Back To School

Distributors reap the rewards of working with schools.

School contracts for welding equipment and gases can sometimes be a bleak proposition—slashing prices to compete with bids for state and federal dollars, making it challenging to sell on service over price. However, several distributors have discovered that there is much more to developing a relationship with technical schools, community colleges and high school welding programs. And, while the distributors become involved out of generosity and a desire to give back, they have found that these relationships come with great rewards.

Welding students and staff at Lake Michigan College show off their welding academy t-shirts, provided by Pooch Welding Supply.
Welding students and staff at Lake Michigan College show off their welding academy t-shirts, provided by Pooch Welding Supply. 

Getting in with Instructors
One of the best ways to foster relationships is through the school’s advisory committee. John Small, president of Pooch Welding Supply Company (Benton Harbor, MI), recently joined the advisory board at the Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) at Lake Michigan College (LMC) in Benton Harbor. LMC recently expanded its welding program and established an advisory board to provide guidance. When they approached Small about taking part, he accepted without hesitation.  

The advisory committee plays a large role in providing direction to faculty at M-TEC related to curriculum and, just as important, their equipment. “We make suggestions for what equipment the college needs to keep up with the direction of the industry,” says Small. This involvement helps create new contracts and may ultimately lead to a sale.  

O.E. Meyer Company (Sandusky, OH) has been actively involved on the advisory committee at Terra Community College (TCC), located in Fremont, Ohio, since the 1960s. “We always work hard to keep the college on the cutting edge of welding technology,” says Craig Wood, president of the industrial division at O.E. Meyer. “In the 1980s, we helped TCC to be the first school in Northern Ohio with a teaching robotic cell.”  

To provide exposure to all of the latest and most advanced welding processes and equipment, O.E. Meyer hosts a welding expo every two years. The company rents the local county fairgrounds and invites every school in the area to attend. “We get several hundred students and instructors and give them the opportunity to try out the newest equipment,” says Wood.

O.E. Meyer presents a donation to Terra Community College.
Irene Meyer (red jacket), widow of Omar Meyer, joins O.E. Meyer CEO Rod Belden (far right), Industrial Division President Craig Wood (top, second from right) and employees to present a donation in the amount of $50,000 to Terra Community College President Dr. Marsha Bordner (front, third from left) and staff of the welding program.

Distributors play an important role in making sure that instructors and students are equipped with knowledge of the latest products and processes. Ken Knight, vice president at Welder Services (West Palm Beach, FL), demonstrates new technology through hands-on training at three different schools. “I introduce the students and instructors to new products and show them the best welding techniques and materials for different applications.” Not only can this lead to sales for new equipment, but it goes a long way toward developing a symbiosis between distributors and schools.  

Developing a relationship with instructors is vital to providing students with the best education, but it benefits the distributor as well. “Students have to buy welding gear for their classes, including helmets, gloves and other gear” says Rod Belden, CEO of O.E. Meyer. “The instructors are happy to recommend us to the students because they know us.”  

Spreading the Word
Name recognition is fostered over time, but there are ways to speed up the process. O.E. Meyer employees recently made a $50,000 donation to TCC for the school’s new technical center. The contribution will go toward the creation of the Omar Meyer Welding Lab, named in honor of former CEO Omar Meyer Jr. “Omar Meyer did so much for the welding industry in our area,” says Belden. Through O.E. Meyer’s contribution, members of the welding program will recognize the company as a source of support every time they enter the building.  

Similarly, Pooch Welding Supply Company recently established a scholarship fund at LMC, the Frank C. Pooch Jr. Welding Scholarship, named for the company’s founder. Along with the scholarship, the company’s name stays in front of students and instructors in other ways. “We use private labeling to put our company logos on skull caps, gloves and other gear,” says John Small. Other distributors are thinking along the same lines. Welder Services raffles off gloves and welding helmets bearing company decals to students. At O.E. Meyer, “Sold and Serviced” stickers adorn the faceplates of all welding machines that the company sells.  

The most effective form of branding, says Small, is a distributor’s physical presence on campus. “The students see me at the school a lot, and they see our drivers and our salespeople as well.” By creating positive relationships, students and instructors are likely to share their experience. “I’m a firm believer that word of mouth is the best form of advertising,” says Small. 

“I’m a firm believer that word of mouth is the best form of advertising”

Building a Customer Base
While students may only buy a pair of gloves and a welding helmet now, getting involved with schools goes a long way toward building relationships with potential future customers. O.E. Meyer’s Wood has experienced this first hand. “Some of the students we have worked with at Terra Community College are now 40 years old and they still speak highly of our company,” says Wood. “By getting involved during their younger, formative years, the students will remember who we are and what we offer when they get older.”  

O.E Meyer’s Belden echoes this sentiment “It’s a two-way street. These students are future customers, so it’s good to get to know them from the start. Down the line, when they have a need for our products, hopefully, they’ll come to us.”  

Just as important as developing good relationships, Knight of Welder Services says it’s crucial to develop good welders. “If we care about the industry, we have to train quality welders. If there continues to be a shortage of welltrained welders, we won’t have any customers left.”  

Wood stresses that working with schools is not about achieving immediate results. “If you think short term, it won’t work out,” he says. “You have to build a relationship that will last a long time.” For distributors, involvement with school programs represents an investment in future customers and in the future of the industry as a whole.  

Get Involved
The primary reason these GAWDA members give for partnering with schools is one of pure philanthropy. But each admits that its charity is not without some benefit. “If a distributor has time to work with a school, the partnership can be very lucrative in the long run,” says Knight. When working with welding programs at local schools, it becomes important to maximize the opportunities to develop relationships when educational discounts mean reduced profits.  

The opportunities are certainly there: “Welding schools are always looking for experts in the field,” says Wood. “Starting a relationship is as simple as introducing yourself to the administrator of the college and expressing an interest to get more involved with the program.” Your future customers are waiting.  

Gases and Welding Distributors Association