A sweet experience at Sweetwater Matt 20 Sep 2005

35 comments Latest by Chris

A few years back a music whiz that I know told me he buys all of his gear from Sweetwater Sound. Why? Because of the great customer service and knowledgeable sales staff. Since then I’ve heard good stories about Sweetwater from other musicians too.

So when it came time for me to purchase a new audio interface for my Mac I decided to give ‘em a shot. I had an interface in mind but wanted a few questions answered before placing my order. I sent an email via the site and quickly got a response from Mac Hatton. Mac recommended we talk on the phone since “one question usually leads to three more.”

On the phone, Mac explained my options and convinced me that the Presonus Firebox was the right interface for my setup. I ordered it along with a Midi cable.

After placing my order, I received an invoice and also got a separate email signed by the CEO and President, Vice President of Sales, and Vice President of Operations. It included all of their email addresses too. Here’s what it said:

It is important for us to know that we have met your standards for excellence and professionalism. We are continually striving for new ways to improve our quality of service and offer our clients even greater value. Is there any way we can make it even easier and more efficient for you to do business with us or to help you more fully enjoy the benefits of your new music or audio equipment?

Also, the letter mentioned that Mac would be personally responsible for my account in the future so I won’t have to start over from scratch each time I need to order something:

The reason we make someone personally responsible for your account is so you can be assured of receiving personalized service from an expert who will know and understand your individual needs each time you contact us - without you having to explain the same things over and over again. Because our Sales Engineers are the most experienced and best trained in the industry, you have a key “inside contact” who you can trust to provide you with the best advice available while having your long-term interests in mind.

The email also let me know that Sweetwater offers free technical support should I need it (available by phone, email, or the support area of the site). The site explains, “From the beginning, Sweetwater’s goal has been to provide complete service to our customers after they purchase from us; it’s core to our philosophy!” Nice.

A few days later, I received my order. Inside I found my gear along with some candy (apparently each order comes with a handful of “Sweetwater candy”). I unpacked my loot and realized that I’d been sent an extra Midi cable. I didn’t think I had ordered two but on the invoice it did say two cables. I sent Mac an email about returning the extra cable. He replied, “I threw in another cable for you. If you look at the price, nothing changed from your initial order. It never hurts to have an extra laying around! Thanks again for your business.”

Sweetwater delivered a solid customer experience from top to bottom. No wonder customers sing the company’s praises to others and come back for more.

35 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Brad 20 Sep 05

Yep, I’m another very satisfied Sweetwater customer; I’ve ordered quite a bit of sound equipment from them over the years and have always been impressed with their service. I didn’t trust them at first because they never listed their prices in their catalogue (that may have changed by now; I see they do list prices online), and I figured if I called for prices I’d get a hard sell from one of their reps, but in fact it was a very pleasant experience and their prices were in fact quite reasonable.

Jim Menard 20 Sep 05

I agree that their salespeople are well-informed. I have bought gear from them. Like Brad, I’ve been bothered that they never put the prices in their catalogs.

I’d prefer a choice: let me speak to a sales rep if I want to, but don’t force me to speak to one just to get a price or order something. I admit that they are good people providing good service, but it is not service on my terms.

John Zeratsky 20 Sep 05

Ditto that. I’ve been ordering from Sweetwater for years. Their sales staff (Stewart Hisey is my rep) is attentive and helpful without being too pushy.

FAA 20 Sep 05

I’ve been dealing with them since they were only a catalog, a phone number, and word of mouth marketing. Every experience, aside from them getting the hang of the whole having a web site worth using thing, has been extremely positive.

Dan Boland 20 Sep 05

Thanks for the tip, I’ll have to check them out next time I need anything. I’ve always gone through Musician’s Friend and have never had a problem with them (got my Washburn acoustic for $100).

Kevin Ballard 20 Sep 05

I know my Dad always buys stuff from Sweetwater Sound and has for years.

McD 20 Sep 05

There are three fundamental business strategies:

1. compete on the basis of value (lowest cost, efficiencies)

2. compete on the basis of service (personalized, high touch).

3. compete on the basis of leadership (no competition).

Sweetwater seems to be leveraging a web model with a focus on service to mitigate the customer’s fear of buying through the web.

Sweetwater and Musician’s Friends sell items that you mgith typically get for a local music store… Unfortunately for the local retailer, they can undersell on the basis of lower cost
in their business models. many smart consumers will follow this buying strategy:

1. visit the local retailer to “test drive” an instrument or get a local musician’s product recommendation (though the net plays in product selection more and more with reviews and forums). But the “hands on experience” is very crucial when buying an expensive instrument.

2. find the best network price on the item.

3. Take that price to the local retail and ask them to match it.

Over time the local retailer ends trying to compete on service but being pushed to compete on price since the essentail costs of goods becomes well known… But the retailer often needs to buy through a distributor and their
margins are affected by the additional “hand in the deal”.

Like Amazon vs. the local bookseller… we won’t have local music stores in another 10 years and only the largest chains will exist (Guitar Center and Mars). Only the stores that have a total focus on service or unique products will
survive. Those that try to get the local sale after the price is determined by on-line shopping will die.

I personally have made a ton of purchase from the local retailer because I want a local music store to survive. I do the same with book, coffee and other “mom and pop” businesses. It’s a form of commercial “conservation”…
a social ecology that values the protection of certain businesses as being important to a community. A shift in the buyer’s value system that doesn’t put price first.

When all the small retailers die the effects on pricing are very bad… it leads to monopoly power for the on-line and large chain vendors and the consumer looses everytime.
Of course, the power of the larger providers will win overtime… Blockbuster kills the mom and pop shop and
Netflix kills Blockbuster and P2P kills Netflix and so on.

kandace 20 Sep 05

I have absolutely enjoyed every interaction with Sweetwater, from the personable calls and service to the handful of candy - and their products are fantastic as well.

Brady 20 Sep 05

Competing on price is an ineffective model in today’s economy for most industries. On top of the practice being extremely destructive to the market as margins plunge to zero, the rewards are short-term. Someone may buy your cheaper product today, but price alone is typically isufficient for creating a lasting customer relationship. This is especially true as we see more and more products becoming commoditized.

Excellent service interfaces, whether man or machine, will be the next area of differentiation and competitive advantage. That’s why companies like 37Signals are so relevant today.

Brendon Bushman 20 Sep 05

I’ve also always had stellar experiences with Sweetwater - with their greatest asset being strong, thorough recommendations based on personal experience from my sales rep. (Thanks bob!) Even when I was a poor college student buying things piecemeal, he took the time to help me figure out what I really needed.

speaking of which: matt, is there any hope of a review of the Firebox after you spend some time with it? And what other units were you considering?

Dan Boland 20 Sep 05

Like Amazon vs. the local bookseller� we won�t have local music stores in another 10 years and only the largest chains will exist (Guitar Center and Mars).

Funny you mention them… I hate Guitar Center. I get the feeling that their mantra is “be a condescending dick to every customer,” because that’s been my experience with them just about every time I set foot in the store. And plus, in my hometown (Virginia Beach, VA), I always went to Mars because their service was great. Then GC moved in right next door and drove them out of business, which makes me hate them even more. They’ll never get a dime from me.

Brad 20 Sep 05

The thing is, Sweetwater has provided better and more knowledeable service for me than any local music shop ever did. Just yesterday I went to one of the leading music stores (independently owned) in my city looking for the Mackie Spike. They’re a Mackie dealer and I’ve bought Mackie equipment from them in the past. Of the three people I spoke with, two of them had never heard of the Spike and said the store didn’t carry it. The sales manager said, “Oh yes, we have that in stock, just go to the room down the hall.” I walked down and asked the salesman there, who said, “Mackie what? I’ve never heard of that.” I had to explain to him what it was, and that the manager had told me it was in stock, but he insisted they didn’t carry it. I walked out. If Sweetwater helps put stores like that out of business, that’s fine by me.

Andy Crouch 20 Sep 05

Sweetwater may well be the finest merchant I’ve ever dealt with on an extended basis in any industry. Their prices are fair (often quite low), their personal service is non pareil, their service department is heroic. I would feel bad about them putting local stores out of business except that no local music store I ever patronized in my decade as a working musician offered anything like the honesty, intelligence, and responsiveness of Sweetwater. Pretty amazing.

Tim Case 20 Sep 05

Hey Matt,

If you don’t mind me prying, which audio interface did you get?

I just bought a M-Audio Firewire Audiophile to use with Ableton Live.

Anders Toxboe 20 Sep 05

McD: It sounds like you’re repeating the business cases from your econ textbook. It also sounds like it is a few years old - from the times when internet had just spun the first large warehouses like amazon and ebay. On an updated note, the general trend is (at least in Denmark) that the more specialized and differentiated businesses are gaining more ground than the large warehouses are.

Chris S 20 Sep 05

Heck I’m going to visit their site and try and find something to buy.

Darrel 20 Sep 05

A few days later, I received my order. Inside I found my gear along with some candy (apparently each order comes with a handful of �Sweetwater candy�).

I used to work for a small design firm and we had a ‘personal account salesperson’ that handled all our orders for things like ink jets, new computers, hard drives, etc.

They would always toss in a big bag of MnMs with each order. An amazingly simple, cheap thing to do that always made a lasting impression.

Not that free Candy would make me any happier as a Qwest customer…you need to offer good service before you can try improving things with candy ;o)

Bill Bradford 20 Sep 05

only the largest chains will exist (Guitar Center and Mars)

Sadly, Mars went out of business a few years ago. marsmusic.com just goes to the Musician’s Friend (aka Guitar Center) web page.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen 20 Sep 05

Brady wrote: “Competing on price is an ineffective model in today�s economy for most industries.”

And yet, in the US, that’s exactly what most companies seem to want to do — and what is hurting our country’s economy.

As an experiment, next July 4 (or local national holiday), when you see someone wearing a patriotic t-shirt or other clothing item, ask them where it was made. 99% of the time: a) they don’t know; b) when they check, it’s not made in the country.

JF 20 Sep 05

And yet, in the US, that�s exactly what most companies seem to want to do � and what is hurting our country�s economy.

Not most companies, most consumers. Consumers drive this demand for low prices. Everyone wants everything for the LOWEST POSSIBLE PRICE so the companies deliver. Demand drives supply (and prices).

Bill 20 Sep 05

An honorable mention should go to Mercenary Audio in Boston. Their return policy is the best I’ve seen of any store of any kind, they double the manufacturer’s warranty on all products for no extra charge .

Dan 20 Sep 05

Sales Rep1: “Hey! It’s one of those guys from 37signals!”
Sales Rep2: “Throw in an extra cable and candy!”


I too will be checking them out for my next music gear purchase.

Darrel 20 Sep 05

Not most companies, most consumers. Consumers drive this demand for low prices.

That’s like blaming your kids for asking for candy at every meal and then you giving it to them.

Brady 20 Sep 05

Relevent news of note from the King of discounters:

Wal-Mart�s latest ads are a slick departure from its store-based product shots. Significantly, they don�t always focus on price. In one TV spot geared to college freshmen, for instance, a teenager unpacks a computer and makes up his dorm-room bed with snappy brown and beige striped sheets. Then the commercial shifts to quick cuts of other must-have college gear, from MP3 players and colorful mod furniture to cell phones. When the camera returns to the dorm scene, the student finds out he�s in the wrong room.

While Wal-Mart insists it isn�t about to abandon its cash-strapped core customer, executives say they want to appeal more to the upscale shopper who frequent its stores for great buys on underwear, cleaning products and other commodity products, but who otherwise bypass the higher-margin merchandise such as ladies apparel. In short, Wal-Mart wants to gain points with the more well-heeled shoppers that have helped drive Target Corp.�s same-store sales gain at twice the rate of Wal-Mart�s in the past year.
fortwayne.com Article

Seth 20 Sep 05

Yep, Sweetwater is pretty good. Word of advice to other music buyers - stay away from Zzounds. Once upon a time I ordered a pair of headphones from them. It took like a month to get to my house because their site didn’t tell me it was backordered.

Ian 20 Sep 05

They’re the best. For computers and keyboards, talk to David Mikautadze, he’s helped me make some great purchases.

Contrast with Guitar Center whose staff know next to nothing, including basic questions of price and inventory.

Wesley Walser 20 Sep 05

Thats probably one of the most amazing stories that I have ever heard. Too bad they sell something that I can’t see myself ever buying, I will definetly pass this along with friends who do the music thing.

Mark 21 Sep 05

Is it just me, or could their website really use some love?

Andrew Knott 21 Sep 05

Is this an Ad?

Tyler Jones 21 Sep 05

Yeah, my wife and I live just south of Ft. Wayne, IN - where their headquarters are. We went there to buy an inexpensive keyboard and they gave us a tour of the whole place. Plus they helped us pick a good starter keyboard. Excellent service all the way around.

Nolan Eakins 21 Sep 05

No, this is an ad:

Come visit sweetwater.com where you’ll get the best service, product, and candy. Our competitors don’t even know how to say please and forget the candy.


Ben 21 Sep 05

Sweetwater is great, but they are not always competitive on price. If you know what you want and don’t need help finding or using it, there are cheaper places to get commodity gear. If you need more than good prices though, Sweetwater (as well as Full Compass Systems) both have personalized service.

MACFAN 30 Oct 05

My Professional Audio Purchasing Experience was always at www.djmart.com now ProAudio America.

They have a feature called, “Negotiate a Better Price”.

This means you can Negotiate the price on any item, and the price really goes low, very low. Its amazing, I wanted to buy only the Mackie SRM 450 Pair and ended buying 2 Pairs, nearly for the price of 2 Pairs.

Order Shipped, next day. Why would I need a kind rep? I have my wifey for cuddles. Dont need a rep!

Think about the New Economy and how it benefits us. DjMarts example is perfect. You choose the price. Consumer has the power now.

Jarrod 03 Jan 06

I am a sales representative for Sam Ash Music stores, and I work strictly on commission. Having said that, I’m happy that people can find great service and prices on the internet. I have purchased many a product on the web, with great success as well as great failure.

However, I have to disagree with the notion that service from an internet company can be matched to the service you get from a brick and mortar store, particularly in the highly technical worlds of pro audio and digital recording. Most of my customers are happy with the fact that they can bring thier gear into the store weeks after a purchase and have me show them step by step how to operate it. They like the fact that they can go to a store, touch it, turn the knobs, pluck the strings, and feel a product’s overall durability. And lastly, they get to take home the product they’ve purchased that very day, instead of having to wait for costly shipping from a shipping company that could potentially damage thier gear.

But one shouldn’t expect the best of both worlds. I field numerous phone calls per day at Sam Ash Music from people who’ve purchased gear from an internet retailer, then call me looking for tech support on how to use it. I decline these people every single time. Again, I work on commission, so as a sales person I’m not going to spend time on someone over the phone who didn’t want to give me thier business. If you want the convenience of friendly, immediate, local, professional, hands-on tech assistance, then extend me the service of at least selling you the product, even if we have to match price with an internet retailer, which we often do.

I don’t know how many people will actually read this, but just a little perspective from one in the business. ;)

Chris 15 Jan 06

Very fun post! With knowing of Sweetwater for many years, and buying most of my gear through them, it’s simply astounding how people will buy gear from other places. If I’ve got to buy small things like cables or what have you, I’ll always get them there. Just like my big purchases. The guys are the most well trained in the industry, by far. All of them have had experience touring, engineering, and the like. For the Sam Ash employee…Sweetwater also is a brick and mortar store, not just an internet company.

And a major note for a lot of the guys talking about big companies putting little folks out of business…Sweetwater is an independant store. There are no Sweetwater Stores outside of Fort Wayne. Only one store there, too. Its a family owned business that just happens to sell a lot of gear with a friendly voice on the other end of the phone. Knowing there’s a guy (or girl) on the line who knows my system inside and out, can make recommendations on upgrades as a matter of course, and will ship things out lightning fast is why Sweetwater wins every time.

If you want the best price, go to Wal Mart. The sting of a cheap product will always outweigh the victory of a cheap price.