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During the SMTA Dallas Expo & Tech Forum, I met with Gary Tanel, chapter officer for the Dallas SMTA as well as director of membership for the organization. We discussed some of the plans Gary has in play for expanding the membership numbers, including offering a new corporate membership which allows companies to bring hundreds of employees into the organization.
Andy Shaughnessy: Gary, in your role as director for membership for SMTA, I understand you have some changes and some things you wanted to talk about regarding membership.
Gary Tanel: Yes, I’m very excited about that. About a year and a half ago, we implemented some strategic changes. We changed the bylaws to basically open up the membership to a whole other category. Now, rather than just offering individual memberships, we are opening corporate memberships that can have anywhere from 20 to 50, or 200+ seats. The prices go down the more seats that you buy, which makes it very conducive for some of the larger EMS and ODM companies who are the primary users of this technology. About 70% of all the members of SMTA are users of technology and technologists, and 30% are the people supplying the information or the equipment or the processes—the suppliers, if you will.
Our members all around the world now have access to the tremendous resources on the SMTA website. We’ve put a lot of effort into the website. When I was on the SMTA Board of Directors during the ’90s, we put all our technical papers out on the website for all of the members to access. That has now grown to over 6,200 white papers, and almost 200 webinars. With Tara Dunn coming on board, we’re focusing on the training classes that we offer. What I’m hearing from some of the bigger companies is they really need online training, on demand for all of the new employees coming on board. That’s a significant thing that SMTA can provide to all of those users.
Shaughnessy: What is Tara’s role?
Tanel: Tara is director of education, and she’s at the Phoenix office. But she’s looking at all of this—the knowledge database, online training, and webinars. What are the right avenues by which we can get this education out on demand? The culture has changed; it used to be that you could go to trade shows and see things in person once or twice per year. But it’s a big world. Everything has to be available on demand, and the hundreds or thousands of technical pieces of information are searchable, that that young engineers can find the answers very quickly.
Shaughnessy: Right. Are these changes driven by SMTA members?
Tanel: Absolutely. With the proliferation of technology, we struggled to get this information out. We asked, “How can SMTA evolve and do that?” We needed an easier, lower-cost way to fan out information so that more people within the organization can have access to it—not just one person disseminating all the information.
Growth has been driving that. A year ago, we were at 3,000 members, and we have almost 4,000. My goal this year is to have well over 5,000 SMTA members, each with a login and access to our resources. It’s a game-changer, and a great way to get the information out to members.
Shaughnessy: I know you’ve been working with universities too. Tell us about that.
Tanel: Yes, we’re very interested in giving students access to this information in a way that will help them with school, finding jobs, and staying with SMTA after they graduate. We’re working with the universities on a “bronze membership” that gives the department all of the seats available and they can assign the seats to various students. As the students come and go, change majors, etc., the departments can keep those seats and it’s much easier for the students to work in that environment.
Shaughnessy: That’s pretty audacious. So, you just had a 33% increase and now you’re shooting for another 25% increase in membership by next year?
Tanel: Yes. We’ve also made a change in pricing. Rather than regional pricing, now it doesn’t matter where your company is located. You can have seats anywhere in the world. You can buy them in the U.S. and assign them to China, Japan, or Mexico; you can move the seats all around as the company sees fit.
We’ve created a position called SMTA Champions within each of the member companies. That champion stays updated about SMTA events and distributes that information within their companies.
I welcome feedback: “This is good, but if we did this and this and this, it would be even better.” I believe I’m a conduit to stay in contact with those champions at the bigger corporations. That feedback comes back to our staff who can look at where changes or training needs to be made.
We have a job board on the website because companies are looking for experienced people. There are some general job boards out there, but within SMTA, you know that our listings are all related to electronics design and manufacturing. It’s a wonderful tool that came out of the conversations with these company champions.
Shaughnessy: Switching gears, you mentioned earlier that there were 30 SMTA Expos, and that’s just in the United States.
Tanel: Yes. There are five in Mexico, and we have some shows in Asia and Europe. We found that the exhibitors were looking for smaller local shows to get into the niches of north and south Texas, the East Coast, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and so many other locations. We have a number of people who exhibit at 12 or 18 SMTA Expos every year. It’s a reasonably priced, one-day show, and they can target that one market they really want to penetrate.
Shaughnessy: At the Dallas and Atlanta SMTA Expos, I met exhibitors who were flying in from all over the country. They’re more like regional shows than local shows.
Tanel: Well, that’s right. We try to make it easy for the exhibitors, with consistent processes and pricing, set-up, registration, all the nuts and bolts. When an exhibitor goes to Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, or Los Angeles, the registration and pricing are the same. There aren’t any surprises. That’s the benefit of an association doing that.
We try to use best practices when setting up these expos; when it comes to registration, taking money, and lead retrievals, these are things that the local chapters are not necessarily good at. The chapters don’t have enough resources, necessarily, to do all of that back-office work. But the chapters are good at marketing and getting the local people out to the shows. It must be a 50/50 partnership between headquarters and the local chapters.
Shaughnessy: Any closing thoughts?
Tanel: I’m excited to be a part of this activity; it’s wonderful to see all the growth that we’ve had lately.
Shaughnessy: Good. Well, thanks for talking to us.
Tanel: Thank you, Andy.