Massive selection and global sales expertise make
Belgium-based company a go-to distributor
“In the early ’90s, Belgium-based EMD Music became one of the first musical instrument companies to start bringing in product from China. A distributor since 1963, before major economic pacts streamlined intra-European commerce, the company was already an expert navigator of cross-border trade. With its entry into China, though, EMD kicked off the truly global phase of its business. By 1995, it had established its proprietary brand, Stagg—still its signature product line today—and ignited a period of rapid growth that ran through the early 2000s. In 2003 the company opened a U.S. office, and in 2008 extended operations to Canada. Today, EMD’s products are sold in some 70 countries on six continents. Its product mix covers almost every category, from guitars and amps to percussion, strings, brass, woodwinds, pro audio, lighting, and thousands of accessories. Between its vast selection and its resources for partner companies, including a vast warehouse in China and an advanced B2B network, EMD Music is now a genuine one-stop-shop for music gear sellers everywhere.
“The idea with Stagg was to create a ‘house brand’ concept that gives the dealer a consistent message across their store,” says Tony Graham, North American sales manager for EMD. “No other company offers the range of product we do under a single brand name, and we are always looking for unique SKUs that fill gaps for dealers. Our statement is ‘Stagg—Gets You Playing,’ and this holds true across all categories.”
Reflecting on EMD’s beginnings in Belgium, company founder Leonardo Baldocci recorded a NAMM Oral History interview on the early challenges of even extending a distribution network across the border to the Netherlands. “It was a very difficult situation,” he said, “because when we started out in Europe, it was very fractured. With all the different countries, everyone had their own distributor, and going across borders was [a major undertaking].” As Baldocci went on to add, it took EMD all of a decade to build a solid distribution model just for the Benelux countries. With this hard-earned knowhow, though, Baldocci and his team would steadily expand their model into new markets. Today the tradition is carried on by the founder’s daughter Giovanna Baldocci, company director, who oversees all EMD operations with specialties in purchasing and importing. “It really is a family business,” says Graham, “and Giovanna has grown up in it.”
Although EMD’s worldwide headquarters remains in Brussels, arguably the crossroads of the operation is 7,000 miles away in Foshan, China where an expansive warehouse stocks the majority of its products. Choosing from that huge assortment, dealers can select whatever combination of SKUs they need and have them delivered in a container that ships directly from Foshan to their doorstep in six to eight weeks. Because the product mix is so diverse, says Graham, it’s easy for dealers to order everything they need in a single cost-effective shipment—and because every product is already in stock, there are never production delays. “This has given us a huge advantage over competition who can only offer the traditional direct factory approach,” he says, adding: “It’s super-efficient and fast. With our office staff in China and relationships that go back 25 years, we feel EMD can make direct importing a simple, stress-free experience for the dealer. No letter of credit required, no dealing directly with factories, no risk regarding any product problems, no paperwork or import documents to deal with. It really is a great way for dealers to significantly increase margin without the risk of going direct themselves.”
Along with its Stagg line, EMD is now a source for several other product ranges. Within its family of house brands, EMD has created “step-up” lines including Angel Lopez and JN guitars, Blaxx pedals, and Levante brass and woodwind instruments. In addition, the company is a distributor for third-party brands including Remo, La Rosa percussion, and Riversong guitars. In two recent agreements, it’s added British Drum Company to the mix and forged a distribution deal for Laney Amplification and HH Electronics. Other new additions will be announced at the upcoming winter NAMM show. As Graham adds, continual feedback from its partner dealers and distributors provides guidance on which categories to expand and which to scale back, keeping EMD’s offerings in alignment with demand. For instance, he says, currently slower categories including electric guitars and entry-level drum sets have been offset by strong sales in pro audio, ukuleles, violins, and piano benches—along with new options in the growing lighting category. In some segments where EMD started out at the entry level, longstanding partnerships have now taken the company into options up and down the price scale. As Graham says, “This gives us the opportunity to sell partners’ higher-end product into new markets.”
EMD’s North American branch is headed up by Graham along with Operations Manager Andrew Swift and Finance Manager Geraldine Ennis Markus, all based at the company’s facility in Nashville. Coordinating EMD business for all of the U.S. and Canada, their team makes up one piece of a worldwide operation. Back in Western Europe, EMD sells direct to dealers in the U.K., France, Germany, Benelux, Austria, Italy, and Spain. Across Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and Australasia, the company sells through partner distributors. Increasingly, it’s all tied together by a sophisticated B2B platform. EMD reports that 25% of its sales now come through the site, which gives dealers instant access to stock availability, images, back orders, purchase history, and more. A mobile app coordinating with the dealer site is expected to launch soon.
“EMD has probably the best B2B platform in the industry, according to our dealers,” says Graham. “Our marketing team in Europe has also stepped up our presence across Instagram and Facebook to keep up with market trends, and we are proactively working on quality video content for social media as well as assisting dealers with online selling.” Between its digital side and more traditional legwork, he adds: “We expect to expand our dealer base, increase awareness of EMD North America, grow our brand offering, and sell a lot of gear.”
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