How to start a car valeting business

If you’re passionate about cars, have strong attention to detail and excellent customer service skills, starting a car valeting business or car wash could be for you…

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Car owners, or businesses who provide company cars, are understandably keen to see them cared for, which means there's good money to be made in a well-run valet service.

Cleaning services have also quickly become one of the fastest booming industries post-Covid, thanks to a new emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene.

In fact, the safety equipment and supplies industry is estimated by a IBISWorld 2021 market trend report to grow by 78% between 2021-22.

But car valeting can also be a surprisingly difficult industry to break into thanks to the niche requirements and marketing required to build up a consumer base and reputation.

Read on to learn expert advice on how to launch a car valeting service – including likely costs, overheads and profits.

Everything you need to create a professional car valet website

There's a lot of planning that needs to go into launching a car valet service. Thankfully, one area which needn't cause undue stress is creating a website to promote your business. Thanks to modern templates like the one below, you can create one of your own in under an hour.

Car Valeting Website Template

At Startups.co.uk, we test and rate website builder tools, and we've identified Wix as one of the best you can choose for creating a business site. Wix even has a selection of custom website templates designed specifically for car valet and car wash services – you simply drop your own company information, wording and preferred imagery into your chosen template. Better still, it's completely free to try for yourself.

Startups.co.uk can help your business succeed

At Startups.co.uk, we're here to help small UK businesses to get started, grow and succeed. We have practical resources for helping new businesses get off the ground – you can use the tool below to get started today.

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What sort of person should start a car valeting service?

If you’re considering starting a car valeting business then be prepared before you commit as you’re likely to have to work long, physical hours on the weekend and on weekdays as you look to build your brand.

Chris Keir, owner of CK Detailing, a Northumberland-based detailing and valeting service for luxury cars, explains what drew him to the profession: “Since I can remember I have had a passion for cars and in particular car care and detailing. As soon as I turned 17 and got my first car I wanted to improve its appearance and basically make it stand out. I bought my first machine polisher and started learning, cleaning and detailing not only my own car but my friends and families building up quite the reputation in my local area. Over 11 years on, here I am with my own successful business doing what I love.”

Rob Tyler, managing director of iValet UK, a Cambridgeshire-based car valeting franchise, agrees: “Our business was born from a love of automotive and the freedom of being your own boss.”

Have the right skills

As well as a passion for cars, a dedication to the craft, care and tenacity it takes to do a good job is a must – consistent and high quality work is the way to get noticed.

If you don’t have any experience washing or servicing cars, you should consider working for a car valet business to get an insight into the industry and learn the necessary skills. Apprenticeships are available in this industry too.

The government’s National Careers Service also recommends having a methodical approach, a strong attention to detail and excellent customer service skills.


Look at the market for car washing or car valeting

The idea to start a car washing business in your area should also come from research.

Are your potential clients within your area? What are your competition doing and what can you do that will make you stand out? Bear in mind that custom can be impacted by economic difficulty (as customers opt to wash or valet cars themselves); many opt to cater for the luxury end of the market for more immunity.

The car valet market is a fairly crowded one – and while there are many premium, high-quality operations, there are also many offering shoddy, second-rate services, so it’s important to differentiate yourself from the competition.


Decide your business model

Deciding whether to operate a mobile car wash business (or mobile car valet business) or operate from a location will be one of the first, and most important decisions, before setting up your car wash business or car valet business. Going mobile gives you the freedom to reach a wider catchment area offers customers greater convenience, although you will have to fork out for a van and petrol or even a fleet – and your marketing spend might be higher. Rob Tyler, of iValet UK, chose to be a fully mobile eco-friendly service covering Cambridge and the surrounding areas. It arranges a time and place to come out to, be it home or work and perform as full valet service.

Operating from premises can make your business seem more credible and means you can offer a greater variety of services. However, it will also increase your start-up costs considerably as you will need to lease premises.


Find a car wash site for rent or sale

The best way to find a place for a car wash site is to get in your car and drive around. One Startups member suggests that “these sorts of operations are usually located in or near affluent suburbs on main access roads and often near either large shopping centres or smaller localised shopping centres.”

However, Tyler believes that if you decide to open a static drive through wash, you should “pick an area in the countryside with no other car wash for 10 miles or more. Country roads get very dirty in winter!”

If a site is without a for sale board, go onto the Land Registry website if you have a buildings postcode you can usually find out who owns the property. The land registry charges £1 for the service.

Things to consider:

  • Ex-petrol stations normally occupy prime locations and they are worth a lot of money either to buy or rent!
  • some sites have other services attached – or could have other services attached – like a coffee shop/cafe.
  • Think about whether you can find a car wash to let only for weekends

Choose what services you offer: car washing vs car valeting

Compared to a basic car wash, “when a car is valeted it will achieve a much more thorough finish”, Chris Keir explains. He describes his profession as a “thorough interior and external cleaning of a car which often includes polishing and waxing, which enhances the look of your car.”

Car valeting, or detailing, covers a wide range of processes and treatments for cars including cleaning, waxing, polishing and vacuuming the exterior or interior of a car, designed to get it in showroom condition.

Additional services could give you a competitive edge, but will of course add costs to your business plan.

Work out what hand car wash equipment you might need

There’s a dizzying array of equipment used in car washing and valeting, ranging from brushes and squeegees to jet washers and polishers and a host of soaps, polishes and cleaning chemicals. At the very least you will need items to cover these basic functions.

However, when you’re starting out there’s no need to splash out on expensive equipment – you can buy everything you need second-hand from online stores which can be found by a quick browse on search engines.

“There’s a huge range of products on the market for valeters and detailers” Keir explains and, when deciding which to use, you need to do your research: “Make sure you don’t just go for the biggest names, but you get the best for your budget. Some waxes and polishes will apply much easier and last much longer, which increases customer satisfaction . It’s important not to forget to cost out all the machinery as well.”

If you are mobile, you will also need to consider the cost of running a van (bear in mind when thinking about how to set up a mobile valeting van that all your equipment has to fit in it!).

Write a car wash business plan or car valeting business plan

Without a solid business plan, your car valet company will be running on empty. Taking time to craft a thorough and detailed plan is the best way to prepare yourself for the trials and tribulations of setting up a car wash business.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to write a business plan you can download our free business plan template.

A car valet business plan should take into account a wide range of factors such as start-up costs, target market, unique selling point, margins and which type of services you’re going to offer to your customers. It’s important to be as thorough as possible with your start-up costs to avoid any surprises and make sure you can properly budget – if anything it’s better to overestimate.

According to CK Detailing’s Keir, “a car valeting business plan should include not only the services you offer and prices, but a year forecast of your earnings, expenses and profit”.

You’ll also need to detail how you’re going to approach the market and secure customers (see more below in our car wash marketing section).

Also think about how easy it is to scale your business (could you add more sites or expand your reach) and how easy it is to get started?

Managing growth can be challenging for a new start-up and ensuring you maintain a steady cash flow is vital to keep your car valet business running smoothly. Think about how you might sensibly reinvest your profits to grow organically as you build your reputation locally and beyond.

Work out how much you’ll charge

A Startups member notes charging £6 for normal vehicle washing, which can go up to £20 for a big van with interiors done. By keeping a record of services (you could consider a simple CRM) you can work out what additional offerings are most popular. You could consider developing a billing scheme for regular customers. Bear in mind that you might need to consider taking card payments (take a look at our guide to the best card machines and readers). Remember that you will need to keep a record of what you earn (an spend) for the tax man.


Keir also warns that you need to think carefully about your price point to ensure you attract customers: “When I initially set up my car care company I tried to undercut the competition; this backfired for me. Don't underprice to get work; people don’t mind paying more for a better service. Don’t overcharge though; people aren’t going to use your business until you have a good reputation”.

Read up on car washing rules and regulations

All it takes is one small mistake on an expensive car such as a Bugatti Veyron and you could be paying that back for the rest of your life – insurance is an absolute must for car valet businesses.

Along with insurance for your car wash business, check out the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) website for information about recycling waste water.

In any industry it’s imperative that you take time to learn the rules and regulations you’re going to have to abide by – failure to do so could result in fines, or even serious legal proceedings.

The main regulatory issues to contend with when starting a hand car washing or valeting business are focused around your water and chemical usage.

“Just like any business there are always rules and regulations to abide by”, says CK Detailing founder Keir, “however, specifically to valeting there is a law called trade effluent that states you are not allowed to let the water you use when valeting enter the watercourse. The industry is restricted by chemical usage and drainage requirements dependent on chemical content in specific areas”.

Legislation states that any discharge into a public sewer from a commercial or industrial premises is classified as trade effluent.

It is an offence to make this discharge without the consent of your local water company. This will require you to make an application giving details of the likely flow rate, any chemicals that could be present and details of the entry point to the public sewer.

The consent will contain certain conditions that must be adhered to, though these will vary from provider to provider and depend on the nature and volume of the waste. You will have to estimate how much trade effluent your car washing business is likely to produce and give details of what chemicals you’ll be using, sample data, drainage plans for your site and details of treatment on site.

Southern Water charges an administration fee of £231 to process a trade effluent application and requires at least two months notice, so those wishing to start a car valeting company soon should make this application of primary importance. You can find out more about this legislation and who you should apply to here.

You can also find out more in a guide to commercial waste disposal.

Hire staff

This type of business requires much labour work and consumes a lot of time per car. It is often low paid (take a look at our guide to the current minimum wage), but you will still need to think about employment contracts.

Start marketing

An easy mistake for car valet business owners to make is to wait for the phone to ring. Don't expect to win an entire audience just by using a website and some social media adverts. Being active in the community, even by knocking on neighbours' doors, can be crucial to help you build a reputation.

In particular if operating a mobile car wash, think about how to establish regular customers. Some successful mobile car valeting people service business parks as a strategy. Indeed working with rental, courier or taxi firms could be the type of businesses requiring ongoing valets.

Car wash businesses with premises are usually very popular on weekends and public holidays. Can you encourage customers to use your services during the week by offering something like breakfast/lunch?

Even in an increasingly digital world, it’s important not forget the importance of old fashioned marketing methods such as drop-door marketing, when growing your company, especially when you work in a customer-facing role that relies largely on local trade.

Being a recognisable face for your business gives it a human side and can give you the edge over local competition.

Don't forget to think about potential car valeting names when you start – and what branding or van signwriting you might need.

Keir adds that the best way to earn more from car valeting is simply to do a good job: “The car care industry relies heavily on word of mouth. If you’re the best and people know about you, they will be willing to pay that bit more”.

How much does it cost to start a car valeting business or car wash business?

“Setting up a valeting business can cost as little or as much as you like”, asserts CK Detailing owner Keir. “You will have to spend a few hundred on equipment and, if you plan to start a mobile car valeting business, on a van. You will also want insurance to carry out valeting. If you plan on having a unit to work from then your costs will be greatly increased.”

As you grow your business – and perhaps take on staff to help you – you can upgrade and expand the range of equipment that you use. Search around online for the best value and ask others in the industry for their recommendations.

iValet UK’s Tyler says that “costs can be anything from a very basic, simple setup for £2,000 working from the back of a car, to £15,000 or more to become part of a larger company as a franchisee – the advantages of course to the franchise are becoming part of an already established business with a proven plan and record”.

At this point you may feel ready to start valeting cars and earning some money for your hard work – but how much money is your car valeting operation likely to make you? Read on…

How much can you earn running a car valeting business?

The government’s National Careers Service estimates the starter salary for a car valet at around £14,000, rising to £16,500 for a more experienced professional.

There are many variables that could impact the profitability of your car valeting business, ranging from local demand to the type of vehicles you choose to work with and your approach to marketing your business.

CK Detailing’s Keir says that the money you make depends largely “on your location” and “the level of care you carry out”, but suggests that a standard valet “can expect to earn about £25 to £35 for” for around one to two hours work.

If you plan to enter the luxury car detailing market – which CK Detailing operates in – and carry out premium car details “you can earn from a few hundred to the thousand pound mark per detail”.

You should always be motivated to carry out work to the best of your abilities and to the best industry standards. This also goes for any employees you take on: provide ongoing training to teach them best practice and ensure your car valeting business is associated with a quality service.

“Profits depend on the type of car valeting business”, explains iValet UK’s Tyler, “but an individual service provider can expect to profit around £8,000 trading first year from start-up or around £25,000 first year with a franchise”.

Financing your car valet business

It may be that you are starting a business with money you've saved. However, in many cases people will need to raise extra capital to get started. If this is case, there are fortunately a number of options available:

Startup loans – the Startup Loan company is a government backed scheme where you can borrow up to £25,000 with a fixed interest rate of 6% p.a.

Business loans – business loans are similar to a startup loan, except that they are not just for new businesses and don’t have the same caps. Our online tool has been designed to locate and compare the top providers in your area, to give you a bespoke recommendation of the best deals available.

You should also consider how you will track your finances. It's best practice to make use a business bank account to separate your personal and business expenses and income – find out which business bank account is best for you now.


Managing your finances

Financing your business in the first place is vital, but so is managing your money once you're up and running. Managing your accounts takes time and effort, and fortunately, the right software can help with both.

Whether you're self-employed and working alone, or you have started your car valeting business with partners, accounting software is a great way to simplify the process involved with tracking your money.

Accounting software is designed to simplify everything from tracking invoices to managing expenses and we recommend it to any new business owners to help get them started. Take a look below for our top three recommendations for accounting software.

Remember:

To succeed in car valeting, a passion for cars is a must, as well as an eye for detail excellent customer service skills

The industry relies heavily on word of mouth – carry out consistently high quality work to build your reputation

A priority before you start your business: Contact your local water company about trade effluent and what this will mean for your business

Get the best tools for your budget, not the most expensive or the cheapest on offer – Don't dismiss looking at second hand car valet equipment for sale, or even for rent.

You'll need to be active to get the word out about your business, use leafleting and drop door marketing to raise your profile in the local area.

Useful contacts

Startups.co.uk can help your business succeed

At Startups.co.uk, we're here to help small UK businesses to get started, grow and succeed. We have helpful resources for helping new businesses get off the ground – you can use the tool below to get started today.

What Does Your Business Need Help With?
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