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The Small and Medium Business Technology Network is looking eastward.

The loose network of small VARs and integrators that originated in Southern California just added dozens of members on the Eastern Seaboard, boosting its membership to more than 400, according to Jim Locke, co-founder of SMBTN and president of J.W. Locke and Associates, based in Pasadena, Calif.

The expansion adds geographical breadth and technical know-how to the group, which consists of small IT service companies focused on the SMB (small and midsize business) market.

“One of our goals originally was to try to extend from the West Coast out to the East Coast, and basically create chapters throughout the United States,” Locke said.

The expansion multiplies the group members’ chances of servicing customers in geographic areas where they lack a presence. Rather than pass up on a deal with a customer that has a location elsewhere, members can tap each other to subcontract work, Locke said.

Without membership in the SMBTN, finding a VAR that you would be confident would do a good job for your customer in another city was risky, said Andy Goodman, an SMBTN member in North Carolina.

“Now I don’t have to pick up the Yellow Pages for that city and call a stranger,” Goodman said.

Goodman owns Downhome Computers, a one-man services operation in Kernersville. He hooked up with the SMBTN about a year ago when he was invited to one of the group’s events.

“I’ve been a member of the group since that meeting,” he said.

Click here to read about why analysts say VARs should hurry to seize the SMB opportunity.

Seeing the benefits of membership, Goodman said, he got the word out to other small VARs on the East Coast, getting the ball rolling for the network’s expansion eastward. Goodman is active in so-called IT pro groups, which comprise independent IT services providers, so finding potential members wasn’t hard.

“This is a great way for people to work together and still be an independent little company,” Goodman said.

SMBTN VARs have banded together to increase their visibility with vendors such as Microsoft, Symantec and SonicWall. While individually they cannot get vendors’ attention for training discounts and other favorable terms, as a group these independent VARs hope to become a major force.

The SMBTN uses the weight of its membership to negotiate discounts with vendors, gain access to executives and provide members with affordable and relevant technical and business training.

IDC says partnering will be key for VARs in 2006. Read more here.

Locke said that with the East Coast expansion, the group now includes about 15 percent of Microsoft’s Small Business Specialist partners.

The addition of the East Coast contingent, made up of businesses as varied as snowflakes, also beefs up the group’s expertise in various areas, be it security, networking or terminal maintenance.

Locke said the group plans to continue expanding to areas in between the two coasts. The SMBTN also has plans to eventually expand into other countries.