Sweetwater has opened a standalone marketplace, Gear Exchange, for used musical instruments and equipment. But one of the main goals of the marketplace is to drive sales of new instruments on the company’s main website.
“It’s a growth initiative for sure,” said Andy Rossi, vice president of Gear Exchange. “And it’s sort of parallel world to what sweetwater.com is known for, which is new products.”
The key to Gear Exchange is that sellers can avoid any fees associated with selling their equipment if they take their payment in the form of a gift card for Sweetwater.
“You can hold on to 100% of what you sell that product for, and you put it into a Sweetwater gift card and then use it on SweetWater.com for any of the millions of products that are on that site,” Rossi said. “That is boosting your buying power. That is the most cost-effective way to sell and buy. Sweetwater is an active new product seller connected to an active used seller marketplace. That connection is unique.”
Rossi said the idea for the marketplace came from feedback among Sweetwater customers. Those customers often asked about trading their older instruments for better prices. Sweetwater also operated an online bulletin board that connected buyers and sellers of used instruments and equipment. Gear Exchange takes things a step further, facilitating the sale of used equipment and offering the no-fee/gift card payout to ensure the money from used-equipment sales is used for new equipment purchases.
Rossi said musicians are often interested in trading up for higher-quality gear.
“Every guitar player has a mirror that that he or she looks in, because that’s part of it. Seeing yourself in that way. It’s part of that dream,” he said. “And that dream leads to you wanting to buy or sell or both to get the dream instrument. It’s always tough to just spend money on the things you want, the things you dream about, as opposed to the things you need, like milk and bread. So the majority of the sellers that you see on a place like Gear Exchange are active music makers who are interested in moving upward in quality or specifications.”
Sweetwater, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is ranked No. 71 in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 100 database of online retailers.
Storefronts and technology
Besides the gift-card option, Gear Exchange is much like any other niche marketplace.
Sellers can create their own customized storefront, outline policies for returns and add a biography page. Sellers’ listings can include photos of the instruments and gear they no longer need or want.
There are no listing fees on Gear Exchange. If a seller doesn’t want a gift card, Gear Exchange collects 5% of the transaction and a 2.5% bank-processing fee. There are no other fees.
Gear Exchange, like Sweetwater, runs on a home-built platform.
“We have our own engineers, our own web developers,” Rossi said. “We have our own fraud detection, our own tech support, our own customer support.”
Customer support and in-house expertise is arguably Sweetwater’s greatest competitive strength. Many of its customer service and sales staff have studied audio engineering or have other music-related degrees. Additionally, nearly every new Sweetwater employee must complete an intense 13-week training program called Sweetwater University. More than 80 industry experts run 300 classes on subjects including digital audio and modern production software to analog circuitry and acoustics.
“There’s a real culture here of helping dreamers fulfill their dream,” Rossi said. “That sounds pretty salesy, I know, but it actually is real. And that’s really what we do.”
With Gear Exchange, the company now has another vehicle to help musicians chase their dreams and help Sweetwater drive revenue.
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