Sweetwater hits billion dollar milestone

(Photo by Visit Fort Wayne)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business): Fort Wayne-based Sweetwater is marking a major milestone in its more than 40-year history.

In a year in which many businesses have struggled as a result of the pandemic, the music instrument and audio gear retailer says it hit more than $1-billion in revenue in 2020. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Surack says the achievement is about more than money. “I’d like to think that our success helped others.”

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Surack said the company has been in a position to give some sort of relief to people during the pandemic.

“What’s really important to me and flattering to me is how we were able to help so many people and particularly this year,” Surack said. “I heard over and over how much therapy we were providing and how they always wanted to learn to play an instrument and now they have the time and we were able to fulfill 1.5 million customers’ dreams and aspirations and that, to me, is totally flattering.”

Heading into the fall, Sweetwater said it was seeing e-commerce sales comparable to the holidays and Surack said the company ended the year with a “really strong” fourth quarter.

Surack says the record sales involved a shift in the volume of certain products that are sold throughout a given year.

“The products that are used for stadiums and for concerts are actually the big expensive products. So, we didn’t sell mixing consoles and amplifiers and speakers because nobody was touring in 2020 and as that will pick back up, those are high-ticket items that will grow our business quite a bit more,” he said. “Even though last year we did $1.1 billion, it was made up of lesser-expensive instruments. So, it just meant more invoices, more customers, more transactions.”

In addition to the growth in revenue, the company also added to its workforce throughout the year with more than 400 new jobs. Sweetwater also expanded its brand new, 480,000-square-foot distribution center by an additional 50,000 square feet over the summer.

“We were concerned most about the safety of our employees and of course the safety of our customers when we opened back up, but as business grew, we also had to worry about the mental health of our employees. So, we started hiring as many people as we could hire and they were every role in the company from IT to the sales department and clearly out in the warehouse.”

Sweetwater currently employs some 2,000 workers and Surack says he expects that number to grow in 2021.

Looking forward, Surack says he hopes to do “more of the same,” though he doesn’t know what 2021 will bring.

“We’re almost through the month of January and that’s been a great month, but it’s a little bit hard to predict what the rest of the year will be. As we gain more confidence, it’s been easier and we think it’s going to be a great, strong year.”


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