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Digi-Key’s web tools entice new and existing designer markets


Having the ability to successfully reach out to the young, emerging design community, while maintaining the levels of service and product selection to its existing and older, established clientele remains a significant strength for Digi-Key Electronics, one of the world’s largest web-based distributors of electronic components.

EP&T Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with senior personnel at Digi-Key during the Electronics Distribution Show (EDS) held in Las Vegas this spring.  Dave Doherty, president and chief operating officer boldly predicted a 6% increase in revenues for his company during a presentation to industry members at the firm’s annual EDS breakfast. He did, however stress that the figure is somewhat skewed by global currency exchange rates, which includes Canada’s sinking dollar.

Shipping more line items year over year

“In same currency sales, business looks great,” Doherty says. “We like to peel it back and look at the underlying activity of reaching customers and we are shipping more (10%) line items year over year.”

Doherty took the reins in his new role last summer, after long-time president and COO, Mark Larson joined founder Ron Stordahl in a board-level role as vice chairman, where he serves as a company advisor.

While the firm has experienced a slight reduction in its average order size during the first quarter of 2016, Doherty says he expects things to change for the better, as driven by the company’s recent digital marketing initiatives. Ten months ago Digi-Key appointed Jim Ricciardelli as vice-president of digital business. The industry veteran combines his knowledge as a recent disty executive with Arrow Electronics and early web search engine pioneer Lycos Inc.

We-based tools expand Digi-Key’s digital footprint

Expanding its overall digital footprint, Digi-Key has recently introduced new web-based tools, such as the maker.io site, targeted toward the maker professional. Doherty points out that Digi‐Key was started by a maker professional in founder Dr. Ronald Stordahl and has a long history of being a destination for these entrepreneurial engineers.

“The Maker.io site helps them take their ideas from concept to product,” Doherty says. “Our mission is to enable the creativity of our customer. We do that by offering such tools.”

Digi-Key also recently introduced Scheme-it, an online schematic and diagramming tool that allows anyone to design and share electronic circuit diagrams. The tool includes a comprehensive electronic symbol library and an integrated Digi-Key component catalog that allows for a wide range of circuit designs. Additionally, a built-in bill of materials manager is provided to keep track of parts used in a design. Once a schematic drawing is complete, users can export it to an image file or share it via email with others. Scheme-it works natively in all major web browsers without requiring the use of any plugins.

scheme-it.com acts as a virtual ‘electronic’ napkin, or starter tool

“For a segment of our customer base, this rudimentary simulation tool (scheme-it) acts as a virtual ‘electronic’ napkin, or starter tool, where early design ideas and concepts are often born,” Doherty says. “I have a son in university studying electrical engineering and his professor suggested to the class that they go to Digi-Key and download scheme-it while pursuing a specific design project.”

Digi-Key also offers its customers PartSim, a free and easy to use circuit simulator that runs in your web browser, as well as PCBWeb, a free CAD application for designing and manufacturing electronics hardware.

“It’s exciting for us because our customers are engaging with us even before laying parts on the board,” states Doherty. “The importance of user-familiarity with website is paramount. Our customers know how to navigate it and they know where to find things quickly and efficiently.”

Many students and members of the maker community love Digi-Key

Prior to joining the Digi-Key team, Ricciardelli says he was under the impression that the disty’s customer base was represented by an older, established and loyal following. While that part is true, he was amazed at how many students and members of the maker community love Digi-Key.

“They use us to help them in the design process, because we are more than just a website. We are an engineering tool, that they can use to actually select parts,” Ricciardelli says. “If these customers are not ready to start at the component level – then they are going to start at the board or kit level. We have that solution for them.”

Ricciardelli understands that the availability of very low cost modular hardware tools combined with simple-to-use free software development environments has led to an explosion in the number of makers and developers. As a result, Maker.io is platform (Arduino, BeagleBone, Raspberry Pi, Photon, etc.), post, and project based. Beyond the roadmap, maker professionals as community members can submit projects either publicly or privately. This collaborative and project-based approach will help designers better understand the phases along the map.

Referring to the maker market as a real ‘movement’, Ricciardelli says one of its ‘rock stars’ Limor Fried, founder of the electronics and tutorial company, Adafruit, is a fan and user of Digi-Key and its online catalog.

“We know who these people are and they know who we are. We must continue to evolve our tools and inventory to make sure they keep coming to stay in love with us,” Ricciardelli adds.

At the end of the day, both Doherty and Ricciardelli are confident that Digi-Key will continue its evolution towards maintaining existing ties and ingratiate emerging design communities.

“When the market starts to swing and we get the wind at our back and increase average order sizes – all these efforts get brought to bear,” Doherty says.