(last updated July 2019)
The level of demand for windscreen services is closely linked to the number of cars and other vehicles on the road. According to government figures there are now around 38.0 million vehicles in the UK, 31 million or so of which are cars. With so many vehicles being used there is a large and steady demand for repair or replacement of broken glass.
Windscreens and other vehicle glass may suffer damage through accidents, loose stones/chippings, vandalism or attempted theft. Vehicle crime, particularly theft of, or from cars, is one of the major causes of broken vehicle glass. Although vehicle crime has fallen since its peak in the 1990s, it started to rise again in 2014 and has increased significantly in every year since then up until 2017. Many of the incidents result in broken side windows, which are smashed to gain entry to the car or to snatch valuables.
Recent years have seen cash-strapped local authorities spending less on patching and maintaining roads, leading to more bumps and pot-holes. A couple of colder than normal winters haven't helped matters. Potholes are often blamed for causing cracks in windscreens as unsuspecting motorists bump over them at high speed.
Some years ago many young and new drivers - and others who were looking to save money - only had third party insurance cover for their vehicles. This meant they often weren't covered for glass repair and replacement. However, the insurance market has changed and now the majority of motorists have comprehensive cover, meaning that glass repairs are more likely to be paid for at least in part by insurers.
The windscreen of a modern car forms an important part of its structure, adding to the overall strength of the vehicle. Most windscreens these days are bonded in place - older vehicles use a rubber sealing strip to hold the glass in place. If the windscreen is not bonded properly, water may be able to get in, the car may be less rigid and the function of the airbags in an accident may be affected. So the correct fitting of a windscreen is more vital than ever before.
Car designers are specifying ever larger and more elaborate shapes and designs for automotive glass too, pushing up prices for the average replacement job. Some windscreens have heating elements, embedded antennas, rain sensors, and/or special coatings.
All but the oldest cars on the road use laminated windscreens, which may suffer minor damage such as stone chips and cracks without breaking. The MOT test includes rules about the acceptable size of any chips or cracks. In recent years, techniques have been developed to repair windscreens and other laminated glass that has suffered minor damage. Repairing a windscreen is nearly always cheaper than replacing it and so this has proved to be a popular service. Windscreen repair is a growth area and any new windscreen services business would benefit from being able to offer this service.
Another service that has grown in popularity in recent years is fitting special film to the inside of car windows. Some businesses concentrate on this service alone, but increasing numbers of windscreen specialists also offer to fit window film. There are two main types of window film - tinted film and security film (some films do both). Tinted film is used to increase privacy or enhance the looks of a vehicle. Security film strengthens the window and holds together pieces of broken glass if the window is smashed, making it far harder to break into the vehicle. Although quite different from windscreen repair or replacement services, fitting window film has become an important source of additional work for many specialists.
There are several large chains of windscreen specialists with branches across the country and fleets of mobile fitters. These generally offer reasonable rates, a 24 hour emergency call out service and increasingly offer windscreen repairs as well as replacement. So your new business is likely to face considerable competition. Think about whether:
- you will need to expand the range of services you offer in order to make your business viable - for example by offering repairs, a 24 hour emergency call out service, or by working on customers' cars at the home or workplace
- you will specialise in some way - for example by supplying glass for classic cars, buses and coaches, lorries and tractors or by supplying and fitting window film
Keeping up to date with developments
Trade associations can help you to keep up to date with what is happening in the windscreen services sector as well as offering other benefits including advice, information and training. In March 2017 the National Body Repair Association (NBRA) was formed under the umbrella of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI), bringing together the National Association of Bodyshops and the repairer members of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association. The NBRA operates a quality assurance scheme for members and the Service and Maintenance Consumer Code of Practice. Visit the NBRA website for further information.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of keeping up to date with developments. Aftermarket magazine, for example, includes regular coverage of current industry issues.
You'll be able to get lots of useful information at a trade show. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers of automotive glass, bonding materials, tools and film and plan your future stock buying. Information about forthcoming trade shows is available on the Exhibitions UK website.