Upwardly mobile with Autosheen!

By targeting owners of prestige vehicles, Autosheen franchise owner Chris Hughes says he has made his business recession-resilient and is continuing to grow his turnover

Since joining established mobile valeting franchise Autosheen Professional Car Cleaning over two years ago, former mobile phone salesman Chris Hughes says he's learned a lot. Now a married man with a thriving business to his credit, Chris has found that both flexibility and forward planning are effective antidotes to recession.

Having wanted his own business since leaving school, after five years gaining work experience and earning sufficient money to invest he decided the time was right to start making money for himself. 'I had a friend who worked as a valeter for a local garage, but there didn't seem to be a mobile valeting service in my area, so that started me thinking,' Chris recalls.

However, he realised that not only would he have to source and invest in specialised kit and professional products, as well as a van, but also he hadn't a clue how to valet cars to a high professional standard. 'There were so many other issues too, such as pricing structure, marketing and advertising,' he says. 'I reached the conclusion that my best chance of success was to invest in a franchise with a comprehensive package and a proven track record. I looked at several alternatives, but ultimately Autosheen emerged as the clear winner.'

Chris likes the professional image and was reassured by the link with sister franchise ChipsAway International, one of the UK's best known names both in franchising and in the automotive services sector. Once launched, Chris's business quickly took off. Initially most of his work came from private customers, but Chris was keen to develop some larger business accounts and turned to the Autosheen Franchise Support Team for help. 'The guys from head office were fantastic,' he says. 'General Manager Adrian Steihl came out on my territory with me for a day and together we visited industrial estates and business parks in the nearby town. It's incredible - once you start to work for one company in an environment like that, you quickly have other companies asking you to valet their cars too!'

Chris's customer base now ranges from Shrewsbury Town Football Club to the local butchers, as well as a large number of private individuals who use him on a regular basis, whether weekly, monthly or quarterly. Although some of his colleagues in the network valet larger fleets, Chris finds that he makes more from valeting fewer cars at premium prices. He smiles as he remembers a recent episode of the BBC's The Apprentice which required candidates to make money from valeting cars. 'It sounds easy enough, but you have to make sure that you're making sufficient profit margin,' he says. 'I provide top quality valets and accordingly my customers are prepared to pay top dollar. It's not about volume or quick wins, but building regular, high value contracts.'

Although word of mouth recommendation increasingly generates new business for Chris, he is convinced that continued marketing is key to keeping work flowing in. He regularly leaflets local businesses and calls in to follow up. 'Business people - in fact any owners of prestige vehicles - are reassured by the professional format of Autosheen,' he explains. 'No doubt the 'man and a bucket' operators are suffering, they depend on ad hoc work at low prices, but by targeting professional people, who value having their cars well maintained and can afford to do so, my business becomes relatively resilient to recession.

'It's building all the time, regardless of the current challenging economic climate. Without any doubt my Autosheen franchise will earn me substantially more than before, I'm quicker and more efficient now and with the prospect of a long hot summer ahead, life is looking pretty good!'

Reported by Megan Dunmore