Q: Can you tell us a little about Sweetwater Sound?
A: Sweetwater is a multichannel merchant of professional audio equipment. Our catalogs include ProGear, which typically has 500 pages and is mailed three times a year to between 500,000 and 700,000 people, as well as Sweetwater Select, a high-end book for record producers. We also have an educational division that puts out a couple of catalogs. Finally, there’s a bi-monthly newsletter, and our Web site has 250,000 pages of information.
Q: With paper and postage cost increases having a significant impact on catalogers these days, what determines how much effort to put into customer retention, as opposed to customer acquisition?
A: We spend more time marketing to our current customer base than to new customers. We go through a lot of effort to have someone find us, and spend time to understand what he or she needs. As a result, we are able to develop a trust relationship with our customers because they realize we are trying to partner with them to build their recording. This enables us, for example, to send our customers e-mails with relevant information, which is one way we are able to keep costs down.
Q: What are some other ways that you are trying to keep costs down?
A: We work with a company that helps us source paper on our own, so that we’re purchasing paper for each catalog based on the best rate I can find. From a postage perspective, we try to get bulk mailing rates as often as possible, even if this means trucking catalogs to bulk mailing locations throughout the country so that they aren’t moving through secondary channels of the post office.
Q: What are some of your customer engagement strategies?
A: We work really closely with manufacturers to find out what kind of promotions they have available and look for relevant offers for our customers. This way, we can develop a package of products and a message around it that clearly describes the benefits of the products. We use this strategy in both our e-mails and catalogs.
Q: Some multichannel merchants are finding that their call centers are playing a less central role as sales continue to migrate to the Internet. What about at Sweetwater?
A: We put 110% into providing acustomer service experience unlikeanything anyone has experienced before and our call center is a big part of that. For example, when someone places an order online, he or she receive a phone call from one of our sales engineers to make sure that was what they intended to buy — so they don’t receive something in the mail and say, “Hey, that’s not what I wanted.” Our call center associates all have professional recording experience. We also provide a large amount of training before someone is allowed to become a sales engineer and then continue upto six hours per week of ongoing training after that. The only way we can ensure that everyone understands the product and has a high level of respect for our customers is to have all of our employees, including the sales engineers, under one roof at our headquarters in Fort Wayne, IN.