By Jim Miller

Before I get started on this issue's subject, I think you should know two closely related things: absolutely nobody tells me what to write in this column and I don't get paid to write wonderful things about Sweetwater or the sales reps, so what I'm going to say here (or more accurately, write) is strictly my own opinion based on my own personal experience.

Like a lot of you, I have had many wretched encounters over the years with sales people who simply don't care how they treat customers. In fact, many of them often seem to be totally put-out by the fact that I'm calling or even stopping by the store in person. Some are just plain rude, obviously feeling that I am cutting into time they could be spending doing something else. Or I am given incorrect information. Or I call and leave messages which are never returned. Or worse, I get caught up in that endless maze known as the automated phone system ("If you would like to speak to someone in shipping, please press one," which is almost invariably followed by, "We're sorry, that line is busy. If you would like to leave a message, please press the pound key . . ."). ARRGH!

I guess I'm an old-fashioned kinda guy (or maybe just old), but I happen to feel that the dollars I spend are helping to pay someone's salary, so I'd really like to feel I'm not interrupting a sales person (or the shipping person, billing person, etc.) and keeping them from doing something more important. And I really don't like to think about the fact that my hard-earned dollars are paying for that hideous automated phone system.

If you read through this issue of Sweet Notes, or look at the Sweetwater ads that run in all the music magazines, you're bound to notice that the company stresses its personalized service. Sales people are often referred to as "friendly" or "courteous." And if you're not a regular Sweetwater customer, you might think that's just some stuff an ad agency guy thought up. But it's not. This is actually the way the company does business every day.

True, when I call, everyone pretty much knows me (after all, they love my column just as much as you do - wink, wink), but it wasn't always that way. Years ago (I think it was the bronze age), long before I started contributing to Sweet Notes, I was just another customer. Yet I was always treated with the respect and courtesy I believed I deserved. When I wanted some dependable advice from a knowledgeable source, there was always someone ready to answer my questions. When I had a problem or needed a repair, it was taken care of immediately. Now that I happen to also write a column for the company, nothing has really changed.

You're probably wondering why I'm bringing all this up. Well, I must admit I just recently had a really awful experience with one of the big computer retailers. If you own a Mac, you've probably seen their ads or even get their full color catalog. When I initially placed my order, everything was just wonderful and I was treated like their long-lost brother.

But then I had a problem with the item I ordered. Now I got repeatedly put on hold, then shuffled off to other people who told me that I needed to call a different number. Eventually I reached a person who grudgingly admitted they could probably help me. So, after numerous calls and faxes back and forth, I returned the original product and waited for its replacement to arrive (which, of course, they couldn't possibly ship until the first unit returned and was examined under a microscope by somebody from Interpol).

When I finally got the replacement, it too had a problem. Back to the phones. Now I couldn't reach anyone who was even remotely interested in helping me. I should also mention that as this was happening, I received in the mail a new catalog that featured a brand new version of the product I had just ordered at pretty much the same price. So I wanted to return this problem unit in exchange for the newer model. To make a long story short, I was never able to get anyone at that company to return my calls, not even the sales or customer service managers. To get any satisfaction at all, I had to call the manufacturer who, somewhat unwillingly, took care of me.

This is not a particularly unusual experience for me and I'd feel safe in betting that you've had similar things happen to you. What it all goes to prove is how unique the situation is at Sweetwater.

I happen to think customers should be treated like they are the most important people in the world. (I also think we should be able to leave our doors unlocked and walk on the streets after dark without being afraid, but that's a whole other story.) What makes me feel good is that the people - all the people it seems - at Sweetwater agree with me. Not only do I get treated well, but my friends (the ones who don't write columns for Sweet Notes) also get the very same personalized service. And I can't help but be happy to be associated with a company who, in this day and age, feels like quality customer service is not just a catch phrase that looks good in print. Maybe best of all, a real, live person answers the phone and routes the call, not some stupid machine.

You longtime Sweetwater customers know what I'm talking about. I'm sure the company could fill several issues of Sweet Notes with the letters they get every day from satisfied customers. If you're one of those rare people who has never given Sweetwater a call, I hope you'll do so soon. I couldn't sleep at night if I steered you wrong, so give these guys a try and see why I'm such a fan. You will be too.

Hey, as long as I've got you here, I want to mention something else that is very cool about Sweetwater, and I hope you don't tune me out at this point, since this is information I think you should be aware of.

See, as a small business owner (in my case a very small business), you have to really work hard to compete and be successful. Frankly, if you're a small business owner, you could use a break. Well, I'm happy to report that such a break is available today via Sweetwater's $10,000 Line of Credit program.

If you've been in business just two years and have clean credit, you may already be pre-approved for up to $10,000 of credit to make whatever purchases you want or need to help make your business more successful (or even just more fun). If you need a new DARWIN or ADAT XT or a Mackie Mixer or Pro Tools or whatever, just give Sweetwater a call, fill out a ridiculously simple form (honest - no kidding!) and within days, you'll be the proud owner (eventually anyway) of that incredible new whatever-it-is you want!

This is an absolutely great way to upgrade your studio without tying up your valuable working capital. See, on accounts of this type (actually a form of leasing, but with ownership of the item going to you once the lease period is over), only the month-to-month payments (like about $82 per month for a brand new K2000 with orchestral ROM) count against your overall credit picture, so you can still do business without worrying about someone complaining about the fact that you owe someone else $10,000.

What's more, in just about every instance, every penny you pay on your line of credit account is tax deductible but please, check with your accountant to verify that this applies in your case).

This kind of accounts will start to become rather common in years to come, mostly because they make great sense for businesses that aren't listed on the Fortune 500. It gets a little complicated when you start trying to figure out your interest rates and all that other stuff, but frankly, that's not the point (though again, in most cases, the interest is tax deductible).

What is really exciting is that you don't have to wait for somebody else to introduce such a program - it's available right now from Sweetwater Sound. So give your sales rep a call, tell them exactly what you need and they can give you an instant quote on your monthly payments with (of course) absolutely no obligation.

No, don't thank me, just doin' my job by keeping you posted on what is truly a great resource for people like you and me. Whoa! I'm out of room already and I haven't even mentioned . . . well, it'll have to wait for next issue.