Sara-Trans has brought modern music retail to India, opening
Asia's first all-fender store in Calcutta.
Driving Growth In All Facets Of The Indian Market
With a rare triple role in the music industry—manufacturer, distributor, and retail giant—India’s Sara-Trans Group has been a genuine game-changer for the Indian m.i. market. Founded as a manufacturer, Sara-Trans has emerged as a market-leader on every front, bringing a surge of A-list brands and talent to an emerging music scene.
Established in the early 1980s, Sara-Trans started out as an offshoot of founder Jasbeer Siingh’s family business—a manufacturing and trading conglomerate in the steel, textiles and agricultural segment. Siingh, a qualified mechanical engineer, took the company into the bag and case segments, its first foray into the music industry. Although the field was new to him, Siingh says his love of music and passion for the business drove him to make it a success. “And then,” he says, “there was no turning back.”
Based in New Delhi, Sara-Trans made its mark in its line of “TuffBags”—soft and shock-absorbent on the inside with a durable hard outer casing—as well as high-density industrial padding used in bags of every style and price point. The company now employs a staff of 600 at its 90,000-square-foot plant. A complete line of bags and cases, about 2,500 a day, are sold to OEM buyers and distributors on six continents. For five years running, Sara-Trans has received a Government of India award for highest product turnover.
Ambition and hard work have taken Sara-Trans from the grass-roots level into multiple facets of the music industry. In 1991 the company added its distribution branch, Reemal Investrade Co. To a market where the norm was cheap products and cut-rate imitators of name brands, Reemal introduced a long list of top-tier product lines, including Fender, Dunlop, Sonor, Sabian, Martin, Elixir, Remo, Numark, Akai, and others. Probably its greatest success story is Fender: An advisor to the guitar maker since its entrance into India, Siingh took a personal interest in making Fender the market leader it is elsewhere. At the end of 2011, Sara-Trans opened an all-Fender store in Calcutta, the first of its kind anywhere in Asia. Sara-Trans is now looked on as a coveted distributor for international brands hoping to enter the Indian market. “Reemal has a commitment to promoting fine music products in India,” says Siingh. “We aim to instill the appreciation of quality.”
In Sara-Trans’ view, the entry of A-list brands called for a modern music retail network, which the company launched in its OnStage chain. Showcasing a full range of major product lines, OnStage stores have been designed in roughly the style of music stores in the U.S. and Europe while catering to Indian customers’ preference for warm, intimate retail environments. “We have made it a one-stop delight for any music-oriented person, whether student, teacher, hobbyist, or professional,” says Siingh. With stores in every metropolitan area and “mini metro,” OnStage now operates 23 locations—with more planned for the near future.
Between distribution and retail, Sara-Trans has brought dramatic changes to the local m.i. market. As Siingh puts it, “The canvas of the Indian music industry has changed and is now looking a lot more colorful.” Since taking a number of existing retailers and distributors under its wing, Sara-Trans has coordinated its various divisions both horizontally and vertically. Each newly acquired business is run separately and headed by individual teams operating as independent profit centers. As Siingh says, “We now have specialized marketing teams for each brand with their own independent goals and future plans to take the brand forward. We also have brand custodians dealing with principals and working closely with the dedicated sales and marketing teams. This combination will add punch to our growth.”
After starting out as a novice in the field, Siingh has grown into one of the leading figures in the Indian music industry. The longtime president of the Indian Music Merchants Association, he has also been reelected for a third year on the prestigious Governing Council of the Export Promotion Council of India. Observers say Siingh’s personal qualities—knowledge, passion, persuasiveness, and understanding of the market’s nuances—are at the core of Sara-Trans’ success.
Siingh also maintains close ties to the Bollywood music scene. Through Sara-Trans’ involvement, Ehsaan Noorani of the top Bollywood trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy became the first Indian musician to collaborate on his own Fender signature model. Other star musicians have followed his lead, joining in Sara-Trans’ many efforts to promote music. Through its OnStage Music Foundation, the company has established opportunities for young musicians to connect with celebrated artists. A series of “Roadshows” by OnStage have provided a forum for young talent to perform. Top Indian musicians also serve on the Sara-Trans Group’s board.
While the Indian music market has advanced greatly in the wake of Sara-Trans’ efforts, substantial roadblocks remain. High import duties, complex laws, entrenched counterfeiting, and gray market imports make the market a difficult one for any foreign company to navigate. Add to that a general lack of music education and a population fragmented by language and culture—and there’s much work still to be done, says Siingh. Based on the idea that music education is the greatest catalyst for the growth of the industry, Sara-Trans has brought its teaching efforts to the forefront. The company is working to bring in professional musicians to instruct students throughout the country.
Today, Sara-Trans’ influence on the Indian market continues to grow. On the manufacturing side, the company is planning a new 390,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that will add substantially to its technology, product range, and staff. On other fronts, Sara-Trans has become a one-stop shop for music in India, and a crucial channel for brands looking to enter the market. “Last year our aim was to gain a global standard of precision and perfection,” says Siingh, “and today we can proudly say that we have achieved this target.”
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