Well, the big day has finally arrived: happy birthday Canada! As we all know, this Canada Day is a special one, as we celebrate 150 years together. While our shared history dates back much further, July 1st,1867 remains an important milestone: the day we became one nation. As we celebrate this latest anniversary, many of us will think back to Canada Days past (perhaps, even remembering a Dominion Day or two). For the folks, here at Stannah, this year is doubly special as the company celebrates a red-letter day of its own. By now, you might have heard that the Stannah family business was founded in London by Joseph Stannah in 1867. However, few people know the interesting story of just how Stannah has grown and changed in the 150 years since its inception. Join us as we take a look back and celebrate 150 years together!
Joseph Stannah was the son of English linen merchant Samuel Stannah and spent his youth in the western part of the country. An accomplished engineer, Joseph started the Stannah business in Southwark, London, providing cranes and hoists to unload cargo from the docks. He turned his hand to numerous projects and accumulated a raft of patents throughout his career. Among his designs for cranes and hoists are drawings for stuffing boxes for locomotives, pendulum pumps and there is even a tantalizing reference to him having designed a car (although we can find no firm confirmation of that). We also have a few references to the business actually starting as early as 1828, but again, unfortunately there is currently no concrete evidence to support that. However, we do know for certain that Joseph knew a thing or two about creating a public profile and was a regular contributor to the publication, ‘The Engineer’, writing letters and publishing information about his patent devices.
The Second Generation
Joseph’s son, Albert, took over the business around the turn of the 20th century, by which time the business had started to diversify into passenger and goods lifts. Even working on some early car lifts. Joseph and Albert continued marketing their products and they placed numerous adverts in building catalogues in the pre-war period.
Rebuilding a Business
Next in line was Leslie Stannah, better known as “Pop”. Born in 1901 to Albert Stannah and his wife Edith, Pop was a genuine character. Known for his discipline on the one hand, he was, nevertheless, a man of real concern and kindness when it came to his staff. It was Pop who essentially rebuilt the Stannah business from scratch after the devastation of the Second World War.
As a young man, Pop was an avid motorcycle enthusiast. Retained as a competitive rider by the iconic British motorcycle firm Ariel, he won many events while riding for them. Pop didn’t join the family business immediately after finishing his education, but went to work for other lift companies to gain experience. In fact, he still hadn’t entered the family firm by the time the war broke out in 1939. Instead, he enlisted in the Royal Navy. After a commendable tour of service, Pop returned to London and to the ruins of the Stannah factory, which had been hit by a bomb. By this time, his father AJ was 77 years old and the business had ceased trading. With his demob suit, £300 and a bombsite where once a factory had stood, Leslie Stannah set out to rebuild the business. With incredible determination, Pop started small and grew the business, manufacturing as many components as possible for his lifts. By the 1950s, the business was on firm foundations and Pop’s sons, Brian and Alan, were taking up apprenticeships in the industry ready for their ultimate entry into the business. Pop retired from the business in the 1960s and died at the age of 77 in 1979.
A Second Regeneration
Those firm business foundations were starting to show cracks when Brian Stannah joined the business in 1958 and, by 1961, the bailiffs were making visits to the factory. With some real determination, Brian set about restructuring the business by forming a base around steadier income from service contracts, providing a cushion for the more volatile supply and fit business.
While Brian managed business affairs, Alan Stannah oversaw all things engineering. Alan recognized that, in order to thrive, the business had to streamline production and look at standardizing products. This would cut costs, allow for the outsourcing of certain components and offer shorter lead times while still allowing for custom production where required. Alan’s work resulted in the launch of the Maxilift in the 1960s, introducing a product line that has been central to the success of the Lifts business.
By the early 70s, the business had diversified and was also selling a number of domestic homelifts at the time but unfortunately the product wasn’t suitable for many homes. Brian, however, was still receiving enquiries from home owners looking for a solution to getting upstairs. He was determined to find a way to give his customers what they wanted and to survive the recession, so off he went to Holland to visit a stairlift company called Jan Harmer, with the intention of learning more about their product. Brian ended up coming away with more than he had planned, when he purchased the company’s designs.
Upon his return, Brian and brother Alan together produced prototypes of their first Stannah stairlift. From their London base, the two brothers and a few colleagues began to manufacture stairlifts in early 1975 and, by December, had sold 66 units. Production was difficult and in the early days it seemed that they were having to take stairlifts out for repair as quickly as they put them in. However, Brian and Alan persevered, improving product design and fabrication techniques to deliver a more reliable product. Stairlift production quickly moved to Andover, where Brian and Alan were already building a new factory to house their expanding lift business and where it has flourished over the last 40 years. Today, Stannah has manufactured well over 600,000 stairlifts, with installations in over 40 countries, and more than 30 distributors and 9 wholly-owned subsidiaries worldwide.
Five Generations On
These days, the worldwide business sells passenger, platform and microlifts, escalators, moving walkways and stairlifts, along with providing maintenance and repair services for all makes and models of lifts and stairlifts. Brian and Alan are still very much involved in the business as co-chairmen, but in the late 1980s they handed over the reins of the day-to-day operation to the next generation. Today, five members of the fifth generation – Jon, Patrick, Nick, Alastair and Helen – are active in running the business, maintaining the family traditions and ethos. Through many ups and downs, and despite the challenges of the last century, Stannah continues to function as a proud family business, focused on quality manufacturing and personal service.
Canada: A New Frontier
So, after 150 years in business and decades of serving Canada through a network of distributers, Stannah has finally opened a direct business in the GTA. From our early days in the London dockyards to our new home in Markham, it has been quite a journey! We’re proud to share this important anniversary with the country we now call home. Nick Stannah, managing director for worldwide operations, put it best during Stannah Canada’s grand opening, “Following Stannah’s accreditation with the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists last year, it was only natural that our next step would be to open our first office in Canada,” Mr. Stannah told the crowd. “So, we are really proud to be opening our office in Markham in 2017, and so excited about the opportunity to directly serve our customers in the GTA for years to come.” So, as you take part in some of the exciting events hosted around the country this weekend, keep in mind that we’re now just right around the corner and here to help. We’re proud to be 150 together and wish you a very happy Canada Day from our family to yours!