Five years ago, a young and innovative company with a single affordable product — sunglasses — was looking for funding. Within one month, they had investors — led by Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, an entrepreneur, along with Felix Ruiz and Hugo Arevalo, the founders of Spanish-based social media network Tuenti — and a pledge of 50 million Euro, approximately $56 million, to spearhead a marketing campaign and effect a financial turnaround.
Hawkers, an affordable brand of sunglasses that has become a global fashion brand with name recognition approaching that of Ray-Ban and Oakley, was founded in 2013 by Spanish brothers Alejandro and David Moreno. The two had initial success marketing another brand of sunglasses through an online resale platform established several years earlier. When they decided to develop their own brand of sturdy, lightweight shades with multicolored lenses in a single style of basic frame, they partnered with Caleb Garret, a Los Angeles promoter, and colleagues Pablo Sanchez and Iñaki Soriano. Before long, their initial investment of just $300 had spurred phenomenal growth.
Forging a New Path
Choosing to forego a traditional path, the team kept prices reasonable by selling directly to the public through their online platform. Their marketing plan relied heavily on social media marketing and word of mouth advertising with Facebook ads and Twitter posts. Later they turned to influencer endorsements, contacting athletes, entertainers and musicians to promote the look and the quality of the affordable, fashionable sunglasses. It was a successful effort from the beginning. The company’s valuation rose to around $60 million, a more than impressive record for a manufacturer with a single, moderately-priced product. Hawkers’ founders vowed never to sacrifice quality for marketability, but costs and marketing expenses continued to grow to an unsustainable point.
The company faced serious financial woes before it attracted the attention of Betancourt, whose asset management company, O’Hara Administration, brought the needed cash, along with necessary expertise and insight. The investment group formed Saldum Ventures, and the young Spanish sunglasses company continued its march toward global acceptance.
New Leadership, New Directions
In 2017, Betancourt was asked to assume the role of company president and, upon his recommendation, Nacho Puig became CEO. The two have initiated collaborative deals with other high-fashion companies, helping to cement Hawkers’ position as an international trendsetter. Overall engagement with the brand has been boosted substantially through efforts of this type with Spanish clothing line El Ganso and others. In 2018, Betancourt invested an additional 20 million Euro, becoming the largest stockholder of Hawkers.
No longer a niche company with a quality product, Hawkers is now positioned as a prominent player in the field of specialty fashion eyewear and an internationally known and respected name. It is at least partly due to Betancourt Lopez’s focus on community and his ability to rise to new challenges that Hawkers has realized its current potential and looks ahead to an even brighter future.
His entrepreneurial expertise is matched by his unique marketing talents and understanding of the roles that social media platforms like Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter can play. “One of the greatest things about the internet is the ability to share videos,” he notes, adding that one-third of all online activity is spent watching videos. When prospective buyers see some of their favorite people — sports icons and media stars — wearing Hawkers sunglasses, wanting to emulate that look is only natural!
Creativity and Productivity Go Hand in Hand
Betancourt Lopez has a distinctive approach: “Ideas are the result of an ongoing process of creativity and productivity,” he says. “I like to speak to people and ask their experiences and then rethink, re-ask and go through strategic themes several times.” It is perhaps this detailed, hands-on approach that leads to his effectiveness, rather than just the act of throwing money at a problem.
Hawkers has also enlisted brand ambassadors in the marketing effort. More than 5,000 college students in the United States and Europe use their social media influence to sing the praises of the sunglasses. In turn, they earn incentives — products, concert tickets, plane tickets and even cell phones and other digital devices — to help promote and popularize the brand. Not only have they responded to that challenge, but they have also become proud buyers and wearers of Hawkers brand sunglasses because they are stylish, customizable and affordable. They set the wearer apart as an enviable example.
The target market is a Millennial buyer, aged about 27 to 30. The majority of sales are online transactions, and those have totaled some 4.5 million pairs since 2017 in more than 50 countries across the globe.
Not at all bad for a pair of Spanish brothers, and an angel investor with a penchant for social media marketing.
The Future Looks Bright
What does the future hold? To date, that is not certain. However, what is sure is that Alejandro Betancourt Lopez will continue to be as much a community leader as an entrepreneur. “I am aware of the responsibility that we have in the communities in which we are present,” he says. “We simply cannot move forward without contributing towards their progress and development.” His interests and investments are diverse and include a new wing at a school in Ciudad, Bolivar, environmental projects that include reforestation, beach renewal efforts and energy efficiency programs. He is also associated with Pacific Exploration and Production Corp, the largest independent oil producer in Latin America.
The financial support received from Saldum Ventures contributed to a financial turnaround for Hawkers within one year, and the growth trend continues to this day. The company’s direction remains the same; they are committed to the direct-to-consumer sales approach and will continue to use social media in all its forms to minimize marketing costs. Plans exist to channel new funding into research and development of new materials and, perhaps, new designs and options, different types of marketing, and new partnerships with other fashion brands. The sunglasses are now being produced at various factories around the world, including in China. Global expansion is still a priority for Hawkers, with all that entails.