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Kerala Monsoons with Johns and Popy

Marketing gurus will tell you that only in Kerala have umbrellas have made the transition from a commodity to a product. And the beginning of that transition can be traced back to 1995, when the local umbrella industry’s first family - the Thayyils - split.

Prince Thomas
Published: 06, Jun 2012

Despite the seemingly royal linkages of my first name, I like to see life from the back bench. While studying it helped when lectures were unending but later I realized it also worked as a corporate reporter. It gives a clear view of both the performer and the viewer; of the 360 degree perspective and the minute detail. Now while tracking the world of business for the pages of Forbes India as Senior Assistant Editor, I will use this space to share what I observe from that rear seat.

The onset of monsoon in Kerala, albeit slightly delayed, might have brought respite to the parched sentiments in Dalal Street and South Block. But in Kerala, beginning of the rainy season is more about keeping up with an age-old tradition. And this is to do with the timing of buying umbrellas when schools reopen on June 1.

Unlike most of the other states in the country, in Kerala umbrellas are not only a necessity but also something that one needs to keep safe- like a treasure. A few days ago my sister came back home to find her three umbrellas missing from the car porch, obviously stolen by someone preparing for the monsoon. “It included a Johns and a Popy!” my sister despaired. The Popy was part of my nephew’s school-opening gear. To those who are new to Kerala’s umbrella culture, Popy and Johns are the two most popular brands. And only a Kerala mother can understand the value of those names in keeping sanctity at home.

Marketing gurus will tell you that only in Kerala have umbrellas made the transition from a commodity to a product. And the beginning of that transition can be traced back to 1995, when the local umbrella industry’s first family - the Thayyils - split.  Two grandsons of Thayyil Abraham Varghese, who had founded the St George Umbrella Mart in Alappuzha in 1954, branched out. Davis Thayyil formed Popy Umbrella Mart and his cousin Joseph Thayyil created Johns Umbrella Mart.

The competition between the two cousins has since opened up a world of choices for Kerala’s consumers. Both the companies are registered in Alappuzha, famous for its backwaters, and each claims to be the largest seller of umbrellas in the country. The game of one-upmanship has led to innovation in products and entertaining marketing campaigns. For instance, when Ratan Tata launched the Nano car in 2008, Davis was quick to latch up to the opportunity and introduced ‘Nano’ umbrella, which at 16cm claims to be the world’s smallest. Joseph responded with ‘Atom.’ Both the companies have wisely targeted the young audience in their television and print commercials. “The adult segment of the market is the biggest, but children are the best ambassadors and push buying pattern in the whole family,” says Joseph Thayyil of Johns Umbrella. Popy’s ad campaign of Maza Mazha Kuda Kuda Maza Vanaal Popy Kuda (rain, rain, umbrella, umbrella, when it rains, it’s time for Popy umbrella) was a rage among children.

This year, Johns has launched ‘H2O Shake,’ in which the teflon coating promises to keep the umbrella ‘dry,’ and the UPF coating protects from two grades of ultra-violet rays,” says Joseph. The entrepreneur wants to come out with more such umbrellas that have a “beauty” aspect to it. “Till three years ago the market has been dependent on the monsoon. But with products that target skin care against sun, we are trying to take off the seasonality.”  His cousin’s company has, on the other hand, come out with the Wonder 7 variant that has seven features including torch, thermometer, compass and whistle. If you are confused, it’s an umbrella that we are talking about!

Though there is no official source for statistics, industry players say that almost seven to 10 million pieces of umbrellas are sold in Kerala every year, the most for any Indian state. And the competition with his cousin, accepts Joseph, has helped. “Alappuzha, where the two brothers are based, has 75-80 per cent of the market share,” he says. Margins are also better as the Kerala consumer is ‘quality conscious.’ While in other markets the average price of an umbrella is about Rs 100, in Kerala it is upwards of Rs 200. The Nano for instance comes for Rs 350 and the H2O Shake has a Rs 400-tag. That is about the amount of money my sister will have to shell out to convince her son to go to school.

  • haritha

    where to buy poppy umbrella in bangalore or how to popy umbrellas online

    on Jun 23, 2015
  • Aruna

    Required Nano umbrella with water proofe and lighting also required at night time in that umbrella. Plesae provide details how we will purchase .

    on Nov 13, 2014
  • JAYANTHI CHANDRASEKARAN

    I LIKE YR PRODUCT AND ALREADY USED. NOW I WANT 4 OR 5 FOLD UMBRELLA SEND GOOD DESIGN AND RATE

    on Aug 8, 2014
  • MURUKADAS

    where poppy umbrella shop in delhi

    on Aug 4, 2014
  • Irshikumar

    Good Morning Mr. Mr.JOSEPH A.THAYYIL ,Proprietor I am a resident of NDA, Pune. Recently I purchased one umbrella, Made in Taiwan of your brand from an out let of Attingal, that can be used by pillion of two wheelers. Utility-wise product is good. Metallurgy of skeletal structure is also qualitative. But the handle grip of umbrella , that is of plastic or some other material is melting in water and in normal atmospheric conditions becoming as coal tar gum which like adhesives in hands and clothes. Rather than this complaint, product is good. Expecting your personal attention over the issue and rectify the same in future courses. Regards, Irishikumar.

    on Jul 22, 2014
  • In Kerala, competing ad jingles of rival umbrella firms become pop culture standards | Scroll CMS

    [...] are the best ambassadors and push buying pattern in the whole family,” Joseph Thayyil told Forbes [...]

    on Jun 12, 2014
  • HUIDROM PANCHAJAL SINGH

    I want to buy this umbrellas in wholesale rate. Please tell me where to buy this umbrellas in bulk amount.

    on Mar 28, 2014
  • Aaron

    Why is there no mention of Sun Mark.Poppy and Johns may be the market leaders but for me it will be always SUN mark Umbrellas,you may know of this brand.Sun actually manufactures the best quality umbrellas which is also slightly cheaper than Poppy or Johns.Their long hooked handle umbrellas has niche market.SUN has significant market share in Calicut,they have an exclusive showroom and many people buy their products too. They were the ones that sponsored the Annual Sait Nagajee Football tournament held at Calicut's Corporation Stadium which used to be a premier football tournament in Country with a massive following.

    on Jun 1, 2013
  • Naina Dichwalkar

    How can ,I get these umbrellas in Mumbai, pls suggest me.

    on May 20, 2013
  • sasi kumar

    Hi Prince,nice reading, I live in Bangalore and an unofficial travel consultant for friends --i recommend as take away gifts from Kerala as Banana chips and Nano umbrellas and have received good feedback on that suggestion. Its heartening to see thriving entrepreneurship in umbrella manufacturing in a remittance economy state and the Thayyil brothers should be honoured in Kerala for making great products in a state known for no manufacturing,

    on Jan 3, 2013
    • Prince Thomas

      Hi Sasi, Apologies for the delayed reply. Was on vacation when you commented. Yes, you are right, Popy and Johns are increasingly becoming good ambassadors of Kerala. I have got similar requests for these umbrellas from friends. It also shows healthy competition and entrepreneurship lead to fantastic results. Kerala needs both in high doses. Regards, Prince.

      on Feb 18, 2013
      • Tusshar Kumar

        Hi Prince, I'm an avid reader of Forbes India... I have also subscribed to the magazine... I work for a B2B magazine catering to the apparel manufacturing industry of India and Bangladesh, and would like to do a story on umbrellas and hence would like to have the contact details of the MDs of both Popy and John Umbrellas, for taking their comments for our story. I know it is a lot of ask... But it would be really great if you can share the contact details. Regards, Tusshar Kumar Assistant Editor StitchWorld & Apparel Online Bangladesh www.stitchworld.net

        on Aug 13, 2014
  • surya sarathi ray

    It's a very nice story and really refreshing. I wonder why they don't market wonder 7 in other parts of the country. It will find many takers.

    on Jul 5, 2012
    • Prince Thomas

      Thanks Surya. True, am sure that kids in other markets of India will surely lap it up. These umbrellas are available in some of the 'Kerala stores' that we have in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. But the companies are unsure if consumers in these markets will be okay with the price tags.

      on Jul 6, 2012
  • Joshua

    "the Wonder 7 variant that has seven features including torch, thermometer, compass and whistle. If you are confused, it’s an umbrella that we are talking about!" Reminds me of my childhood days. The other obsession was the school bags which was brought in as a product by the Scoobee Doo bags (Anna Aluminium).

    on Jun 16, 2012
  • sreejiraj

    nice story.. good writing.

    on Jun 7, 2012
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