Ellesmere's JA Milton continues to thrive and will never forget founder Joan's incredible impact
A picture of Joan Milton takes pride of place on Dave Elsley's desk.
It acts as an important reminder of JA Milton's heritage – a reflection of the past – while providing inspiration for the business moving forward.
Joan, who sadly died to cancer in 2017, was the driving force behind JA Milton, established in 1989 as a furniture restorer which has since become a specialist in upholstery supplies.
A growing company, which particularly took off during the pandemic as people were locked down in their homes, the Shropshire business sells thousands of quality upholstery tools and materials, designed to help people succeed with their upholstery or soft furnishing projects
And it all came from the work of inspirational Joan, who moved to Shropshire from Kent in the late 1980s, with her young daughter.
Looking to earn an income, she created Whixall Wood Furniture and bought second-hand furniture from auctions, taking it home, repairing and improving it before returning it to the auction to resell it.
She became involved in teaching upholstery at two Shropshire colleges in 1988 and discovered how difficult it was for DIY folk or small businesses to obtain tools or materials.
The result was J.A. Milton Upholstery Supplies Catalogue and online shop.
A professional upholsterer and teacher for 25 years, Joan's business soon garnered a positive reputation and she was very active in the industry, both as a director and as the past president of the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishings, of which she was a fellow.
Sadly, she fell ill in 2013 and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned to work in 2015 but died two years later.
Her legacy though lives on and it is the foundations she built and the passion which she put into the business that inspires current owner Dave Elsley to grow the company in the years to come.
"When Joan passed away, her husband (also called Dave), who had been a silent partner in the business kept it going," said Dave, who had worked alongside both in a managerial role. "Dave knew how passionate Joan was about her staff and the business and the standards she set.
"But he decided he wanted to retire to Portugal and put the business up for sale and I decided to buy it in November 2021."
The company had been faced with the global pandemic, of course, but saw a surge in business.
"Things went crazy at that point," Dave recalls. "Everyone was at home so people turned to DIY projects such as upholstery and we saw a big increase in business for this time.
"The first year after the lockdowns was tough as e-commerce suffered a bit when things got back to normal after a good couple of years for us.
"But we have worked hard at it and the aim is to keep pushing on for the future. A lot of the old staff are still here from the days when Joan was here and there are five of us now.
"We are feeling positive about the future. We have had a good start to 2023 and have lots of ideas on how to get more orders, and grow the business moving forward."
And that ambition will be driven by a desire to succeed in Joan's name.
The company's mission is to establish the JAM brand as a profitable, sustainable, efficient, renowned name in the UK and internationally, with a reputation for excellent friendly and efficient customer service.
The company philosophy is to treat customers, suppliers, employees and service providers with respect and integrity they all deserve.
"JA Milton has been going for 34 years now," Dave adds. "Joan was a really good boss and someone who was so passionate about her team.
"I keep a picture of Joan on my desk to inspire me and it's that legacy which we want to continue for the next ten years and beyond."