not be worth it.
Domestic versus commercial clients
When you start up the majority of your clients will be domestic car owners – it’s a good market because there are so many car owners around, but the problem is that you can’t be assured of regular or repeat business. Many valeting companies will partner with a commercial firm with a large fleet of vehicles, such as taxi firms, driving schools, car sales garages or van rental companies, to guarantee a certain volume and regularity of work. This also adds to the firm’s reputation. Bear in mind that it can be hard to service a fleet of vehicles unless you have fixed premises, although you may be able to handle a small pool of cars from a van setup.
The other advantage to working with businesses is that they require vehicle valeting throughout the year, whereas domestic clients are more likely to want their car valeted during the summer months. This can help insulate your business from seasonal revenue fluctuations.
Valeting does not technically include repair work but you may wish to perform basic repair work – including repainting, knocking out dents, fixing scratches etc. This is advantageous because it’s an additional source of revenue, and can help you survive the colder months when valeting is not so lucrative.
The other advantage is that many cars have minor defects and you can upsell your valeting customers to include your repair service, often at a reduced cost as an incentive.
Start-up costs vary massively depending on the set-up you want. For a basic valeting business, which would include a van, commercial pressure washer, professional wet and dry interior machine and miscellaneous goods, you’d need to budget around £4000-£7000. This figure can easily rise to £10000 and above if you add in a steam cleaner, specialist products and other commercial machinery. If you rent premises, think more along the lines of £30,000+.
Finding additional revenue streams
Depending on the services you offer, and whether you employ staff, valeting can potentially offer quite low margins. But with the wealth of equipment you’ll have there are often opportunities to diversify your revenue streams to increase profits.
- Pressure washing – since you’ll own a commercial grade pressure washer you can offer domestic and commercial cleaning, e.g. patios and bins
- Boat and caravan cleaning – your pressure washer can also be used to clean bigger vehicles
- Product sales – selling vehicle-related goods, such as warning triangles and air fresheners.
Offering services unrelated to valeting can also be useful when it comes to dips in business – valeting definitely brings in more money during the summer months and it’s good business sense to try and offset this seasonal variation with additional revenue.
Insurance is very important as in many cases you’ll be dealing with expensive vehicles. Although most products are specifically formulated for use in vehicles, there’s always the potential for an adverse reaction, which could be costly. The machines you use for valeting – such as pressure washers and steam cleaners – are powerful, and can cause damage if used improperly, such as stripping paint. Proper training and practice will obviously reduce this risk.
It is worth talking to a specialist insurer to ensure your policy accurately reflects your operations. For example, valeting businesses working off a garage forecourt may be covered by the garage’s employee insurance. If you have your own premises, and regularly pick up and deliver vehicles, you may need a more comprehensive policy because of the higher potential for damage.
At a basic level you need public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance. If you choose to employ staff, you’ll need employer’s liability insurance.
Car valeting brings up some compliance issue depending on the type of business and where it is located. Local water authority regulations are important, for example regarding drainage and also disposal of any chemical products used in the valeting process.
If you hire employees you may also have obligations with regard to them using commercial machines, such as high-power pressure washers, at work, along with standard employee regulations regarding regular breaks and benefits.