Welding Rodeo Round-Up

A unique solution for one college’s welding program

Welding Rodeo Round-UpSalespeople specialize in solving problems. They build trust by working with customers to pinpoint their needs and recommend efficient solutions. For Marshall Judy, sales manager at Central Welding Supply (North Lakewood, WA), there may be no greater example of this than the Welding Rodeo—the annual two day event that put Bellingham Technical College (BTC) in Bellingham, Washington, on the national map and doubled its enrollment.

Where’s the Rodeo in Welding?
The Welding Rodeo is, at its core, a welding sculpture competition. For distributors, the event provides the opportunity to connect with customers and to partner with suppliers. Involvement also affords the exposure to thousands in attendance, including many potential customers, a de facto audition that displays the company’s commitment and service.

BTC’s Welding Rodeo takes place over two days. Teams of four are provided a pile of scrap metal and eight hours to construct a work of art related to a given theme. Ten amateur teams, consisting of high school and first-time technical school entrants, compete on day one to win donated prizes, including welding equipment and other gear. On day two, ten teams of professional welders and artists square off with returning school competitors for cash prizes that start at $4,000 for the first place team. After judging, the welded sculptures are auctioned off to the highest bidders, with proceeds going to a scholarship fund at BTC for welding students. In 2010, the event generated $6,000 in scholarships.

Now going into its tenth year, the Welding Rodeo has garnered quite a following. BTC welding instructor Don Anderson estimates that close to 4,000 people attended this year’s event. The success of the event has not gone unnoticed; the welding department has received a Governor’s Award and a Mayor’s Arts Award from the city of Bellingham for the Welding Rodeo. And, the Welding Rodeo has paid off big-time for BTC. When Anderson came to BTC ten years ago, the welding program was scraping to get by. “Our classroom could only fit about 12 students, and we had an enrollment of 48 students,” says Anderson. “Now we have a brand new, state-of-the-art welding facility with 55 permanent welding booths and another 40 temporary booths. We have 96 full-time students and a waiting list of 100 students.”

Welding Rodeo Round-UpWorking Together toward a Solution
The Welding Rodeo could never have achieved this level of success without the efforts of Marshall Judy and Central Welding Supply. Judy joined the advisory board for the welding program at BTC in 1995, after Central Welding Supply opened a branch in Bellingham. As chair of the college’s welding program advisory board, Judy works closely with the program’s instructors. It was in collaborating to develop a solution to the welding program’s lack of enrollment and funding that the Welding Rodeo was born.

The Welding Rodeo started as a simple idea from instructor Anderson. “I wanted to do something unique and special to promote our program and to get the word out about welding,” says Anderson. Playing off the actual rodeos that take place in the rural community, the name seemed a good fit for Anderson’s event. “Being in the welding industry, I met people with a certain cowboy mentality.” Anderson had a concept, but the college’s welding program lacked the resources to make the event a reality on its own.

That’s where Judy comes in. “I stepped up and said, ‘You’re going to need equipment. You’re going to need prizes. I think I can help,’” says Judy. Together with Anderson and welding instructor Jeré Donnelly, Judy saw the idea through by pitching in his own time and effort. “When the Rodeo started, everything was done by the three of us, right down to going to the grocery store and buying racks of ribs to cook up and sell at the event.” These days, the college’s culinary arts department kicks in to help with the Rodeo’s barbeque.

Welding Rodeo Round-UpFrom the start, Central Welding Supply supported the event by loaning out welding equipment and approaching manufacturers about supplying additional machines. These days, even though BTC owns most of the equipment, Central Welding Supply continues to play a pivotal role in the Welding Rodeo. The company sets up the provided stick and MIG welding and torch equipment for the event and sponsors a safety seminar at the event’s orientation session. During the competition, employees maintain the equipment used in the Rodeo. “When teams only have eight hours to make a sculpture from scrap metal, they are running their equipment very hard,” says Judy. “We make sure everything keeps running, and we supply spare equipment just in case a machine breaks down and we are unable to fix it.”

Much of the work Central Welding Supply does is not visible to bystanders, but it does not go unrecognized by the college. “Central Welding Supply has always been a great supporter of the event,” says Anderson. “Marshall Judy is one of the main actors in our play.”

Future Welders, Future Customers
Central Welding Supply says the event is great for fostering relationships within the college community. “We develop a connection to the teachers and the students through our involvement in the Welding Rodeo,” says Judy. “By seeing our employees active in the event, students get to know our company.” Name recognition does not hurt, either. “Students come to know Central Welding Supply as a source of support. When they buy their gear for welding class or buy a piece of equipment, they know who we are.”

Welding Rodeo Round-UpBuilding relationships with students has benefits down the road as well. Judy says that several students have gone on to positions within the welding industry. “When they go into management positions, they remember us. They invite us in to work with them.” For Central Welding Supply, involvement in the Welding Rodeo and BTC’s welding program is an investment in helping to develop future customers.

As an added benefit to Central Welding Supply, the Welding Rodeo has also mustered a strong interest in welding among the local community, especially in the arts community. Judy explains, “We see a lot of artists and hobbyists come into our store to buy torch outfits or welders or plasma cutters that they are using to create art.” As the welding community grows around the Bellingham area, so too does Central Welding Supply’s customer base.

Roping in Support
Taking a page from BTC’s Rodeo, other Welding Rodeos are beginning to pop up across the country. “When other welding programs call, we are glad to help them get started. It’s a great vehicle for not only educating students and helping welding programs, but also for educating the community.”

When it comes to starting a Welding Rodeo from scratch, both Anderson and Judy emphasize the need for look for support around every corner. “It takes a lot of help and coordination,” says Judy. “We get that from the college, from the administration and from their foundations. It may take a few years to get the school’s support, but that’s what makes the Rodeo successful.”

Just as important as the college’s support is that of the distributors and manufacturers. “Many colleges are scraping by right now,” says Anderson. “Without the industrial community helping us out, there’s no way we could have done this and could continue to do this.” By working with Central Welding Supply and garnering support from the local community, BTC took a simple idea and turned it into a success.

Welding Rodeo Round-Up
All photos courtesy of Aric Mayer.


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