Catching up With Darrel Yarbrough of YES
Yarbrough Electronic Sales (YES) is one of the fastest growing contract manufacturers in the Southwest. As people get to know them better, they are becoming the go-to company in their area. They have already developed a customer base that spans both coasts of the United States. I had a chance to visit their pristine facility in Tucson a few weeks ago, and I was fortunate enough to sit with Darrel Yarbrough, owner and long-time industry veteran. Here is his story.
Dan Beaulieu: Darrel, it’s good to see you. When did you start Yarbrough Electronics Sales (YES)?
Darrel Yarbrough: My pleasure. I started YES as a manufacturers sales group in October of 1987. After 10–12 years, it changed to a contract manufacturing operation.
Beaulieu: So, you were a sales rep before you started this company?
Yarbrough: That’s right. Initially, I represented a local PCB manufacturer and a large sheet metal fabricator in Phoenix. As my customer base grew, I added some more principals, such as machined parts, stamping, screw machine parts, and injection molded plastics. As the list of principals grew, I expanded the territory and hired my sister in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Beaulieu: You were all in as a sales company. What was your plan and vision at the time?
Yarbrough: The vision was to grow the business enough to be able to support my parents comfortably. My father was a WWII veteran who couldn’t do construction after injuring his back several times. But, as you well know, the jeopardy of being a sales representative is if you start making too much money in the eyes of the principal, or the principal’s new son-in-law needs work, you are replaced overnight. After that happened a few times, I decided that enough was enough and that I would be better off being an owner of a company rather than being beholden to the owner of a company I represent. That’s when I started my own manufacturing company. I had 15 years of contacts with many types of manufacturing requirements and had developed many friends in the business community. I also leveraged the tribal knowledge from my customer base and their experiences to help me during the transition to manufacturing. I felt that I was poised to start my own business in October of 2000.
Beaulieu: That’s a great story. What makes YES a standout among contract manufacturers?
Yarbrough: We are a full turnkey contract manufacturer for electronics specializing in high-technology assemblies for engineering development—prototypes through production orders. We have a reputation for quality, high-reliability, flexible, and cost-effective solutions for our customers. We are very proud of our record for over 20 years of building special products for the department of defense contractors.
Beaulieu: You also work with DoD customers, which is pretty impressive.
Yarbrough: Correct. That came from some of the contacts I had made when I was in the sales business. The next segment of our business is relegated to the medical industry. We have three companies who are operators in solutions for biventricular heart failure. Their products range from left ventricular assisting devices (LVADs) to a total artificial heart replacement. We do not manufacture any implantable devices. The specific products we build are related to the controllers and wearable battery pockets. The remaining 25% is business with small industrial applications and heavy mining equipment. Tucson is the world headquarters for several large mining companies. These products are designed for durability and reliability for use in diverse operating conditions.
Beaulieu: Next, can you talk about your assembly capabilities?
Yarbrough: Currently, we have two surface-mount assembly lines. One is set up for quickturn capability and small quantity runs. The other line has the capability for conveyor operation, higher quantities, and longer run times between jobs. The two lines are identical as far as software, hardware, and capabilities, so we can interchange jobs at any time if needed.
Beaulieu: What are your specific capabilities?
Yarbrough: Each line consists of DEC screen printers, MyData12E pick-and-place machines, and Vitronics reflow ovens designed for RoHS solder. Some of our specific capabilities include bare board assembly. In addition to SMT assembly, we have several assemblers trained to do hand soldering of SMT components, connectors, power modules, and wires. We also do box builds. Currently, I am in the process of adding a work cell for box build jobs, including adding cables, assembling sheet metal, and testing with manual meters and probes. We have some customer-supplied, PC-based test equipment, which is used in final inspection too.
Then, we do turnkey and have a stockroom for components with approximately $1 million in inventory that we manage. I have a senior buyer, two people in the stockroom, and another person for customer support with over 30 years of purchasing experience. Finally, we have special services, including acrylic conformal coating, application of RTV, and other types of gluing parts to the board. We can also install cables, torque components, and assemble plastics if needed.
Beaulieu: Let’s talk some more about technology for the future and how it is needed. Where do you see technology going?
Yarbrough: Designers are always going to more layer counts, smaller components, and higher density to maximize the real estate on the boards. We see multiple BGAs, blind and buried vias, epoxy-filled vias, and controlled impedance requirements becoming more common.
Beaulieu: Where do you rate YES in terms of technology?
Yarbrough: In terms of hardware, I would say we are a solid eight. We don’t have the latest high-volume production machines, but the equipment we have is perfect for the scope of our work. We have the accuracy and flexibility to be competitive.
Beaulieu: What are some of the technologies you have invested in?
Yarbrough: We have KIC software for optimizing the reflow profile. The next addition I’m planning on is an AOI unit for faster inspection, and an SMT rework station eventually. Again, we recently bought the second MyData12E SMT machine. One reason we use MyData SMT machines is they do parts verification during assembly on the caps and resistors. The AOI will help verify orientation, polarity, missing components, and solder quality. A couple of years ago, we moved into a beautiful new facility where we are adding a work cell for box build, as I mentioned earlier.
Beaulieu: Speaking of quality, what qualifications, certifications, and registrations do you have and why do they give you an advantage over other companies?
Yarbrough: Our quality management system is ISO 9001 2015 registered. We build most products to IPC-610, Class 3 standards. Our assemblers are certified to the J standard and have ESD training. Anyone with enough money can buy equipment, but we offer our service. I always tell my associates that we are a “service organization.” The defining signature of our brand is customer service. Everyone in the company is focused on meeting the commitments to our customers. This not only includes meeting the delivery schedule but also customer satisfaction with the sales process, quoting activity, purchase order processing, C of Cs, packaging, delivery, and follow up after the sale.
Beaulieu: What types of companies as customers are you best suited to work for?
Yarbrough: The ideal sweet spot for us is a customer who is focused on high-technology assemblies, needs time-sensitive delivery, and has low-volume products, which could be one piece up to 1,000 units, depending on the size and complexity. We are not competing in the high-volume consumer products, which typically go to offshore players with very low margins.
Beaulieu: How do you see the market today?
Yarbrough: Speaking truthfully, 2017 was a difficult year coming off of several years of sequestration in the military market. However, 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for sales. This is particularly true in the markets we compete in, which are military, medical, mining, and industrial.
Beaulieu: What are the challenges for competing in that market?
Yarbrough: Building long-term relationships with our suppliers is key and having established channels for components is critical. Some components are very difficult to get as the demand grows and the market and economy heat up.
Beaulieu: We touched on this a little bit earlier, but to re-iterate, what you do consider great customer service?
Yarbrough: To me, the key is to under commit and over perform. We strive to always meet or exceed the commitments we make for quality and delivery.
Beaulieu: How do you sell at YES? What works for you?
Yarbrough: Most of our business is based on long-term relationships, word of mouth, and customers moving from one company to another or changing jobs. Tucson is a small, tight-knit community, and word spreads very quickly. We use some commissioned reps in certain parts of the country. The fact that we are the only real player in the Tucson area helps as well. Some people go to Phoenix or Mexico, but they do not get the service we deliver; they are usually just price shoppers and do not have the loyalty we like.
Beaulieu: What are your thoughts for the future of your company?
Yarbrough: We have spent the last year upgrading our capabilities. Now, we are poised for growth and should be able to double sales with the capacity we have. Thus, the next step is to grow our business to meet or hopefully exceed the added capacity we have invested in. I am very excited to see what the future brings.
Beaulieu: I am too, Darrel. Let’s do this again in a year and see how things are going.
Yarbrough: Sounds like a plan.
For more information about Yarbrough Electronics Sales, visit www.yespcb.