I recently visited the largest music store in the country, Sweetwater. Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sweetwater is the second largest music retailer in the country with only one location. Guitar Center, the county’s largest music retailer, has 294 stores. Sam Ash, the 3rd largest music retailer in the U.S. has 44 locations.
I met the founder of Sweetwater, Chuck Surack in the 1980’s when his business was run from his home in Fort Wayne. He had a recording studio in his basement in Indiana, as I did at the time! I bought a high-end digital music workstation, an 88-key keyboard, Kurzweil K250 from the back of his van in a parking lot! He recently sold the business for over a billion dollars.
Last Year, Sweetwater Did $1.6 Billion in Sales!
You may wonder how such a thing is possible. I remember decades ago visiting Sweetwater when it was still in Chuck’s home (although it was a bigger, nicer home). He had a network of Macintosh computers with sales engineers fielding calls from people all over the country. He had a thriving mail order business. What separates his business from all the others doing this sort of business was that his salespeople were highly trained professionals. Not only that, but he invested in technology so that all the sales engineers could call up all the information of all the products they sold right on the computer screen along with pictures of the front and back panels. So they could provide customers with an incredible level of support. The transition to online sales was seamless. Each sales engineer undergoes 13 weeks of training before they begin servicing customers.
Sweetwater Has 600 Sales Engineers and 2,000 Employees!
The store in Fort Wayne, Indiana is like a college campus consisting of several buildings including a huge outdoor amphitheater, multiple, state-of-the-art recording studios, as well as world-class performance venues. The store is built like a mall with each department occupying different “stores” within the mall. There is a huge eating area much like a food court in a shopping mall. The distribution center looks like an Amazon warehouse.
Visiting Sweetwater is such an interesting experience. At the entrance, is something akin to a museum of music gear through the decades, from old analog tape recorders, to vintage synthesizers and other gear. These were all products that Chuck Surack had in his personal studio over the years.
You can watch the accompanying video to get a taste of what this operation is like. If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worthwhile checking out the largest music store in America!
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