(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the car valeting industry
The amount of money that people spend on their cars is linked to the state of the economy. At times when the economy is strong people have more money to spend on things like keeping their car spotless - and they're more inclined to pay someone else to do it than to do it themselves. They also change their cars more frequently, and people often valet their car just before they sell it or just after they buy it. The motor industry tends to be busiest when the economy is strong too, meaning that there's more work for valeters from business customers like car dealers.
The economy performed strongly during the early and mid 2000s, and the whole of the motor industry benefited. Unfortunately, the 'credit crunch' and the downturn which began in 2008 hit the motor industry very hard. People began spending less on buying and maintaining cars, and non-essentials like valeting were among the first things that motorists cut right back on. The motor trade sold fewer vehicles too, meaning that there was less demand for valeting services from dealers. The economy started to improve from 2013 onwards and the number of new cars purchased increased, with new car registrations reaching a new record of 2.7 million in 2016. With increased wages, low inflation and low interest rates people felt better off and spending increased and car valeting companies felt the benefit of this.
Because of the uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations, the economy slowed somewhat in 2016 and slowed further in 2017, with new car registrations dipping by 5% - 6%. New registrations dipped further in the year to February 2018. With inflation increasing, forecasts for economic growth in 2018 and 2019 lower and the cost of imported goods rising due to the fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote, consumer spending may be more restrained in the short to medium term. This is likely to mean that people will once again keep their cars for longer and cut back on non-essentials, like valeting. Any drop in new car sales is also likely to result in less demand for valeting services from dealers.
Some of the people who lost their jobs as a result of the downturn turned to the valeting trade to set up new businesses, and in some areas hand car washes seemed to spring up everywhere - often on old disused petrol station sites. In some cases, eastern European migrants set up car washing businesses when work from other sources dried up. As a result, prices have become very competitive in many areas. There is growing concern within the industry that many 'pop-up' hand car wash businesses ignore things like environmental regulations and tax rules, and organisations like the Car Wash Advisory Service campaign to raise standards within the industry and marginalise the 'cowboys'. Some estimates put the number of 'unregulated' pop-up hand car washes in the UK as high as 20,000. One of the main reasons people gave for voting to leave the EU was to curb immigration from Europe. If the terms for leaving do effectively reduce immigration, it is likely that there will be a reduction in the number of car washing businesses run by eastern European migrants. This will reduce competition, particularly unfair competition, and open up more opportunities for setting up properly regulated car washing and valeting businesses.
There should always be work for a good, reliable valeter. But it's more important than ever to offer good value and the highest possible standards to attract new and repeat business. This is particularly important if you are targeting the owners of more expensive cars. This market is often more resilient when the economy is less strong but the customers are generally more demanding.
Developments in 'SMART' repairs (small to medium area repair techniques) offer valeting firms the opportunity to expand their range of services to include minor cosmetic repairs. Minor damage such as chipped paintwork, small windscreen cracks, bumper scuffs, dashboard and upholstery damage can be repaired quickly and effectively without the need for replacement parts. Portable equipment is used, so repairs can be carried out from a van or small workshop. Tools, materials and initial training are needed, but the market for SMART repairs is growing and this can be a valuable addition to a valeting firm's range of services.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. There is no major national trade association in the UK specially for car valeters, but some valeting businesses are members of the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICS). The Institute can help to keep members informed about developments in the sector - visit their website for more information.
The Car Wash Advisory Service (CWAS) (previously known as the Car Wash Association) represents the car wash industry and focuses on forecourt carwash machines. However, their website includes industry news and other potentially useful information for valeters.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show for the motor trade. Trade exhibitions for the cleaning industry may also be helpful. You'll be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers of valeting products and equipment. The Exhibitions UK website includes details of forthcoming exhibitions.