Business continues to be a family affair at A & E Auto and Pleasure Craft Upholstery in Melbourne, founded by the late Lou Hays, father of current owner Don Hays, now 66.
While comfortable in the shop they built and expanded, A & E had humble beginnings just south on U.S. 1. “A man named Ed Taylor owned this and I worked for him when I was 17,” Don Hays recalled. “It was a little building, probably 12 by 20. I bought that and opened it up with my dad. Every day I worked outside in the sun. If I put on a convertible top it was in the back of a 100-degree car. There was no shade at all, so to get into a place that was comfortable was nice,” he said.
But the new location didn’t come about without even more hard work, he said. “My dad and I built this building in 1972. We dug all the foundation, poured the cement, laid every block, installed all the garage doors. We did everything,” he said.
“Continued success,” he observed, “is a result of a good reputation and by diversifying;” for them, it was into the boat canvas business. After being strictly in the auto upholstery business, in 1980 Hays put in the canvas portion of the shop which now represents about a third of overall business. “When boating was at its peak in the 90s, the awning and boat business was probably doing 50 percent of our business. People are still fixing boats because they’re not buying them new. We’re also staying busy with canvas awnings for homes, but most of our business is custom cars, replacement seat covers, carpet and headliners. We do a lot of classic cars,” he said.
And the business should remain family-run into the future, he said. His brother, Steve Hays, works in the office and his son, Donnie, is expected to one day take the reins of the overall operation. “It’s been family completely. Eventually my son is going to take it over. There’s no other upholstery shop in Brevard County with the original owner. It‘s done well for us,” Don Hays said proudly.