New Sweetwater CEO Mike Clem Amplifies Vision for Music Retail


E-commerce musical instrument supplier Sweetwater will not be singing a new tune under its newly-appointed CEO, Mike Clem. Instead, the company will be cranking up the volume to stay true to what it does best — meeting its customers’ needs.

The music technology and instrument retailer’s chief growth officer stepped into his new role on Sept. 29. Clem replaces John Hopkins, who retired after more than 30 years at Sweetwater.

Clem joined the company in 2003. In that interval, he held several key leadership roles in e-commerce and marketing that orchestrated strategic growth plans and innovation in all areas of the business. As chief digital officer, he oversaw the online shopping experience and strategy that became instrumental in driving Sweetwater’s growth.

“Mike is a natural choice to become CEO and president and has played a key role in our tremendous growth and success for the past 20 years,” said Hopkins. “I have had the pleasure of working alongside Mike and am confident in his leadership and vision for the future. Sweetwater is in great hands.”

Clem’s ability to lead the company into the future was instrumental in his selection, added Sweetwater Founder and Chairman of the Board Chuck Surack.

“Not only does he understand and value the principles that have guided me and Sweetwater for the past four decades, but he has a true heart for ensuring that we continue to take care of our customers, our employees, and their families, and our vendor partners,” he said.

Clem has over 25 years of experience in retail e-commerce, which began in the internet’s earliest days and includes many notable retail brands. He is recognized as an innovator, speaker, and mentor. A graduate of Purdue University, he is a lifelong musician who is passionate about the music industry.

Adapting Retail Strategies Kept Business in Beat

Clem, as both a retail expert and musician, saw many changes impact how online music purchases work. The most significant change was how instrument purchases moved from in-store to online.

“We work hard to help customers in that transition by adding more value and trust. That includes things like our free two-year warranty, free tech support, free shipping, our famous 55-point guitar inspections, and our highly trained product specialists,” he told The E-Commerce Times.

That journey for Sweetwater followed a strong roadmap of new ideas to serve customers. Currently, the company is finding exciting growth in markets like content creators, K-12 education, and used gear.

Another landmark is the music mecca’s new distribution centers that serve most customers with one-to-three-day shipping.

Hitting the Right Notes Amid Market Challenges

Sweetwater faces the same mounting challenges as other online retailers, such as economic uncertainties and shifting consumer behavior. However, the company also successfully navigates its own set of unique challenges in the music industry.

“Customers want trust and value more than ever, and we are also seeing heightened interest in financing options,” Clem offered.

Beyond that, Clem sees strong demand and engagement among music makers. It is a high-passion industry that stays strong even in uncertain economies, he observed.

Meeting that hallmark for customers is a vital goal. So, staying true to the company’s roots is his main focus as CEO.

“For over four decades, our culture has been centered on integrity, serving others, obsessing over details, innovating, and treating customers as friends. It is a winning recipe,” he added.

Playing Up Customer Service

Sweetwater is known for its over-the-top customer service and 650 highly-trained sales engineers. Clem sees that reputation among the most successful e-commerce strategies he implemented to grow the company.

“As a customer, you are paired up with one of these experts who gets to know you personally and can provide expertise and recommendations along your musical journey,” he explained.

As a result, the company gets to understand its customers at a very deep level. That allows Sweetwater to provide some of the most advanced personalization and one-to-one marketing in all of retail, he concluded.

“I often tell people that where we purchase may become less interesting, but where we research and discover new products is where retailers will be competing for an advantage. That is where we put our energy at Sweetwater,” he said.


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