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Sweetwater Revenues Roll Past $1 Billion

In 2020, Sweetwater served more than 1.5 million customers, taking annual revenues past $1 billion for the first time in the company’s 42-year history.

Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater.
Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater.

Fort Wayne, IN (February 17, 2021)—The past year was one for the record books in the U.S., and not in a good way, thanks to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet there was a silver lining for some, including pro audio equipment and music instrument retailer Sweetwater, which set its own record in 2020.

With professionals gearing up to work from home during lockdown, individuals and organizations implementing new video streaming and podcasting solutions, and a good chunk of the population looking to further its musical ambitions, Sweetwater served more than 1.5 million unique customers last year. That proved to be a significant increase from 2019, and 2020 ultimately drove the company’s annual revenues past the $1 billion milestone in for the first time in Sweetwater’s 42-year history.

Caring customer engagement has been key, according to CEO Chuck Surack, who famously started Sweetwater Sound as a mobile recording studio in the back of his VW microbus in 1979. Initially working from home, the company’s sales engineers struggled with how to best contact and communicate with customers, he reports. “I advised them to follow suit with our company’s mission, which is to simply ‘do the right thing’ and call just to ask them how they’re doing. No hidden agendas or sneaky ways to try and push or sell products.”

Noting that 82% of calls with customers are outgoing, Surack adds, “We’re continuing with this frequency and form of communication as it’s been preferred by our customers.” Most of Sweetwater’s 500-plus sales engineers have returned to the company’s campus during the pandemic, where they are following CDC and local government guidelines.

Sweetwater's new 480,000-square-foot distribution center
Sweetwater’s new 480,000-square-foot distribution center

That campus is ever-growing, too. Just prior to the pandemic, Sweetwater opened a new 480,000-square-foot distribution center—four times the size of the previous building—that added 50,000 more square feet for inventory. The company also added 400 new jobs last year, a 30% bump in the total workforce, which now numbers around 2,000.

“We built a brand-new sales floor in November that can house around 1,100 sales engineers,” says Surack, who plans to hire up to 130 new sales engineers. “We also have some expansion plans in the works for our on-campus music store. It will be double the size of the current store and should open late this spring.”

Sweetwater’s annual summer GearFest attracted more than 18,000 people to the campus in 2019. In 2020, in response to the pandemic, the company took the event online. More than 125,000 people participated worldwide, tuning in for 16-plus hours of livestreamed panel sessions and interviews, educational content and, of course, deals and giveaways, during the two-day event.

“We’ll plan to continue offering a virtual component so that we can meet our customers and fans of music where they are,” says Surack. “While there’s nothing like having nearly 20,000 people in-person at our campus in Fort Wayne from all around the world, we still want to allow the opportunity for people to experience GearFest from the comfort of their home if they can’t make it to us. With Covid-19 still a concern, we’re working out the plans and logistics for GearFest 2021; however, we look forward to the future where we can offer both experiences.”

Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in the back of his VW microbus in 1979.
Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in the back of his Volkswagon microbus in 1979.

There has been one constant during the pandemic, says Surack, a former touring sax and keyboard player. “Despite how much of the way we live, work and gather has changed over the last year, especially for the audio community, one thing has remained consistent—music. While many stadiums and concert venues have been empty and will likely stay that way for some time, people will continue to play and make music virtually or from a distance. In 2020, we experienced skyrocketing sales for gear like audio interfaces, microphones, preamps and other devices that allow you to pre-record and put things on YouTube or use for Zoom and live broadcasts. We anticipate that this will remain consistent as more people take up an interest in making music remotely, perhaps for the long haul.”

Hopefully, that love of music will see us through to whatever comes next. “While the industry has definitely not remained unscathed by the pandemic,” he says, “I am confident that music will continue to prevail until the community is able to return to a sense of normalcy.”

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