Stannah Celebrates 150 Years

Stannah’s head office in Andover, U.K.

The history of the British company, best known for its stairlifts, stretches across five generations and through two world wars.

Stannah was founded five generations ago by Joseph Stannah in the London docks in 1867. Its name was made building hoists and cranes for the dockyards and creative problem solving. Of its monumental anniversary, the company states:

“Our 150th year is not just an opportunity to look back at what we have achieved, but an opportunity to look forward and be clear about our determination to thrive for the next 150 years. We won’t be changing our core values, but we will be doing even more to foster innovation and continuous improvement within the business, to explore new markets and to continue to build our brand in both the commercial and domestic spheres as the lift company to rely on.”

As revealed in an interview of Stannah Group Managing Director Jon Stannah by Elevation Editor Ish Buckingham,[1] Joseph’s son Albert (great-grandfather of Jon) joined the company and led it into the 20th century amid increasing industry competition. Albert’s son Leslie then became involved in the business, and both men served in the world wars, with Leslie becoming a lieutenant commander before returning to London to find his factory had been bombed. He rebuilt it from scratch in 1945, and, with the U.K. government’s help, manufactured Stannah’s first passenger lifts, exporting some as far as Palestine and Ceylon.

Brian and Alan, sons of the next generation, joined Leslie and approximately 40 others in London in the 1950s, making bespoke lifts for all sorts of applications and providing maintenance services. Brian restructured the business early in the next decade and formed a base around the more regular income from service contracts, providing a cushion for the more volatile supply-and-fit business. Solving problems with their personal and dedicated workforce’s engineering skills helped the brothers keep the business growing, as it expanded through the 1960s. The politics of the 1970s brought about tough times with miners’ strikes, recession, fuel shortages and three-day workweeks. During this time, Brian, Jon’s father, purchased Holland-based Jan Harmer’s stairlift designs, which proved very successful. By 1975, Stannah had moved out of London and set up a site in Andover, where its head office remains.

As the company concentrated on stairlift development, the brothers partnered to become sole U.K. distributors of Italian-manufactured dumbwaiter service lifts, forming the Stannah Microlifts division. Then, it moved the manufacture of passenger lifts to Andover. Later in the 1970s, Stannah opened its first dedicated service branch in Eastbourne. In the 1980s, it added larger goods lifts to its product range, developed its passenger lift range and opened more service branches. It began development of platform lifts in the 1990s, and escalators and moving walks were added in the following decade. In more recent years, the company won the national contract for U.K. Network Rail lift maintenance.

Jon explained that Stannah currently employs 1,700 people. Approximately 700 are in Andover, with more than 360 lift engineers in the U.K. He notes engineering is probably Stannah’s greatest area of recruitment difficulty, so it is keen on offering engineering apprenticeships in all 11 of its service regions in the U.K., averaging 30 apprentices each year. He is also proud to have many senior managers who began as apprentices, with many more “who have worked for us, moved on and then returned with valuable industry experience. We work on maintaining a family feel to our business,” he explained.

As it celebrates its anniversary, Stannah’s major projects team is working on several U.K. infrastructure projects. This work continues to grow, with installations at London Bridge Station, London Luton Airport, Waterloo Station and Winchester Cathedral happening this year. In addition to putting more technology into its stairlifts, Stannah is introducing a range of residential lifts and starting to maintain loading systems. Its maintenance portfolio currently stands at 91,000 products nationwide, supported with a call center open 24/7 with access to its engineers.

Jon said Stannah is “very proud to be a British independent company” and plans to remain independent. He hopes its success in manufacturing more than 600,000 lifts over its existence “will inspire other entrepreneurs to invest in Britain,” continuing:

“We have survived world wars, bombings, numerous recessions and financial crises. We import, export and trade worldwide. Business is challenging, but I can honestly say that our amazing people’s dedication and excitement in the business makes it all worthwhile. . . . There are currently five family members of my Stannah generation managing the business, and, between us, we have 18 children. This family business will continue to be proud of its heritage and excited about its future.”

[1] Buckingham, Ish. “Stannah Celebrates 150 Years of Proud Industrial Heritage,” Elevation, May 2017.
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