580x80_sweetwater
Many of you know that for the last three years I have been a Sales Engineer at Sweetwater Sound. However, last Thursday was my final day at Sweetwater. (My wife and I have moved back down to Tennessee. I left the company on great terms. I’m actually pursuing a cool new opportunity…more on that to come in future posts.)

It has been a great three years. Sweetwater is a stellar company, and I feel that it is only appropriate that I post my thoughts on Sweetwater right here on Home Studio Corner.

My opinion of Sweetwater is obviously a biased one. However, being on the inside for three years has given me a very good look at the makeup of this company. If I didn’t like the company, I certainly wouldn’t post a review of it.

What makes Sweetwater different?

Anybody can sell music equipment, right? What makes Sweetwater any different from Musicians’ Friend or Zzounds? Aren’t they all just big box stores?

The folks at Sweetwater talk a lot about the “Sweetwater Difference.” Now it’s a bit of a cheesy phrase, but it makes a point — Sweetwater is different.

Don’t take my word for it. If you’ve never talked to a guy at Sweetwater, call ‘em up and ask to speak to any sales engineer, then ask him why you should buy from Sweetwater. (The number is 1-800-222-4700. It is permanently ingrained in my brain.)

So, what’s different?

Every company on the planet will tell you that they are extremely “customer-focused.” Very few do more than just say that. Sweetwater has put some amazing systems in place, all with the goal of taking care of customers.

Personal Sales Engineer

This is probably the biggest difference. Have you ever bought a car from a salesman, and you kinda wished you bought more cars, because he was so pleasant to work with? Do you ever go to a restaurant and request a specific waiter, because he has taken such good care of you in the past?

That’s kinda what it’s like to shop at Sweetwater. If you place an order online, you’ll get a call from an actual person. Not only that, you’ll work one-on-one with that person, making all of your future orders with the same person.

Your sales engineer isn’t some random dude working in a call center. All Sweetwater Sales Engineers go through three months of intense training before they can even start selling gear. It feels kinda like an accelerated masters program in audio.

Most people don’t really get why this is so cool, until something happens. FedEx damages your package. Your microphone dies, and you need one for a session tomorrow. In situations like these, you tend to freak out a little bit, because you just know it’s going to take hours and hours of your time to get these things handled, because the big corporate online retailer isn’t going to be much help.

This was probably one of my most favorite parts about working at Sweetwater. When something bad or unusual happened, I just took care of it for the customer. The customer made one phone call, told me what had happened, and I handled it from there. Sweetwater has these amazing systems in place that allow them to handle just about anything.

On top of having someone there day in and day out to handle any problems you may have with your order, it’s really nice to buy from the same guy every time. I had lots of customers who put together their entire studio one order at a time, and I was able to help them pick out all the right pieces.

On top of that, I was familiar with their setup and their goals. I would regularly talk customers out of buying something they didn’t really need, or would show them a less expensive option. I was interested in helping them put together a complete system, not just making a quick sale.

Tech Support

Okay. You hear the words “tech support,” and you immediately assume that you’re going to be talking to someone in India who barely speaks English, right?

Well, that’s not the case with Sweetwater. They have a dedicated tech support staff on site. These guys are phenomenal. They handle any and all technical issues you may have with your order.

Why is this important? I can think of no other dealer that offers free tech support. Normally that’s the job of the manufacturer. Sweetwater, however, takes it upon themselves to handle every aspect of the customer’s buying experience. That means spending a ton of money to hire in a group of really sharp guys to deal with tech support issues.

Sure, manufacturers offer tech support, but sometimes you’ll call Company A and tell them that you can’t get their software to work with Company B’s audio interface. They’ll tell you it’s Company B’s fault and to call them. You call Company B, and they say it’s Company A’s fault.

Not to dog on manufactures’ tech support (some of them are REALLY good), but the folks at Sweetwater don’t have to defend their specific products. They support the entire system. Having issues getting your M-Audio interface and Novation controller working with Logic on a Mac? If you buy it all from Sweetwater, you just make one phone call to their tech support guys, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

Shipping

Free shipping is pretty much the norm for most online dealers. Sweetwater goes a step further. Most places make you order a certain dollar-amount before you qualify for free shipping. Sweetwater will sell you a single set of strings and ship them for free.

It’s a small thing, but it’s pretty cool!

Website

I’m sure you’ve seen Sweetwater’s website, but have you really checked out all they have on there? If you get nothing else from this article, at least do yourself a favor and check out Sweetwater.com.

Sure, there’s a lot of information on buying equipment, but they have pages upon pages of really good, free content — like their PC Optimization Guide or the Pro Tools Resource Center. They even have a comprehensive audio glossary!

You can never spend a penny at Sweetwater and still get a TON of value out of their website. (I don’t know about you, but if a company invests this much in providing me with free content, I’m much more likely to buy from them out of gratitude.)

Cons

A good review needs to be balanced, so I’ve prepared a few cons for Sweetwater to go along with the overwhelming number of pros.

  • They’re not local. If you need something today, and you don’t live near Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sweetwater won’t be able to help you. If you need it tomorrow, they’ll be able to take care of you. However, they are limited by the fact that they need to ship the items to you.
  • If you don’t like interacting with people, you may not like working with Sweetwater. Everything at Sweetwater is centered around having a relationship with customers. That means you’ll get a courtesy phone call with your order. It also means your sales engineer will call you a few weeks later to make sure you’re happy with everything. To me, that’s really cool. Some people don’t think so.
  • If you don’t value service, advice, and support, you may not like working with Sweetwater. While their prices are very similar to everyone else in the industry, you can always find a stupid deal somewhere else. I guarantee you that a Guitar Center employee will match or beat any price you get from Sweetwater. That’s because all they can offer is price. You won’t get the same level of advice, service, free tech support, or professionalism from any other retailer. They’ll slash their prices because they have nothing else to offer you. If that’s appealing to you, great! If you’d rather buy from a company who cares about you and will take amazingly good care of you, buy from Sweetwater. You may pay a few extra bucks here and there, but I will gladly pay more for good service. After all, every time you spend money with a company, you’re casting a vote for that company. You’re saying that you approve of the way they do business. If a company has shown me respect, courtesy, and great service, I’ll buy from them even if they are a bit more expensive. It’s my way of showing support for their efforts.

In Closing

I could go on and on about plenty of other cool things at Sweetwater, but I’ll just mention them in a few bullet points:

  • LEED Certified – Did you know that the new Sweetwater campus is completely green?
  • Privately-Owned – Sweetwater is owned by president and founder Chuck Surack. There’s one location in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They’re not some huge corporation with hundreds of locations. They rock the music industry…all from one warehouse.
  • Award-Winning – Sweetwater wins all sorts of awards not only for sales, service, and support, but also for its involvement within the community of Fort Wayne. Chuck is a very generous man, and the Fort Wayne Community has benefited greatly from him and Sweetwater

I’m obviously quite fond of Sweetwater. And no, they haven’t paid me to post this review. I simply think it is fitting that I spread the word as I move on to something else.

If you’ve never given them a shot in the past, call them up next time you need something. I promise you’ll be impressed.

Thanks Chuck and the rest of the folks at Sweetwater for three great years.