The Sweetwater Difference
by Chuck Surack, Founder and CEO, Sweetwater
When I started Sweetwater in the back of my VW bus more than 41 years ago, I had one sole purpose: to help my friends make music. I never expected the business to grow as exponentially as it has, but the guiding principles it was founded upon are what continue today to be the driving force behind our success. Those same principles have allowed us to not only survive during these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, but to thrive amid the uncertainty.
I’m proud to say that with more than $805 million in sales in 2019, we are the nation’s number one online retailer of music instruments and pro audio gear. We don’t take that distinction lightly. It’s the result of hard work, dedication, and an unparalleled commitment to our customers, which include music studios, professional musicians, schools, houses of worship, bands, and individuals.
While many companies are investing in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence or chatbots, we have invested heavily in our people, which is what ultimately sets us apart from our competitors. That’s not to say that we don’t embrace technology. We certainly use it to enhance the customer experience, but it could never replace the emphasis we put on human interaction. Never has that need for Sweetwater’s 1-to-1 personal connection been more necessary and welcome than right now.
It’s no accident that we have become known as the experts when it comes to music instruments and audio gear. Each one of our nearly 500 sales engineers is highly trained; most have degrees in music production, music technology, or sound engineering. Before they ever interact with a customer, they go through 13 weeks of a program we call Sweetwater University. Beyond that, they continue to participate in training sessions twice a week to ensure that they stay up to date on the latest gear. That continuing education enables them to offer guidance on purchases and to guarantee that customers get exactly what they need.
Our motto is to “always do the right thing” and we mean it. It’s not about the sale. We often simply check in with customers to talk about the music they’re working on. It helps us understand and even anticipate their needs in a way that transcends a traditional transaction.
As we endure these trying times across the globe, people want to feel connected. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, we made it our goal to form true, lasting relationships with our customers. We have a duty and responsibility to be there for our community. There is, frankly, no other option for me, but to do the right thing and to be there for our customers no matter what it takes. To help them create, feel good, ease stress, and let go. I know how important this is to the Sweetwater customer, because I am the Sweetwater customer, too.
While we consistently offer competitive pricing, free shipping, and free tech support, the added value we truly provide to our customers is found in the relationships we form with them. When we are able help solve a problem, collaborate on an exciting project, or simply share our common passion for music, we have done our jobs. At the end of the day, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing we are able make a difference in the lives of those we serve.
Our hope is that these unprecedented times propel people into their dreams even more and that our products and services can help provide a sense of comfort and joy when they need it most. If we are helping people in their time of need, then we are fulfilling our mission as a company.
Sweetwater’s Founder and CEO Chuck Surack was an entrepreneur from an early age. As a child he made and sold pot holders by the hundreds and managed an extensive paper route. After he graduated from high school, his love of music led him to become a professional saxophonist and keyboard player in touring bands. In 1979, he combined that love of music with his entrepreneurial talents and founded Sweetwater Sound as a 4-track recording studio in the back of his VW bus. Sweetwater Sound quickly grew into a leading studio in the Fort Wayne area.
Chuck also turned his technical skills to programming the K250, the revolutionary sampling keyboard from Kurzweil. He gained a national reputation for his skills, and provided custom sound design and recording studio consulting to artists such as Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Aerosmith, and many others. Working with these artists, he recognized a need for a music and pro audio retailer that was different from the standard music store. The retail division of Sweetwater arose from his dream to provide unmatched customer service and expertise — two things he found lacking in the retailers he dealt with when purchasing gear for his own studio. Under his leadership, Sweetwater has experienced explosive growth and has become one of the most respected companies in the industry, as well as the number one online retailer of music instruments and pro-audio gear in the nation.
Additionally, Chuck owns 10 businesses, including SweetCars, Sweet Aviation, Sweet Helicopters, and Longe Optical. He is very involved in community service and strongly believes in giving back. He currently serves on the boards of Easter Seals Arc of Northeast Indiana, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and Greater Fort Wayne Inc., among others. He is also a member of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s kitchen cabinet. He and his wife Lisa are leading philanthropists in the Fort Wayne area, donating to more than 600 causes annually.
Chuck is an active musician, playing saxophone and keyboards at about 70 gigs each year. He loves flying and can often be found at the helm of a helicopter.