5501 US Hwy 30 W
Fort Wayne, IN 46818
Toll Free (800) 222-4700
Local (260) 432-8176
Fax (260) 432-1758
Press Release
May 03 2006
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Christopher Guerin, Vice President of Corporate Communications, (800) 222-4700 ext. 1030
 
The Sweetwater Story
 
AN INTRODUCTION TO SWEETWATER

Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sweetwater is the nation's leading music technology and musical instrument retailer. The company sprang from humble roots, but over the past 27 years has achieved incredible success and continues to experience unprecedented meteoric growth. This success and growth can be attributed to the vision and instincts of its founder, and the efforts of the stellar personnel he has assembled to staff his company.

Founder
Chuck Surack, President and Founder of Sweetwater, Inc., has been a musician and a salesman for as long as he can remember. As a child he sold hundreds of potholders ("Fifteen cents each or two for a quarter!") door-to-door, which he wove from loops of yarn he purchased by the vanload. He grew and sold hot banana peppers and won several sales contests. While other children were delivering a few newspapers door-to-door, Chuck sought out apartment complexes where he could deliver papers by the hundreds.

As a musician, Chuck toured with professional bands, and became interested in technology and recording. He purchased a TEAC 3340 four-track reel-to-reel recorder, and began making location recordings of local bands from the back of his VW bus, wheeling the tape machine and multitrack recordings into the living room of his mobile home for mixdown and post-production.


THE SWEETWATER STORY

How do you go from a portable 4-track recording rig in a Volkswagon bus to being the nation's leading retailer of professional recording and music equipment?

Chuck founded Sweetwater as a recording studio in Fort Wayne in 1979. The business was first located in his home on Getz Road, then moved to a subsequent home on Bass Road. Initially the fledgling company focused on providing recording services to local and national artists and businesses.

Two things prompted the leap from recording studio to music retailer. The first was Chuck's frustration with being unable to find a reliable, knowledgeable music technology retailer. Prices were outrageous, and after-sale technical service and support for the sophisticated electronics he used in his studio were non-existent.

Then, in the early 1980s, the revolutionary Kurzweil K250 appeared. This groundbreaking keyboard gave musicians and composers access to realistic orchestral and other sounds, opening new possibilities for music composition and performance. Chuck created his own sound library for the keyboard, and quickly gained a national reputation as an expert at programming the instrument. Renowned musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, and other top names began consulting with Chuck, purchasing K250 factory options and upgrades through him. Recognizing the industry's need for a new, dependable, customer-oriented approach to the musical instrument and professional audio sales channel, Sweetwater became a Kurzweil dealer to fulfill these requests.

As Chuck's expertise became known and the industry grew more sophisticated, those original K250 customers returned again and again for product advice. The company began representing more product lines, and rapidly developed and implemented its unique philosophy of relationship-based selling — treating customers as friends —and unmatched pre- and post-sale customer service.

Sweetwater's primary emphasis quickly shifted from recording studio to music retailer. A new building was constructed on Bass Road and was expanded four times to keep up with the skyrocketing growth of the company. But even that wasn't enough, as the company quickly grew to nearly 220 employees. In late 2005, Sweetwater began the process of moving to their new headquarters, located at the intersection of Kroemer Road and U.S. Highway 30. The location's 38,000-square-foot building will be expanded to a total of 150,000 square feet with the addition of a 40,0000-square-foot state-of-the-art distribution center, a rich-media auditorium and recording studios designed by world-renowned acoustician and studio designer Russ Berger, and a technical training center on a 44-acre property that will allow plenty of room for Sweetwater's massive projected growth: 175 additional full-time employees and $150 million in annual sales by 2009, and $180 million in annual sales and 450 total employees by 2010.

Industry Recognition
Today, Sweetwater is recognized as one of the most successful and fastest-growing music retailers in the nation. The company has been named to Inc. magazine's list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies three years in a row, and has received the Music Inc. magazine REX Award for excellence in retailing. The company annually earns dozens of other awards from magazines, manufacturers, and independent manufacturer representative firms. Regionally and locally, Sweetwater has been the winner of many awards, including a 2006 Torch Award for outstanding business ethics, integrity, and honesty.

In its December 2005 issue, Music Inc. magazine named Sweetwater the "Independent Retailer Of The Year," acknowledging the industry-wide respect the Fort Wayne retailer commands, noting in the accompanying article, "Sweetwater dominates an ever-increasing share of the pro audio and recording market through honorable treatment of both its customers and employees." The article went on to point out that Sweetwater's dedication to customer service is well known, stating, "Musicians, sound engineers, manufacturers, and even competitors know that Sweetwater aims to satisfy customers at all costs."

Customer Service Orientation
Sweetwater embraces a customer-oriented relationship-based approach to sales. Each customer works one-on-one with a Sales Engineer, developing a long-term relationship between the two that has myriad benefits to the customer. The highly skilled, well trained, and knowledgeable Sales Engineers serve as consultants to their customers, helping guide them to make the best purchase decisions for their unique applications and requirements. In order to support the demands of these personal customer relationships, Sweetwater operates on the cutting edge of technology, utilizing a custom-engineered networked database that allows immediate access to any required information on customers and customer correspondence, transactions, inventory, and products. The database is completely integrated with the company's state-of-the-art telephone system, as well as with vendor shipping systems for accurate tracking of all incoming and outgoing shipments.

The company recruits the best from throughout the industry to serve as Sales Engineers. These professionals come from around the nation to Fort Wayne, bringing with them years of experience in music, pro audio, live sound, and recording. Each Sales Engineer-candidate receives more than three months of intensive training on music and audio technology, and must pass a battery of exams before being officially conferred with the title "Sales Engineer." New and veteran Sales Engineers — even the most senior and long-tenured Sales Engineers — continue to receive training on a daily basis, keeping them current with the industry's ever-changing technology. Respected authorities including Robert Moog, Dave Smith, George Massenburg, Frank Filipetti, Russ Berger, Roger Linn, Bob Clearmountain, Roger Nichols, Craig Anderton, Hartley Peavey, and many others have all come to Sweetwater to educate and train the Sales Engineers through seminars and workshops.

Sweetwater's world-class Service, Technical Support, and Shipping departments emphasize customer service as the primary goal. Employees earn industry-topping salaries and use innovative tools and systems to perform their tasks. The company's entire focus is directed toward providing an incomparable customer experience, resulting in unparalleled customer loyalty.

The recording studio branch of Sweetwater has grown as well, and is integral to the success of the company. Sweetwater Productions operates from a state-of-the-art studio featuring three world-class rooms, with a top-of-the-line Digidesign Pro Tools digital recording system and ICON console/control surface, and a beautiful 7-foot Yamaha grand piano. A well-stocked microphone locker and complete array of hardware and software processing is utilized on a daily basis. World-renowned studio designer Russ Berger is blueprinting an incredible multi-studio facility for the new Sweetwater headquarters as well.

All of Sweetwater's marketing is handled in-house, with dedicated print and Internet staff. Innovations include the company's website, Sweetwater.com. launched in 1995, which receives millions of hits monthly. The site, hailed by Electronic Musician magazine as one of the nine best online resources for musicians, has more than 63,000 pages of information, exclusive videos, demos, technical support information, and more. Sweetwater made most of their huge inventory available for purchase on-line at Sweetwater.com in 1999. The web store is a continuous work-in-progress project, with new items being added literally daily. The sounds from Sweetwater's award-winning CD-ROM sound library can be purchased for immediate download on-line.

SweetNotes, a bimonthly newsletter, edited by respected industry journalist and author Mitch Gallagher (now Sweetwater's Editorial Director), reaches hundreds of thousands of customers, and features articles from industry-leading journalists such as Craig Anderton and Nick Batzdorf, experts such as George Massenburg, and others. In 1997, Sweetwater introduced inSync, the industry's first daily electronic newsletter, which continues to be published today, almost 3,000 installments later. Sweetwater's nearly 400-page ProGear Directory is published three times annually, and is widely acclaimed as the industry's leading source of information on music technology. More than a simple "catalog," ProGear has become a respected technical reference resource for the industry, and is recommended reading at many university music technology programs.

Future Plans
Chuck plans to continue expanding Sweetwater, providing exceptional customer service and career opportunities for current and future employees. Approximately 99% of Sweetwater's current annual sales are to domestic customers. The international market for the products the company sells is estimated at $8.3 billion by the National Association of Music Merchants. The company plans to pursue these markets using its web site and through advertising in international publications. It has also hired and is actively recruiting multi-lingual sales and service professionals


CULTURE/VALUES/INCENTIVES

Sweetwater's employees are integral to the company's success. The company has always endeavored to hire the best personnel they could find and then treat them like the best. This starts with a comfortable and professional work environment including high-quality telephones, large computer monitors, a fast current computer for each employee, comfortable ergonomic chairs and keyboards, and more.

Sweetwater's employees are among the highest paid in the music industry, but their rewards are more than monetary. Family group activities are frequent and include ski trips, zoo outings, holiday parties and events, picnics, lunches during the work week, Philharmonic and other concerts, paint ball contests between departments, and many other activities.

Sweetwater is firmly committed to the music and arts community of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Among the many causes the company sponsors are the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and its Young Artist Competition and Stardust Jazz Concert. Sweetwater also supports the community's children by sponsoring the Foundation for the Arts and Music in Elementary Education (FAME) Festival and by providing music labs for area schools. The company sponsors a jazz tent at Fort Wayne's Three Rivers Festival, at which many employees donate their time and talents. The Embassy Theatre Foundation, Easter Seals, Junior Achievement, WBNI/WBOI radio, Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, Fort Wayne Children's Choir, and numerous school music programs all benefit from Sweetwater's ongoing support and dedication to the community. Sweetwater also supports the music departments at several universities, including Indiana University and Ball State University.
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