Dealers view valeting as an increasingly important service for customers hit by high servicing and repair bills. But the sector is struggling because of cut-throat competition among a large number of professional providers.
The decision by motor retailers to keep valeting in-house or to outsource the job is not an easy one, and it depends on far more than a price comparison of tasks that need to be performed.
And valeting has a couple of tricky factors. It involves the potentially dangerous mixture of water containing chemicals and tools powered by electricity.
The whole point of valeting is that it needs to be done well. Professionals say the expectations of retail car owners and business drivers keeps rising.
That’s probably why the trend is towards outsourcing vehicle cleaning, now estimated to account for half the work. Soon, valeting companies could be taking significantly more as dealers and others seek to take the cost off their head counts and remove staffing and health and safety responsibilities.
Big companies such as Autoclenz dominate the sector and provide a valeting service for car manufacturers, auction companies, fleet operators and others in addition to retailers. But there is room for smaller operators too.
Forward Valeting Services, a private firm founded 20 years ago, has a turnover topping £10 million and rising and holds 200 accounts. Keith Churchill, commercial director, reckons Forward is the UK’s fifth biggest automotive valeting business. Its clients include Lookers, Pendragon and Sytner, and Renault UK (all also use other contractors).
People with premium brand cars pay high rates for aftersales labour. It’s a distress payment and a good valeting job is a happy experience. But drivers of premium brands expect a high level of valeting on the inside and outside of their cars.
“As the recession hit the sector in 2008 we were the only valeting company not to make people redundant. We realised the bad times would not be forever. We took a massive drop in margins, but we’re now starting to get them back. We lost some business because we would not reduce prices as much as people wanted,” Churchill said.
Many valeting professionals are self-employed and that suits highly-motivated people because pay is based on the number of vehicles cleaned. The tricky part is finding fast workers who do the job properly.
Churchill said frequent checks by area managers are essential.
“It’s no good rushing in and out asking ‘is everything alright? The only way is to check the work because valeters are not that well paid and they make money by doing a lot of work well,” he said.
Sycamore BMW of Peterborough, has eight full-time valeters and is typical of a dealership committed to running its own operation. The operation was set up 15 years ago and now has four wet and six dry bays, with the team trained by Autoglym and using its products. Valeting is part of BMW’s annual quality audit of the dealership.
Dave Peacock, Sycamore’s valet supervisor, said customers notice a top-quality job.
“We’re integral to the customer experience and know that from the feedback the dealership gets – people expect a thorough, top-quality valet. Customers want to drive the car away feeling like it’s been very well cared for.”
Sycamore’s team works on customer cars in for servicing, sales demo cars, used cars on the forecourt or that have been sold and on new cars prior to delivery to customers. On a typical day the team does 10 full valets and 60 service washes.
Paul Caller, chief executive of Autoglym, said dealerships putting customer care, reputation, value for money and service first were those probably more likely to have an in-house team. “For them, having ultimate control over the work carried out is more important than the price for the job,” he said.
“We are seeing a trend of dealerships going with contracted valeters, primarily for cost reasons, but a large proportion regret this decision and revert to employing in-house teams.”
Caller said that though there were reputable contract valeting service providers, many firms used sub-standard products and poorly trained staff. At one dealership hundreds of pounds of rework was needed on a car when a contracted valeter scratched the paintwork, he said.
“Preparation of cars forms a small part of the costs set against the profit opportunity, but conversely has one of the largest impacts on customer perceptions,” said Caller. “It is a false economy to make savings with valeting.”
Darren Rendall, business development manager at Falcon Car Care, agrees, but does so as a valeting provider. “If you pay the right money, you get the right valeting job done,” he said.
Rendall is critical of providers who agree a rate with dealer groups and then take back a percentage of self-employed valeters’ income: “Too many shortcuts are taken, such as failing to remove wheel trims. This attitude of shaving off time and money is killing the trade,” said Rendall.
Rendall said it was essential to take care when recruiting valeters because the sector was attracting migrants whose attitude to the work varied hugely.
Those from some countries were almost always hard-working, while people from other countries were sometimes caught taking small change from customers’ cars at dealerships.
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