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Q&A with Mike Clem: Before he takes on his new role as CEO of Sweetwater at the end of September

Sweetwater is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana and is one of the largest musical retailers in the country. Mike Clem will be taking over as CEO at the end of September

On September 29th, 2023, Mike Clem will take over as CEO and President of Sweetwater in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Mike took on the role of President in January of 2023, and when the current CEO, John Hopkins, announced his retirement after 30 years with the company, Clem was promoted to CEO. Mike joined the company in 2003 and has taken on several significant roles throughout the last two decades that have helped lead the company to great success. We had the honor to speak with Mike and ask him a few questions before he takes on this new role at Sweetwater.

Mike Clem grew up in Fort Wayne, so he knew of Sweetwater's existence well before he started working for the company. He said, "I loved the story of Sweetwater. I am a musician, and I have been playing since I was a child. Throughout high school and college, I played for a number of different bands, and I still play at my church today. My career background is in technology and marketing, so when I found my way to Sweetwater in 2003, it was a great way for me to mesh my passions. When I started, I helped build out and scale the first online e-commerce site here because things were still very much phone-based at the time." He told us that by the end of 2003, Sweetwater made $60 million in sales, and $4 million of that came from the e-commerce site. To some, that may sound like a small chunk, but in 2003, buying items online wasn't as popular as it is today. Over the years, the e-commerce portion of the business has grown significantly.

We asked Mike what attracted him to the CEO role, and he said, "Sweetwater is a company that takes care of customers like friends, obsesses over details and is built on integrity and ethics. So what draws me to the CEO role is to be able to continue to stay true to who we are and to continue to carry out the vision for the future." He went on to say that it has been a lot of fun watching the growth of the company over the last twenty years. He explained how it's been refreshing to work for a company that focuses so heavily on the customer experience and how proud he is that they are not another faceless, transactional e-commerce business.

John Hopkins is stepping down from CEO at Sweetwater as he retires after 30 years with the company. Chuck Surack is confident in Mike Clem as he takes on his new role and CEO and Presidet and he believes he will do an excellent job at keeping up company standard and morall.

When it comes to leadership, Clem plans to keep the bar high regarding the company's attention to detail and ensure that every experience is top-notch for its customers, whether in-store or online. Mike strives to have excellent communication and trust between himself and his staff. He said that if someone were to describe his leadership abilities, he believes they would say that he is authentic and transparent. During our conversation, we asked if there were any plans to incorporate work-from-home positions, and he said, "Our culture works best when we're onsite working together and collaborating. To ensure we're all highly trained on our products, you have to be here to see and hear the equipment, so we're very much an in-house work environment. As a result of that, we've invested heavily in creating an attractive space for our employees. We have a diner, fitness center, salon, doctor and nurse on site, and an arcade, so we've worked hard to say, 'Listen, let's all work together here at the office, but let's also provide some amenities that make life easier for you while you're here.'"

As for the current challenges for the business in today's market, Mike said that with the cost of goods increasing due to inflation, all of retail is uncertain. What is interesting, though, is that even through this product-based business industry problem, the music industry seems to be resilient. He continued by telling us that even through the pandemic, they continued to see growth in the company. He said, "We sell the things people needed during that time to stream their businesses, church services, school sessions, or whatever personal reason they needed to stream for. We also had several people picking up an instrument for the first time or re-engaging with a music hobby. We found 2.5 million new customers through that timeframe. Even today, they're still engaged with making music, so even in an uncertain economy, we were quite encouraged in the number of people finding joy in making music." Now that society has opened up again and gotten back to mostly precovid norms, Mike says that the business is doing better than before the pandemic. With this growth, they plan to continue supporting the community, doing more sales, concerts, and master classes, and finding new ways to accelerate the growth within their store. As for the challenges on the online side of the business, Clem says they are heavily focused on the user experience. The challenge with this is finding the best way to scale, augment, and equip people with the proper tools online to create a more intimate and personal approach to help aid customers in their online musical journeys. To make these experiences, they have incorporated technology to provide their clients with the most highly sophisticated product recommendations and personalization's to help add value to their online customers.

When it comes to the hopes for the future of Sweetwater, once Mike takes on this new role, he says there will continue to be a lot of exciting growth. Recently, they have incorporated several new markets, including band and orchestra, educators and content creators, and even branched into the used gear industry. They will continue to be heavily focused on their millions of customers and hold the bar high regarding customer experience and satisfaction. Over the last few years, Sweetwater has built a 350,000-square-foot distribution center in Glendale, Arizona. This warehouse is the first time Sweetwater has ever made anything outside of its headquarters here in Fort Wayne. The distribution center has been open since October 2022 and has been crucial for their West Coast customers. Before the warehouse was running clients where waiting 4-5 days for their equipment to get to them, but with this new location being strategically placed in Arizona, those wait times have been drastically reduced to just 1-2 days. Mike Clem is honored and excited to take on his new role as CEO and President, and you could hear the pride in his voice when he spoke about the company. We are excited to see what great things come from this transition at Sweetwater and want to send a huge thank you to Mike for taking the time to talk with us.

Sweetwater encourages those from all walks of life to take on the musical journey. Sweetwater sound prides themselves in customer service and satisfaction and Mike Clem plans to carry out these core values as he takes on his new role as CEO.

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