GearFest: Global Reach from Fort Wayne

For fans of Sweetwater GearFest, this time of year is music to their ears.

GearFest is known around the world as a free, action-packed, two-day event of online seminars, workshops, live performances, artist appearances, deals, giveaways and, most of all, the latest gear news and products offered by Sweetwater of Fort Wayne, Ind. This year’s event will be June 25 & 26.

GearFest Executive Director Bob Bailey says there’s nothing like it anywhere else.

“The Deal Zone is the first place people run to and we have customers from all over the world wanting to meet up with the hundreds of companies showing the latest products and gear for recording artists,” he says.

Panels of engineers, producers, light designers and award-winning song writers and musicians will talk about what they do and the art of achieving excellence in their fields. Watch demonstrations and videos of new gear featuring Sweetwater experts and vendor representatives. Attendees will get the inside scoop directly from manufacturers and learn what’s coming out next in brand-name equipment.

Traditionally held on the Sweetwater campus in Fort Wayne, GearFest pivoted to an exclusively online event last year and will be online again this year, Bailey says.

“This year’s online GearFest has been greatly expanded and improved with more presentations, more big-name artists and better deals,” he says.

Among the many headliners at this year’s festival are Grammy-winning musician, singer, songwriter and producer Peter Frampton and bassist Ian Hill of Judas Priest. More big-name artists will be announced on in upcoming days.

Sweetwater is the largest online music retailer in the world. It specializes in recording equipment and software, guitars and guitar accessories, bass guitars and accessories, keyboards and synthesizers, drum sets and drum accessories, live sound equipment, DJ equipment, microphones and more. All shipping is free and products come with a two-year warranty. There’s live phone support, flexible pay options, an onsite repair shop and an online Knowledge Base with more than 27,000 articles on music technology and audio engineering.

Sweetwater focuses on providing exceptional customer service and employs more than 500 highly trained sales engineers, many of them musicians, explains Heather Herron, vice president of corporate communications.

The sales engineers undergo 13 weeks of proprietary training before interacting with customers. Continued training takes place twice weekly so that they have the latest information on new products. Customers are paired with a specific sales engineer who gets to know them and their goals.

“That one-on-one approach is at the core of what we do. It’s not about the sale, it’s about helping our friends make their dreams come true,” Herron says.

The Sweetwater campus is 163 acres large, located on the west side of Fort Wayne. The main building is about 400,000 square feet large. There’s also a 500,000 square-foot distribution center on the southwest side of the property. The campus houses the music store along with a performance theater, three large conference rooms, a full-service diner, gourmet coffee shop, free arcade, fitness center with a personal trainer, salon and spa, medical clinic staffed by a full-time doctor and a registered nurse. Everything is open to the public except the fitness center and medical clinic. Sweetwater employs more than 2,000 people.

The main building is also home to the Sweetwater Academy, serving more than 900 students. A large outdoor covered amphitheater hosts summer concerts and other events.

Sweetwater was founded by Fort Wayne resident Chuck Surack in 1979 as a recording studio in his home. He went from the recording studio business into the music technology retail business after he was frustrated in his own attempts to find a reliable, knowledgeable music technology retailer with affordable prices, strong customer service and technical support.

In the early 1980s, the revolutionary Kurzweil K250 keyboard emerged. The groundbreaking keyboard gave musicians and composers access to realistic orchestral sounds, among others, opening new possibilities for music composition and performance.

Surack created his own sound library for the keyboard and gained a national reputation as an expert at programming the instrument. As Surack’s expertise became known, customers kept coming back to him for product advice and eventually the company began representing more product lines and rapidly developed and implemented its unique philosophy of relationship-based selling, which treats customers as friends. ❚