Alejandro Betancourt Lopez discusses how Hawkers Sunglasses handles changing customer preferences
Alejandro Betancourt Lopez is an entrepreneur and investor from Venezuela who has founded and invested in many businesses throughout his career. The founders of Hawkers, a Spanish sunglasses enterprise, approached Betancourt in 2016 to lead a financing round that raised about €50m (£42.9m). The company quickly began to scale its operations with this funding, and Betancourt was appointed president a few months later.
Wise move. The innovative businessman has taken the little accessory concern to the heights by targeting a younger demographic where they are: on social media.
Hawkers’ customers tend to be young adults who place a high value on environmental sustainability, which is greatly affecting the company’s growth strategy. In addition, this market is becoming more sensitive to price due to increased competition. And no one is more aware of the need to switch course to adapt to consumer concerns than Alejandro Betancourt Lopez.
“Today, everything involves data and how you access the customer,” Betancourt says. “If you are able to succeed in accessing this customer in an efficient way and affordable way that is economically viable and differentiates the product enough to make it attractive to the customer, then you have a winning product. And as you see, the market is evolving every day.
“Today, we’re talking all the time about artificial intelligence. We need to see how that’s going to affect the service that we’re providing and how the customers want to engage with the platforms and understand how to market this better. As we said, it started with Facebook, then with Instagram, then you can add Twitter or TikTok, who knows how you’re going to access the customers in 10 years from now and how the customers are going to reach these platforms? That’s a big question and what I think enables you as a leader of the market is finding a constant way to differentiate yourself and provide the service that makes them feel that it’s a different product that has provided value to them at a reasonable price, and keep accessing them with that proposal.”
A perfect match
Pablo Sánchez Lozano, Alejandro Moreno, David Moreno, and Iñaki Soriano founded Hawkers in 2013. They initially struggled to secure the funding they needed to meet customer demand until Betancourt came on board as an angel investor. Since being named the company’s president, Betancourt has formed strategic business relationships, expanded the brand, and created additional fundraising opportunities.
It was a solid decision. Betancourt graduated from Suffolk University in Boston with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration, knowing that he wanted to work on projects that would benefit his native Venezuela. He’s held positions in various industries, including banking, internet services, and oil. He also co-founded an energy company that generates thermonuclear power for his country’s citizens. Betancourt has managed investments across many sectors that allowed companies to meet their financial goals while also providing employment opportunities. He was more than ready to step up to the plate for Hawkers.
Betancourt was able to create partnerships with influencers who already had a large following on social media. This strategy was based on providing influencers with free products and a promotion code for their followers. It proved wildly successful, allowing Hawkers to expand its brand into markets outside Spain, including the rest of Europe, North America and Asia.
Hawkers’ rapid growth has required a great deal of adaptability from its executive officers. The company now has more marketing channels than just social media, in addition to multiple international markets. The global pandemic that began in 2020 also complicated Hawkers’ supply chain.
But once again, Betancourt pivoted to deliver what consumers needed at that particular moment.
“The pandemic was a big problem for us, as for many other companies,” he shares. “It was a big challenge. We had to adapt [because] not many people were going outdoors and needing sunglasses. So we focused more on developing the eyewear part of it, and we tried to keep the revenue of the company, which was a big challenge, trying to develop new products that would adapt to people not going outdoors, and using eyewear for their computers, and stay more at home.”
This strategy resulted in the creation of a strong eyewear division for the company, which continues to grow steadily. Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 were greatly eased in Europe by 2022, allowing Hawkers to resume its sale of sunglasses to their pre-pandemic levels.
Now, Betancourt reports: “We are breaking records every week on our growth and our revenues. That means that not only is the brand stronger than ever but there’s a big demand and appetite for our consumers and customers to get our products.”
Shades of Sustainability
Environmental sustainability is a growing trend for many products, including eyewear. Betancourt is using a variety of methods to leverage these changes into gaining Hawkers a competitive advantage with millennials and Gen Z, who consider the environment when making purchases.
”We’ve always been conscious about that, and we know that the market is shifting toward that direction and that everybody’s getting more conscious and wanting to understand how the product impacts their life, and the world, and environment,” says Betancourt. “I think it’s fair that we provide that information and that kind of intel to the consumer, and to the clients. And the assurance is that we can develop products that are also responsible with the environment, but at the same time can provide a quality product, and keep the brand at its highest level.”
The customers spoke, and Hawkers and Betancourt listened. The brand’s H2O line of shades is made from recycled plastics, some of which were removed from the oceans. These products are packed in sustainable or biodegradable materials and recyclable cartons and papers.
The Hawkers website states, “Both the frames and the lenses of all six H2O models are made using materials which respect the planet. From innovative, biodegradable materials to recycled preexisting plastics. The packaging is also 100% sustainable.”
Hawkers’ executives have always been aware that consumers are becoming more cognizant of how products affect the environment, and that’s why the company’s marketing strategy includes providing this information to purchasers and stakeholders.
The sunglasses industry requires manufacturers to keep their quality high and introduce new designs regularly, while also maintaining accessible price points. These needs are often in conflict, creating an advantage for the companies that have been in business the longest. Brands like Luxottica and Kering have previously held near-monopolies in the eyewear industry, making it difficult for newcomers to enter the market. Economic conditions like the crisis with the cost of living and the slowing of global stock markets during the past year have made eyewear consumers particularly sensitive to price.
Increased price sensitivity created a challenge for Hawkers, especially since it was founded as a purely digital company. However, its success is primarily based on providing good quality at an affordable price, which is something the established brands don’t do. Hawkers was able to penetrate the eyewear market by providing the same or even better quality for a fraction of the prices of other current offerings.
Betancourt explains, “It was cool, it was fresh, and we were doing something different than anybody else at the time, which is online social, or social media marketing. And that approach totally disrupted the market in the way we penetrated the market.” He adds that this innovation is what made Hawkers the well-known brand it is today. Its current sales make it one of the world’s largest sellers of sunglasses by units sold. This result means that consumers now have options on price since they can purchase a pair of Hawkers’ quality sunglasses at a lower price point.
The current relationship between price sensitivity and demand in the eyewear market has allowed Hawkers to establish itself as a strong brand. This success also shows that this market has a good deal of elasticity on price for companies that provide quality products and market them in the right way. Hawkers is thus able to show consumers that their products are as good or even better than the high-end products, without costing as much. The response to this strategy has been a massive demand, allowing Hawkers to take a big share of existing markets.
“With the numbers that we have, we were one of the largest by units sold in the whole world, and we continue to grow,” says Betancourt. “And the market, it’s accepting that today there’s not only one kind of price band, but there’s options. And that good sunglasses cannot cost only a hundred dollars.
“The sensitivity and the elasticity on pricing regarding the demand, that’s where we’ve been establishing ourselves and being strong, we have proven that there’s a lot of elasticity there. And when we provide a good quality, and we market it in the right way, and we show the customer that this is as good or I may say even better than the high-end priced products, and they don’t have to cost that, the reaction and the demand, it’s massively seen. And that’s where we’ve been taking big chunks of the demand on the market.”