Care packages for the folks back home

India's Sahara Care House lets expats send stuff -- not just cash -- to the folks back home.

By Anuradha Kher, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Immigration may be a contentious issue, but immigrants themselves are a gold mine. Worldwide, they sent more than $275 billion back to their families in 2006. Fees from these transactions, known as remittances, bring in a lot of money for the companies handling the transfer. Now an Indian firm called Sahara Care House is muscling in on the action, not by sending money, but by providing a suite of 60 products and services that immigrants can buy for their families.

Indians abroad send more remittances than any other expatriate group -- $26.9 billion in 2006 alone. But Sahara's focus groups revealed that "Indian immigrants have insecurities about their families' safety," says CEO Romi Datta. "Often they don't know whom to trust with such matters. So we're here to do everything for them."

The company has trained 3,500 "relationship ambassadors," who will, for example, deliver flowers, find buyers for real estate, or accompany loved ones to the hospital. Sahara has health-care deals with more than 2,000 hospitals in 197 Indian cities. And there's an exhaustive online catalog of clothes, jewelry, mobile phones, and food products to take care of gifting -- an important part of Indian culture. Cost: $1,100 per year for members, or just pay as you go.

"The next wave of the remittance market is to go beyond just sending money for living needs," says Dan Schatt, a senior analyst at Celent who has been tracking the remittance market in various capacities since 2000. "A lot of people are sending money, but many would prefer to send a refrigerator or pay bills" -- especially if they fear that greedy siblings might grab cash intended for frail parents.

Datta expects Sahara Care House, a subsidiary of $10 billion conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, to make $200 million in the next three years. It's targeting 10 million Indian immigrants around the world, starting with those in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Gulf states. That may seem ambitious, until you consider that there are 25 million Indian expats in the world. And nearly all of them have families. Top of page

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