The shrewd marketing tactics of an experienced business executive transformed what had been a regional sunglasses maker into an international company that is focused on disrupting the industry. The company is Hawkers. The leader is Alejandro Betancourt Lopez who is now the company’s president. It’s Betancourt Lopez’s visionary approach to selling sunglasses that has the company taking on the biggest players in the industry.
With a viral approach to marketing and customer-friendly pricing, Hawkers today is sold primarily online and in 50 countries. It has annual sales exceeding $100 million and, since it was founded, has some in excess of 4.5 million sunglasses units.
Hawkers has thrived online. Ninety percent of its business comes from online sales. It also has a considerable online presence on key social media platforms. Its following is massive — 6.6 million Facebook followers, 1.6 million Instagram followers and 188,000 Twitter followers.
How did a $300 investment in some sunglasses become the multinational eyewear business it is today? It’s a transformation that has its roots in an idea that grew, fueled by the insightful vision that Betancourt Lopez brought to the company as an investor and executive.
Now, Hawkers Is the third-largest eyeglass brand in the world and poised for even more dramatic growth.
Brothers Alejandro (Alex) and David Moreno and their friends, Pablo Sánchez Lozano and Iñaki Soriano, had a business idea in 2013. The vision was to build a Spanish version of the popular trading website, Craigslist for second-hand goods. From that idea, Saldum was launched.
A friend brought the quartet some well-constructed, inexpensive sunglasses, which spurred the group to spend $300 for 27 pairs of Knockaround, an American sunglasses brand. From there, Hawkers was born.
Reselling the sunglasses online, the quartet saw early success and decided it wanted to have its own sunglasses brand. The concept was to sell high-quality sunglasses in a wide array of colors, lenses and frame styles at an affordable price, between $20 and $40.
They created a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly €190,000 from 9,000 supporters. That financial support allowed Hawkers to manufacture its own brand.
Growth came quickly, almost too fast. The company’s founders struggled to meet with demand and order fulfillment suffered. Customers were upset at the lag time between ordering sunglasses and getting them delivered. Company leaders realized they needed a new round of capital to grow and provide excellent customer service.
Alejandro Betancourt Lopez Joins Hawkers
Alejandro Betancourt Lopez had a successful career as an executive and investor. In Hawkers, he saw an opportunity to invest in an up-and-coming company that had tremendous potential to disrupt the sunglasses market.
Betancourt Lopez put together a group of investors, including Félix Ruiz and Hugo Arévalo, who were the founders of Tuenti, a social networking app. The investment group, Saldum Ventures, committed €50 million (about $56 million) to the eyewear company.
Following the financial commitment, Betancourt Lopez was named Hawkers company president and Arévalo became the company’s executive chairman in November 2016.
Two years later, Betancourt Lopez made another substantial investment. The additional €20 million made him the company’s largest individual shareholder.
For Betancourt Lopez, the Hawkers investment was another in a long line of successful business ventures. The great-grandson of Hermogenes Lopez had a long history as an executive and angel investor prior to taking on the leadership role at Hawkers.
After graduating from Boston’s Suffolk University with a bachelor’s degree in international economics and business administration, Alejandro Betancourt Lopez began working in the energy sector. He served as a director for BGB Energy and then worked for Pacific Exploration & Production Corp. He was responsible for the construction of 11 thermonuclear power plants throughout Venezuela that created 12,000 jobs.
He later joined the O’Hara Administration, an investment and asset management firm, where he manages the firm’s investment strategy and fund-raising initiatives. He works closely with European banks and institutional investors and is O’Hara’s largest shareholder for private equity investments, principally held in banking, internet and oil and gas companies.
Betancourt Lopez began the Hawkers transformation by fixing the operational issues that had caused the company to struggle. He also knew that he needed a new approach to marketing the company that had been primarily an internet company. The transformation, he believed, would be through addressing one of the key issues — the difficulty of trying on the sunglasses and seeing how they feel on the face.
Betancourt Lopez understood the value of viral marketing, especially for a key demographic — young people. He invested heavily in Internet marketing, especially on Facebook.
He also created a program that used college students to spread the word about Hawkers. He pursued a fleet of campus ambassadors by focusing on students with at least 1,000 Instagram followers, an indication of those who were well connected with their peers.
Hawkers helped the campus ambassadors put on special events and parties prominently featuring the brand. In return, the campus ambassadors received not only excellent business marketing experience but also tickets and travel to popular concerts and festivals around the world.
The ambassador program has paid off and today has more than 5,000 participants.
The company’s influencers program was not limited to college students. Betancourt Lopez also has pursued relationships with some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment. Partner relationships have been in place with model Paula Echevarria, singer Usher and DJs Steve Aoki and Nicky Romero. Sports stars include Lionel Messi, Ricky Rubio, and Fernando Verdasco.
Knowing that brand partnerships are essential, the company has also developed connections with some of the world’s biggest, most respected companies. Hawkers corporate partners include PayPal, PlayStation, Ford, the Los Angeles Lakers and Mercedes Benz.
A Shining Future for Sunglasses Brand Hawkers
Hawkers’ recent success shows no signs of letting up. In 2020, the company launched a new line of sunglasses that’s environmentally focused. H2O features biodegradable components, including frames, lenses and packaging. Some components are made using recycled materials, most notably plastic bottles recovered from the world’s oceans.
The company is also launching new products, including contact lenses and prescription eyewear as it looks to expand to the Americas, Australia and throughout Europe.
Alejandro Betancourt Lopez has seen the company transform itself, leveraging clever marketing tactics to create a bright future for Hawkers.