The world knows about the competition between Adidas and Puma, but we Keralites have our own little brand rivalry and it polarises Malayalis. Unlike Adidas and Puma, there is no bad blood between the two brands, but Popy and John’s have been trying to outmanoeuvre each other in the umbrella market for more than two decades.
The competition between Popy and John’s is something that only Malayalis will understand and leaves people from other parts of India awestruck. Like Adidas and Puma (and Adidas and Nike now), Popy and John’s has a loyal following that prides itself in showing off their branded umbrellas. And this loyal following has led to two of the most successful Indian companies.
The story starts in 1954 when Thayyil Abraham Varghese founded the St George Umbrella Mart in Alappuzha. When Abrahan Varghese passed away in 1968 and his sons split up. In 1995, two decades later, his grandsons founded Popy and John’s.
Davis Thayyil founded Popy Umbrella Mart. He named his company after his brother, whose nickname was Popy. Davis’ brother did not speak till he was 8 years old and the only word that he said was ‘Popy’ – short for his favourite candy, Poppins.
Joseph Thayyil founded John’s Umbrella Mart. And since then, the competition between both cousins, have been a boon to Keralites. Both cousins have followed their grandfather’s tradition and put their emphasis on producing quality products that will keep their customers happy. Their competition has also led to innovation that is unprecedented in the Indian umbrella market.
In 2008, when Tata Nano came out, Popy came out with Popy Nano, a 16 cm umbrella that was said to be the smallest umbrella in the world. John’s responded with Atom. This is just one example. Today, both brands have umbrellas that have GPS trackers, can function as selfie-sticks, and even some that have MP3 players. Yes, we’re still talking about umbrellas!
Both brands have turned into a household name with Popy focussing on grabbing attention through memorable ads and John’s winning over people with product features. Popy has had an increased focus on kids as they believe that they can capture households by winning kids over to their brand. And boy did they do it right. I’m sure all of you remember Popy ads from our childhood and wanted a Popy kuda for when school reopened after the summer vacations. And to this day, “Kuda Popy thanne!” rings in my ears when I think of umbrellas.
Popy has gone on to have tie-ups with Walt Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Green Gold Animation (creators of Chhota Bheem), and other studios to create umbrellas that have popular characters on them, making their umbrellas more attractive to children.
John’s on the other hand, has been heavily focussed on increasing the number of features that their umbrellas have to offer. Even in the initial days, they seem to have a focus on design by investing in design software like Delcam that helped them design better products. Their focus on features can be seen in their ads too.
With over 1 crore pieces of umbrellas sold in Kerala every year, both cousins seem to have no need to slow down. And with India primed to take over the world with the “Make in India”, both brands seem poised to make a presence in the global umbrella market.