It Pays to Lead the Way

Written by Pauline Müller

While we all shop, we rarely think about how retail outlets create the entire experience that allows us to go about it in the most convenient way possible. From shop fittings to checkout counters and technology, creating the right atmosphere and ensuring that it is fully functional and easy to use makes sales soar.
Pan-Oston is the manufacturer behind some of the world’s greatest store fixtures and point-of-sale technology in the industry. Whether it is kitting out corner stores or America’s largest retailers, its customers come from all over the United States for quality solutions and service.

The company manufactures everything from custom-made supermarket fixtures to customer service counters, self-checkout devices, produce weighing stations, online order pick-up lockers, and display tables. This Bowling Green, Kentucky-based company fits out retail spaces so well that many of its clients have been customers for many decades.

“In addition to our check-out lanes, we provide interactive fixtures with customized technology for all types of smart payment points like kiosks and other self-checkout devices,” says Vice President of Sales and Business Development Kendra Sewell.

Pan-Oston’s creativity, expertise, and the latest technology combine to present the end-user with their desired shopping experience, while vertical integration allows it to see to every aspect of its clients’ needs through in-house research and development, design, manufacturing capabilities, distribution, and installation.

“Most of our self-checkout solutions come integrated with our clients’ point-of-sale. This is very popular. Our convertible, dual-use lanes are also very much in demand. These are dual-purpose technological fixtures that can either be staffed by a cashier or it can function as a self-checkout,” says Kendra.

When it comes to converting traditional operations into high-technology stores, Pan-Oston supports its clients in taking full control of their technology with nationwide service. Its design and manufacturing capabilities have modern three-dimensional (3D) modelling and renderings in colour and finite element analysis (FEA). This test is applied to materials to test design performance. It allows designers to predict weaknesses or materials’ limitations during the design process to eliminate problems later.

Customers also have the benefit of seeing a prototype before committing to the final design. The company can perform sheet metal and wood fabrication, powder coating, product assembly, testing and certification. In addition, Pan-Oston can reassure its clients with its focus on sustainability and wide range of compliance certifications.

The company originally started in Finland in 1968 when Seppo Halttunen opened a metal fabrication facility by the name of Halton. It was such a success that the company soon spread across the world, and today, there are also branches in the Netherlands and the Kentucky branch’s sister company in Peterborough, Canada. The Peterborough branch originally traded as Oston Ltd., later changing its name to Pan-Oston. After obtaining a facility in Glasgow, Kentucky, it was bought out by Houchens Industries, well-known as one of America’s biggest employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) outfits. It was after this acquisition that the now autonomous American Pan-Oston branch settled in its current headquarters in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Since then, it has consistently grown, keeping ahead of trends and investing in the latest technology in order to prepare for the future.

“We’ve been successful because we are so open to diversification. It has been hugely beneficial for us to give our clients what they need and to partner with them on a greater scale. Our team’s ingenuity and flexibility play a big role in that,” says Marketing Specialist Elizabeth L. Newbould.

The company received its one-millionth customer order in 2017 and celebrated fifty years of business last year. The start of 2019 has been promising as well, as Pan-Oston had its best month in its entire history in January of this year. This top achiever has also been honoured numerous times by its local chamber of commerce.

In 2017, it received the chamber’s annual targeted business and industry award for its investment of over $4.9 million in the business and for making fifteen more positions available at its distribution site in Kentucky’s Transpark. In 2018, it went on to expand its workforce to fulfill its market’s growing demand with a technology integration center. The latest expansion rounds out three expansions since establishing itself in the area, making it one of Bowling Green’s greatest economic contributors.

“It gives us great pride to be heading into the next decade with one of the strongest seasons of growth we’ve ever experienced. It is a testament to the commitment and dedication of our valued employees, as well as the support of our owners, Houchens Industries,” stated Jim Vance, Pan-Oston’s President.

The company prides itself on decades of knowledge and experience in retail and is well equipped to analyze customers’ operations to supply the best layouts and options. “We are very invested in our clients, and as such, we provide solutions. Our clients tell us what they want, and we do our best to make that happen,” says Kendra.

Pan-Oston not only has the knowledge and technology available to manufacture fixtures to the highest specifications, ensuring that all equipment functions optimally in even the most demanding retail environments. “While there are many standard checkout counter suppliers out there, our expert teams of designers and engineers turn clients’ visions into project-specific, fully functioning success stories,” says Elizabeth. “We have a lot of in-house assets that few other companies can match. Our people are definitely one of our greatest assets.”

Identifying what exactly the client’s needs are is more than just an exercise in listening. Pan-Oston’s design engineers and sales team study clients’ operations in great detail in the field to determine how systems can be improved before the actual planning process starts. This has contributed significantly to the company’s success.

Pan-Oston offers up to six primary checkout options that can all be made available in a single retail outlet so customers can choose the option that best suits them. While standard cashiers still operate checkouts, there are also self-checkout lanes that accept both card and cash payments, and express kiosks can be dotted throughout stores for express checkouts with cards. In addition, a selection of delivery and collection options is also available with the use of pick-up lockers.

The commitment of its employees is partially driven by the fact that they are all stakeholders in the company. The more than two hundred staff members benefit from an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) that has cemented both loyalty and quality.

CFO Steve Guess says, “One of the things that we are most proud of here at Pan-Oston is the quality and character of our employees. Our employees take great pride when walking into the facilities of major retailers and seeing the Pan-Oston label, knowing that the fixture was built with their hands and their hearts. Our employees treat this business like it is their very own.”

“Everything we do to make our company successful comes back to us in the form of stock options. It’s an amazing retirement plan that really allows us all to take ownership. It also makes us feel like we’re truly making a difference because each and every one of us is an owner of the company,” says Kendra proudly.

As a result, Pan-Oston is focused on the future. As retail markets continue to evolve increasingly rapidly, this company is ready to remain ahead of the retail curve.



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