The windscreen repair market is competitive and independents need to offer something special to compete, for example a mobile or 24 hour service. Our guide gives you the essentials for starting up and running your own windscreen business.
- Research your target market
- Establish your customer profiles
- Services offered
- Pricing your services
- Buy an existing business
Research your target market
You'll need to estimate the level of demand for windscreen services in your area and assess the amount of local competition that your business will face.
First consider whether there will be sufficient demand in your area to enable you to repair or replace enough windscreens to make your business viable. Some estimates suggest that a typical motorist needs to replace their windscreen about once every seven years. When trying to estimate potential demand, remember that you should aim to attract both private and trade customers. The number of potential private customers depends on the number of vehicles in use in your area, which will in turn depend on the size and affluence of the local population. Clearly this is likely to be higher in large towns and cities, although car ownership may be lower in inner city areas. In rural locations, there may simply be too few vehicles to generate sufficient work.
Potential trade customers include any businesses or organisations that run a fleet of vehicles. Think about any firms and organisations in your area that might be potential trade customers, for example taxi firms, car hire firms, motor dealers, garages, bus and coach companies, hauliers or the local authority. Make a note of these and combine them with your assessment of potential private customers to estimate the overall level of demand in your area.
Having thought about potential demand in your area, you need to judge the level of competition that you will face. You should be aware that the windscreen services sector in the UK is dominated by a number of large firms. These include National Windscreens, Autoglass, Auto Windscreens and Silver Shield Windscreens. As well as having lots of branches, these firms also operate a large number of mobile units. Some windscreen repairers regularly put up portable shelters in places like supermarket car parks and offer free windscreen checks and repairs as a means of drumming up insurance-funded business. Despite all this, in most areas there are also a number of small independent windscreen specialists, including some mobile-only businesses.
Windscreen services might also be offered locally by:
- windscreen repair specialists, some of which are franchises
- franchised motor dealers
- vehicle dismantlers that sell used car parts - some specialise in windscreens
- general repair workshops and garages
- local motor factors
Check out the competition in your area to identify how many of these other businesses are already offering windscreen services. You can get a good idea by having a browse on Yell.com and other similar online directories for your area. You could also do an online search for competitors as well as looking at local print directories. Look at advertisements and make a note of:
- the prices charged (you may need to telephone for a quote)
- the services offered (including repairs, 24 hour call out and so on)
You may find it helpful to visit a couple windscreen specialists to see what sort of premises they operate from. Make a note of how knowledgeable and helpful their staff are.
Use the record sheets to note down the results of your market research.
You need to make sure that enough customers will choose your business rather than existing providers of windscreen services. Your market research might indicate that there is a gap in the market that you can fill. For example, perhaps no one in your area offers additional services such as window tinting, repairs of cracks and chips or fitting aftermarket side windows into vans. Maybe there's local demand for specialist niche services like truck and lorry windscreens. Competing directly with other windscreen businesses in the area for 'bread and butter' replacement work will probably mean offering a prompt mobile service, a 24 hour emergency call out and competitive pricing.
Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues
- Sector trends for windscreen services
- Legal issues for windscreen services
- VAT rules for windscreen services
Establish your customer profiles
It's likely that your customers will include private motorists as well as trade customers like local businesses and organisations.
Your trade customers might include:
- taxi firms
- car hire firms
- bus and coach firms
- driving schools
- motor dealers
- garages and car repair workshops, particularly car bodyshops
- local authorities
- haulage companies
- any other businesses or organisations that operate a large fleet of vehicles
Many of your customers - whether they're private individuals or businesses and organisations - will be insured for glass breakage. To provide a smooth and efficient service for them, you might decide to deal directly with insurers so your insured customers don't have to pay the whole bill and claim it back. Once you've entered into a direct billing agreement with an insurer then, if you are one of their approved repairers, all a policy-holder will have to pay you is any excess due - often less than £100. You'll then bill the insurer direct for the balance. Small repairs may not even attract an excess, so you might claim the whole cost of these from insurers. If you are not an insurer's approved repairer you are likely to find that the amount the insurer will pay under the policy is limited. The policy-holder will have to pay their excess and anything over and above the maximum amount the insurer will contribute to the repair - often between £100 and £150.
Bear in mind that female motorists account for a significant percentage of your potential customers. Ask yourself whether they would be likely to feel comfortable coming into your workshop on their own. Points to consider include:
- the general appearance of your premises (reasonably clean and tidy?)
- the appropriateness of pictures and posters on walls
- the attitude taken by fitting staff and the language they use in front of customers
- whether or not there is anywhere warm, clean and comfortable to wait
- whether or not customers would feel confident that they will get straightforward and honest service
You could consider signing up to the Foxy Choice Lady Approved Garage scheme to demonstrate your female-friendly credentials.
It's not just female motorists who may be put off by a 'laddish' and untidy workshop - many other would-be customers and particularly older people will be put off too.
How will customers pay
Your private and business customers might pay you in cash, using a credit or debit card, or by cheque (business or personal) if you accept them. Sometimes they'll only be paying the excess on their insurance policy.
If you bill insurance companies direct, they might pay you by cheque or bank transfer direct to your bank account. If you do a lot of business with them on a regular basis, they might pay you for several jobs in one payment each month.
As well as replacing broken windscreens and other vehicle windows you might decide to offer additional services such as:
- repairing small cracks and chips in laminated windscreens
- refitting and re-sealing windscreens
- selling windscreen cleaning products and rain repellent treatments
- fitting accessories such as tinted or security window film, or wind deflectors
- offering a security window etching service
- installing, replacing or repairing sunroofs
- installing aftermarket side and/or rear windows in vans
- fitting replacement rear windows in convertible hoods
You could also consider offering windscreen services for a wide range of vehicles in addition to cars, for example, lorries, buses, coaches, tractors and plant, motorhomes, caravans or classic cars.
You might offer a 24 hour emergency call out service and a mobile fitting service, working on customers' vehicles at their home or workplace.
If you have trade customers, such as local motor dealers, car hire firms or bus and coach companies, you might decide to offer them a regular on-site inspection and repair service.
Think about whether you'll deal direct with insurance companies for people who are covered for glass repairs and replacement. If you can get yourself onto the approved repairer list of the major insurers it will mean you can offer a hassle-free service for insured customers.
Maybe you will decide to offer various other automotive maintenance and repair services, such as tyres, exhausts and possibly general servicing.
The right image
It is important that your business projects the right image. Large national windscreen chains are very slick and efficient operations. As an independent, you must ensure that you provide a similarly professional service. It is important that any vehicles you use are smart, well maintained and kept clean. Likewise, if your premises are open to customers, they should look the part. In order to compete most effectively, you must try to offer something extra in terms of the level of service that you provide. A friendly, polite and helpful attitude will help to create the right impression.
Ask yourself objectively if a female motorist would feel comfortable coming into your workshop on her own. Things that are probably best avoided include nude pin-ups, a grimy and uninviting outlet, bad language, and a 'blokey' culture among staff. Make sure all of your fitters understand what you expect of them in terms of conduct and professionalism. If you fail to attract female motorists then you're unnecessarily limiting the size of your potential customer base.
Advertising your business
Make sure your potential customers know about you and the range of services you offer.
There are a number of things you can do to promote your business:
- use external signs on your premises to inform and attract passing trade
- have your business name and logo painted on your vehicles
- advertise in your local newspaper and any local directories (be sure to mention all services offered, any special offers and emphasise any features that distinguish your business from the competition - for example installing tinted window film)
- launch your own website to reach a wider market - particularly important if you specialise in glass for unusual vehicles such as classic cars
- have leaflets printed, perhaps including tips about the MOT rules on windscreen damage and showing what can be repaired
- contact suitable local business to offer a 10% discount on fleet work
- contact local garages, car bodyshops and motor factors to let them know about the services you offer and your pricing structure
- offer free glass safety and pre-MOT checks
Pricing your services
When you work out your pricing policy, remember that you'll need to cover your costs, overheads and drawings.
How will you set your prices
Getting the price right is very important. You must make sure that the fees you charge are enough to cover all of your operating costs, including your own drawings. However, the windscreen services sector is very competitive and you'll have to price in line with your immediate competitors unless you're targeting a niche market that your competitors do not cater for, such as fitting tinted window film.
Bills are often itemised, with the cost of the replacement glass listed together with a separate fitting charge. The charge made to a customer for parts is usually the cost price of the parts increased by a certain amount (many windscreen businesses add around 15% or 20%).
The labour charge depends on how long it takes to do the job and the set rate per hour. Alternatively, you may decide on a set charge per job, with a fixed fee for replacing a windscreen, repairing a crack or fitting a side window.
As well as price, remember that customers will be influenced by the speed with which you are able to carry out the work. This may depend on the number and range of windscreens you hold in stock and how quickly you can get hold of other screens from your suppliers. Being without a car is very inconvenient for many people, so being able to offer a prompt service could make the difference between getting a job or not. Customers are likely to search online and in local directories before calling several windscreen specialists to compare prices and see how soon they can complete the job. Some may be prepared to pay extra for an immediate response.
You might offer a discount as a matter of course to your trade customers. How much discount will depend on your pricing policy, how much local competition there is and how much business they put your way. When it comes to pricing for insurance companies, you'll probably find that your prices will have to reflect the maximum that they're prepared to pay. Many insurers will want some input on pricing and may want to agree prices with you beforehand.
You might also decide to offer special discounts to motorists who aren't insured for glass breakage and have to meet the whole cost of the repair themselves.
Buy an existing business
You might decide to buy an existing windscreen business rather than start your own venture from scratch. Buying a going concern can mean that:
- the premises, business equipment, tools and business vehicles are already in place
- stock of automotive glass may be available
- there may be established trade customers and links with insurance companies
- the business can generate income immediately
- suppliers have been identified and relationships established with them
- the business has a track record, which can help if you are looking for finance
- there may be skilled staff already in place
However, look critically at any business that you are interested in to make sure that the price you negotiate with the seller is a fair one. Try to establish why the business is for sale - for example, is the owner keen to retire or is there another personal reason for selling up.
Your market research into the sector as a whole and the locality in particular will help you to establish whether or not the owner is selling because they can no longer generate enough income from the business. This may not necessarily deter you - many business people are confident that they can turn a failing business around. The important thing is to have established the current position so that the price you pay for the business is not too high.
Other matters to consider include:
- the state of the premises, fittings, equipment and so on. Will you have to spend money refurbishing or replacing assets
- the condition and value of any stock of windscreens and other glass that you are buying. Check this over carefully before agreeing a price. Look at how current the stock is - does it fit commonly available vehicles or is it a bit old
- is the existing owner prepared to give you some training after you take over
- existing staff rights
- how to retain key personnel once you've taken over
- does the business owe money that you will be responsible for
- if you are paying for goodwill, to what extent does this depend on the skills and personality of the seller
Ask your accountant to look critically at the business accounts for the past three years and discuss with him or her the selling price in the light of what the accounts reveal. Make sure you budget for other professional fees such as legal fees and valuation and survey costs.
Franchising can be a good 'halfway house' between starting out from scratch and buying an existing business. If you purchase a franchise you'll still be setting up your own business, but you should benefit from the experience, resources and perhaps the name of a business that is already successful. Franchises exist in the windscreen repair sector, particularly for mobile van-based repair businesses.
Although different franchise schemes vary in detail, most feature the following key points:
- as a franchise holder, you will remain self-employed but will use the identity (corporate colours, logos, trade name and so on) of the franchisor
- in return, you will pay the franchisor a fee - this might be a one-off investment, a monthly charge, or a combination of both
- both you and your franchisor will have to fulfil certain obligations and maintain certain minimum standards - for example you may have to purchase all your windscreens, glass and repair resins from your franchisor
Many franchisors will provide you with any specialist training you require, as well as giving you discounts off stock, help with advertising and marketing, and advice and support on a range of business and technical matters.
Details of the above points are set out in the franchise agreement or contract, which both you and your franchisor will sign. The agreement will also deal with other matters, for example any territorial exclusivity due to you and the minimum period for which the franchise will run.
Before entering into a franchise agreement, it is advisable to check the terms carefully to be sure that you are getting a good deal. Go through the contract with your solicitor before signing anything. More information about franchising is available on the Franchise Info website. Information is also available from the British Franchise Association (BFA).