OBITUARY: John Laithwaite, founder of JLA

22 August 2023

John Laithwaite, founder of JLA, sadly passed away on 11 March aged 79. Born on 26 June 1944, he spent his youth in Alkrington, Manchester, with parents Ada and Glen and elder sister Norma. From a young age John was ambitious, driven, adventurous and had an overwhelming desire to travel. He started his professional career in 1960s Manchester,as a bank clerk at Martin’s (which became Barclays) where he met his wife Sue, moving on to work with his father running a group of launderettes in Manchester as an engineer – which was a surprise as when he first met his wife  he couldn’t even change a plug, so it was daunting at first.

He was soon thinking about how the shops could bring in more money and decided to refurbish them. Washing machines were come by easily but dryers were hard to source so he had to import whole containers from the USA. The problem then was storage so he used his garage and all his friends’ garages too. Then, finding a market for second hand machines, he started selling them from home in the evenings. Just over the border in Yorkshire a run-down mill at a bargain price became storage for the machines and an office and in 1973 JLA – John Laithwaite Associates – was born, a business that would eventually grow to employ 370 people.

Once John had a base, he organised an auction with all of his contacts to see if they wanted to buy or sell any of their second hand machines. Buyers came from all over the UK …
It was so successful, the police had to come and sort out the traffic as Halifax Road was completely blocked. It was one of the first things that put JLA on the map.

However, it wasn’t always plain sailing. Disaster struck when a cargo ferry was reported on the news to have sunk. The container, along with the ferry, had gone down. 
This could have broken John but he thrived on challenge. Picking himself back up, John got to work, ordering more stock – only this time the machines were brand new. JLA went from strength to strength, becoming the largest distributor of laundry equipment in the UK.

In 2010, HgCapital announced that it had acquired a majority stake in JLA Limited. The deal was reportedly valued at between £150 million and £175 million. By then JLA customers included care homes, hospital trusts, hotels, housing schemes, military bases and prisons across the UK.

According to celebrant Bazz Robson who officiated at John’s remembrance: “Even though John never switched off from work – the sight of his green briefcase glued to his lap, will endure for a lifetime – he certainly knew when to let his hair down and have a laugh. He was cheeky, loved golf – creating the infamous ‘beer hole’. He loved the music of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and his hero Eddie Cochran, was also an incredibly keen lover and collector of art and sculptures … and knew a thing or two about food and wine.”

In John’s own words just a few years before his death: “I’ve had a fantastic 75 years and wouldn’t change a thing.”

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