By Zach Collier
Sweetwater is the largest online retailer of instruments and audio equipment in the US, with revenue in excess of $1.4 Billion in 2021. Founded by Chuck Surack in 1979 as a mobile recording studio that he operated out of the back of his VW bus, Surack’s knowledge of audio equipment and his excellent customer service gained him a loyal following, and he began selling instruments and audio equipment.
The company was an early adopter of the internet, beginning online services in 1995. The company grew to 220 employees by 2006, and reached 2,300 employees by 2021. This phenomenal growth year after year prompted plans to expand the company’s physical space.
Most Provo Music Magazine readers have used Sweetwater.com at one time or another. But have you ever wondered where your gear is coming from? Let’s take a look at the Sweetwater headquarters in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Opened in June of 2021, Sweetwater’s campus features a 44,000 square foot megastore. It feels like the music-version of the Apple Store. They have the world’s largest pedal display, with more than 1,100 pedals and over 50 working headphones for guests. They also have over 10,000 different items, representing more than 1,000 manufacturers. Pianos, mics, amps, drums, and even orchestral equipment, all in beautiful, functional show rooms.
Down the hall from the store is the Downbeat Diner, a full service restaurant “at cafeteria prices.” Their staff prepares everything from scratch each day from 6 AM to 7 PM. The Downbeat Diner was installed to help Sweetwater reps with their commutes. Since most employees at Sweetwater earn a living on commission, time is of the essence. Also included on the campus are a gym, a hair salon, and medical facilities.
Also located on the first floor are Sweetwater’s state of the art recording studios and indoor Performance Theatre. Unlike most auditoriums, the acoustics in the Performance Theatre are super dry. Each seat is outfitted with headphones, which allows live performances to be professionally mixed and augmented with reverb effects, which the audience can experience in real time.
The second floor is where all the Sweetwater reps hang out. It’s constantly buzzing with activity. Reps are on the phone, joking with each other, and trying out equipment. They also attend Sweetwater University classes, where each rep receives world-class training on how to operate and troubleshoot all of the gear they sell. If any of the reps want to head downstairs to eat, they can either take the stairs, the elevator, or the slide.
Also located on the 163 acre campus is the Sweetwater warehouse facility. 480,000 square feet, it houses and ships all of the instruments meant for consumers.
If you’re ever passing through Fort Wayne, Indiana on tour (or on vacation), make sure to stop by. The campus is open to the public. If you call ahead, you can schedule a time to meet your Sweetwater rep in person. That’s how my bandmate Reed and I finally met Dave, who’s been our rep since we were 12. You can check out a video of our campus tour below.