As Panus Assembly celebrates 50 years of operation this year, it can toast to the fact it has never been in a more auspicious position.
Rewind three years, and like so many companies around the world, Panus experienced unprecedented turmoil. Despite being a revered trailer manufacturer, its whole business model was thrown into question.
Being a second-generation, family-operated business based in Thailand, building personal relationships with potential suppliers and clients face-to-face was considered critical to its continued market leading success.
Sales reps always had their travel bags packed and passports handy, as they regularly traversed the globe looking to secure new partnerships. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and with flights being grounded the company’s key prospecting strategy was no longer an option.
With Panus needing to find a way to surge forward during the pandemic, they reached out to Nicholas Ling, a leader and strategist proven in business transformation and growth expansion.
The Malaysian national, who was educated in Australia, set about digitizing Panus’s marketing strategy as Managing Director. His new approach was to network and source leads through online platforms like LinkedIn and other industry platforms.
“With the lockdown, a lot of prospective avenues were not available, such as exhibitions, trade shows and the like. So with my entry to the group, one of the key initiatives was utilizing digital marketing,” Ling explains to The CEO Magazine. “Networking through digital platforms allowed me to break through the clutter and also to specifically target countries where I’ve since ventured into.”
He then focused on what he deemed to be the company’s major weakness.
“[The company] had not been very strong in the international arena,” Ling continues. “It presented a great opportunity in terms of finding new markets to establish the Panus brand and, of course, to grow its export markets.”
Ling tactically looked further afield than their South-East Asian backyard, because he believed the greatest opportunity came from markets that would recover quickest post-pandemic.
“The ASEAN region would have probably been the easiest to penetrate, but I took a different turn on that,” he explains. “I focused on developed markets, and my selection was the United States and Australian markets.”
Ling says United States is the largest consumer of trucks, commercial vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers.
“There was also a logistics dilemma at that point in time,” he recalls. “A huge shortage of trailers in the United States due to labor shortages, and the high importation costs. It presented an opportunity for Panus Assembly to go into this market as an overseas manufacturer.
“Thailand has actually been known to be the ‘Detroit of the East’ for automotive manufacturing and assembly for many decades,” he continues. “So, a Thai-made container trailer is something that would be well accepted by consumers in the United States.”
Ling’s move proved to be a masterstroke. “I’ve managed to turn around the international division by over 1500 percent, in terms of top line and bottom line,” he says proudly. “We have exported more than 2,500 container chassis from Thailand to the United States in just 12 months from launch. So that has definitely been a great achievement, as is being the only Thai trailer manufacturer to produce and to export to the United States.”
To bring this vision to fruition, Ling had to invest heavily in getting existing and new team members up to speed on the foreign market regulations and navigate complications with suppliers.
“We face many hiccups on the supply chain side, but I think that’s something where one needs to be more creative in terms of the ordering lead times, building that very strong relationship with the suppliers to gain better support and commitment, and ensuring our suppliers that Panus Assembly as a group is going to be there for the long term,” he says.
“For us to be successful now internationally, I owe a lot to the suppliers that have supported me throughout the last two-and-a-half years, key partners like Sherwin-Williams (Thailand) for instance.”
Ling reveals the next step for Panus is to gain more market share in the United States, push into Europe and the Middle East, and ramp up the manufacturing facility and capability as demand in the United States market further increases.
Innovation is paramount to the company’s future, too. “The owner and CEO of the company, Panus Watanachai, is a visionary and is admirably striving to be a part of the electric vehicle race,” he continues.
“Innovation is something that’s going to help us differentiate ourselves. Let’s be frank, a trailer is a piece of metal with wheels that transports containers around, but I think the goal is how do we innovate this and take it to the next level.”