From farmland to a global destination: Sweetwater shares the story behind its rural growth

In real estate, they say it’s all about location. In recent years, Fort Wayne's energy and focus has largely centered on Downtown, but some local companies are decisively setting up shop in other parts of the community and finding success there, too. 

In the case of one home-grown success story, Sweetwater, they’ve made the most of 183-acres of real estate off of Highway US-30, bucking local development trends--and pandemic retail trends with an expansive brick-and-mortar shop. 

Sweetwater's campus is located at 5501 US-30 West.

In 2020, Sweetwater unveiled its new $52.5-million-dollar distribution center. This state-of-the-art facility has 480,000 square feet of usable space—nearly quadrupling the size of their previous warehouse. It has a footprint of more than seven acres. In addition to more space for increased inventory, new technology custom-built by Sweetwater's IT team allows orders to be processed and filled faster, resulting in shorter delivery times.

But the growth doesn't stop here. Sweetwater's new 44,000-square-foot retail music store opened in July, making it the largest in the world. Since then, Vice President of Campus Sales Operations & Artist Relations Thad Tegtmeyer, says they’ve been busy keeping up with demand and are optimistic about the future. He made these comments around the time the company announced its plans to keep growing through an investment group

Sweetwater's store expansion includes the addition of a band orchestra store.

Earlier this month, Sweetwater was named to Newsweek's list of America's Best Customer Service 2022, which extends to its on-campus retail store. According to Vice President of Corporate Communications Heather Heron, the company and store's location—though one facet of many—was far from an afterthought. 

“For one thing, it's conveniently located because we're right off of I-69,” she says. “So we have a lot of people coming in from the region, not just from Fort Wayne. People drive down from Detroit, or they drive over from Chicago, drive up from Cincinnati, because we’re only three or four hours from some of those bigger locations. And we've worked really hard to make our store a destination.”

Sweetwater's new retail store entrance provides a glimpse into what you can expect inside.

Herron says there’s a quality-of-place aspect at play on Sweetwater's campus that’s difficult to articulate; you just have to come on-site to experience it. She notes that while you can order all the same items that are available in the store via their online store, the retail store creates a sense of community and a tactical experience for music lovers. 

“This means when people come visit, there's the sense that we're all sharing the same passion for making music,” Herron says. “It's just this really cool vibe that we've created. And so we really feel like it makes sense to stay here.”

Customers and employees alike share this sentiment, as evidenced by the number of employees the company relocates every year. Sweetwater currently has employees from nearly all 50 states and several countries. Herron says Fort Wayne’s appeal as a family-friendly and affordable city plus Sweetwater’s draw make for a winning combination when recruiting and retaining talent. 

Still, there’s no single ingredient that Herron attributes to the company’s success. Rather, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Investing in what they know works has served them well over the years. 

“When we moved from the Bass Road location to this campus, we didn't build huge; we've built it incrementally,” she says. “So all along the way, we've added more storage space. We’ve added the second floor for the sales engineers and later added the new warehouse. We've done it slowly over time, so that we’ve been able to grow into the space, and we’ve been thoughtful and smart about the way we've grown.”

Sweetwater's campus is known around town for its in-house slide.

If you plan to visit Sweetwater's campus soon, here are five things Thad Tegtmeyer, Vice President of Campus Sales Operations & Artist Relations, says are "must dos."
 
  1. Tour the campus. “The tour helps you understand all the facets of the Sweetwater local regional operation, as well as the national operation,” he says. “You're going to see some really cool spaces, like the studio and lots of different things. 
  2. Visit the newly-expanded retail store. “I think it’s something that everyone should do, whether you're a musician or not,” Tegtmeyer says. There’s a lot to take in and the energy is positive.  
  3. Stay for a bite and/or enjoy your favorite beverage. Tegtmeyer says a meal at the Downbeat Diner should be high on your list. You won’t be disappointed with a coffee or ice cream from Crescendo Club & Cafe either.
  4. Take in live music. According to Tegtmeyer, there are always artists' events or shows going on in the building or at the pavilion. Be sure to check out Sweetwater's popular Live at Lunch series, featuring free lunchtime performances by groups like the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and other events like Open Mic Nights.
  5. Go down the slide. Enough said.

This story was made possible by support from Sweetwater.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.