Pro-detailing business Cambridge Concours heading for FuelFest with Fast and Furious stars Cody Walker and Tyrese Gibson
When it comes to business, Simon Walters has been on as exhilarating a journey as many of his clients have in the beautiful cars he helps to keep looking their best.
Having started out valeting council minibuses and turning up in all weathers to customers' homes to make their vehicles sparkle, he has now worked on cars worth millions of pounds belonging to the rich and famous from across the globe with his company Cambridge Concours, offering products and services such as paint protection, paint detailing and leather repairs and restoration.
Founder and director Walters has no intention of slowing down as plans are in the pipeline to expand the Elsenham-based business – and he is heading to Chelmsford this Sunday (August 11) for FuelFest UK, a new exhibition featuring Fast and Furious film stars Cody Walker and Tyrese Gibson.
Walters, who lives in Henham with wife Gemma and seven-year-old son Harry, was working for the NTL Group, training members of the customer service team, when they were given advance warning the Cambridge office was going to close.
So the chance to change direction presented itself and he went on to start the predominantly-mobile Cambridge Valet Centre in 2004.
"I'd always been into cars, but since I first passed my test I'd never had the money to get a nice car," said Walters, 39. "I got very good at making crap cars look really good out of necessity.
"When I stopped working for NTL I already had a plan. I knew a guy that was doing mobile valeting and detailing, and he'd said to me in the pub one day, 'I've done this as a career for 15 years and it baffles me how you get the level you do without any training', and he said to maybe consider it as a career.
"I went to Autoglym, did a course, bought the gear, sold my car and took a bit of redundancy money I had, bought a van and got started."
After printing out a list of services he could provide and going round businesses in Harlow and Cambridge to get work, Walters did more training and got more certifications before employing a few people and getting more vans on the road.
"People started to go, 'Where can I get my wheels done? Do you know where a dent guy is? Do you know anyone that does leather?' We started getting these things done for people and then I thought we could be doing it."
As the business, which still has the mobile arm, moved more towards the top end of the market and developed its own range of products, Walters decided to change the name to Cambridge Concours.
He moved into his first owned premises in Cambridge in 2010. Moves to two other locations in the city were followed by a switch to Takeley, before finding the ideal location on the Golds Nurseries Business Park in Elsenham just over 18 months ago.
He has a wide range of industry certifications and accreditations from the likes of Gtechniq, Gyeon, XPEL, IMI and FENICE as well as, most prestigiously, being a member of The Guild of Leather Craftsmen.
Detailing technician Richard Davies, 31, from Stansted, has been with the firm for four-and-a-half years and is the only other full-time member of staff.
Walters would like another pair of hands as he prepares to expand into the neighbouring unit, but he has yet to find the right candidate. However, around 20 people are involved in the business due to a long list of contractors.
"The leather work seems to be what's made us stand out from everyone else," said Walters. "I don't think anyone up until we'd done it had incorporated leather in such a big way – no-one had done leather and detailing together.
"We've worked on many millions of pounds worth of cars for various royalty, celebrities, music-related people, DJs, artists for example.
"It definitely tends to have a follow-on effect when you do something like that as someone tells someone else who tells someone else. It's opened up a lot of doors and then the more we push to excel in the next thing. We're always trying to achieve even bigger things."
Walters has certainly achieved great success with his business over the last 15 years, making all of the hard graft worth it.
And he is regularly in demand when it comes to passing on his expertise to companies all over the world.
"When we first started we used to do minibuses for the local council, and we'd go out and do mobile washes at £10 a car," said Walters.
"Quite regularly I'd be out until 9pm in the summer making the most of the sunshine, and I would never ever stop working even for snow. I would turn up and blast hot water to get the snow off the car or scrape it off with my hands before valeting it and leaving it in showroom condition surrounded by a wet area and loads of snow!
"We had no choice. You couldn't not work because the margins weren't huge. You either worked and grafted or you didn't make any money.
"Now it's very different. We regularly work on Bentleys, Porsches, classic Rolls Royces, Aston Martins.
"I had a Ferrari specialist in Dubai ask if I'd fly over there and train their technicians.
"We've also had interest in the last two years for training from companies in Israel and Saudi Arabia, and we had a company from France come over in February that we taught how to do leather restoration."
FuelFest this weekend has been organised by Cody Walker, whose brother Paul died in an off-set car crash in 2013 during filming for Fast and Furious 7.
Walters' wife Gemma works in the gaming industry and she met Cody at the E3 exhibition in Los Angeles. FuelFest coming to the UK was mentioned in the discussions and she put them in touch.
Taking part in, and helping to promote, the exhibition, which will raise funds for Paul Walker's charity Reach Out WorldWide, is just the latest part of what is certain to continue to be a thrilling ride for Cambridge Concours.
"He [Cody] emailed me saying he'd met my wife and she'd told him all about me. I said we'd come and exhibit at FuelFest and mention it to my contacts in the media to try to generate a bit of a buzz," said Walters.
"It went from there and it's really exciting to see what's going to happen. It's a new show here, but the success they've had in America looks good and it will be nice to meet the guys.
"Regardless of what people do and what industry they're in, everyone's a human being.
"You see that when they come into here because they just want to talk to us about what we can do. It's nice and you get to meet some really interesting people."
* FuelFest is at The Warren Estate in Chelmsford this Sunday (August 11). Visit fuelfest.com for more information.
* To find out more about Cambridge Concours, visit www.cambridgeconcours.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07920 522005.