One of the more interesting activities that business watchers look for is what’s called disruption. It can take the form of a new product, process or concept, or a new way of utilizing something already on the market.
In the last few decades, textbook examples of disruption have included ride-share services where anyone can become a driver; digital bookstores where can get you any book you want faster than visiting a traditional bookstore (and later all sorts of other goods); and mobile phones that function as mini computers.
Then there are sunglasses.
Yes, not everyone realizes that the sunglass industry was disrupted in a big way starting around 2013.
The company that led this change is called Hawkers, which was originally started by four Spanish college students buying $300 worth of low-end shades in the United States to sell on a Spanish classified site.
Then they realized they were onto something and decided to start manufacturing and selling their own sunglasses with the same look and style.
At the time, the sunglass industry was very stable and unyielding.
On one end, there were expensive high-end sunglasses with brand names such as Ray-Ban or Prada. Those who could afford the $200 to $300 price tag wore their fancy glasses as an accessory and as a way to show off their prestige. Losing or breaking them could be a crushing disappointment because of the high cost.
At the other end were cheap, low-quality brands that usually sold for $10 to $20. These were inexpensive, made of low-quality materials, didn’t have any sort of label or logo, and often looked cheap. They were more likely to break or get damaged, which wouldn’t be much of a loss because of the poor material and minimal investment.
What Hawkers did was offer good-looking sunglasses made out of strong material for an inexpensive price. Essentially, owners were able to get the best of both worlds and get themselves sunglasses that were durable and didn’t look cheap — for cheap.
They also were sold online only, which cut down on any overhead or supply chain challenges that might have been required for storefront locations.
More innovation and product offerings later followed, but that was enough to get sunglass fans excited right away.
Although initial sales were great, especially in Europe, the company was challenged financially.
So they began looking for other supporters who could bring ideas as well as capital.
They found this in the person of Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, who previously found success in many endeavors and was always on the lookout for new, potentially profitable ventures to get involved in.
In past years, he had launched an oil company, a bank and an internet company. He was the co-founder of an energy firm that was able to bring thermonuclear power to his home country.
In only a few years’ time, this project connected more than 70,000 customers to power, built 11 power plants, and employed hundreds.
Alejandro Betancourt Lopez earned degrees in economics and business, and he was eager to find programs that he felt promoted the greater good.
Once he learned about Hawkers, he was happy to get involved. While sunglasses didn’t provide direct benefits to society the way nuclear power did, they made people happy and were nicely disruptive. Plus, just about everyone was eager to pay good money for great sunglasses, even though not everyone wanted to pay a lot.
So he offered his business skills to Hawkers as well as $56 million to stabilize operations and help it move forward with some larger goals. An investment company came together, and soon things dramatically improved.
In the first three years, Hawkers sold 2 million pairs of sunglasses and earned 70 million euros. In the fourth year, sales doubled. Another round of funding in 2018 raised an additional 20 million euros.
What Hawkers Does Well
There are plenty of good things going on with Hawkers. Some, such as the digital-only focus, were started before Alejandro Betancourt Lopez became involved. But he brought other ideas to the table to help the company grow even more.
- Interchangeable lenses. Part of what makes the company appealing is the ability to sell basic frames and then different colored lenses. These can help people accessorize and look stylish. Rather than buying several pairs of glasses to go with different outfits, they could buy one pair and several types of lenses. That way they wouldn’t spend much money and would look great.
- Celebrity placement. This was accompanied by a deliberate push to get Hawkers in the hands of — or on the faces of — celebrities and various models. This started by offering them to buyers, photographers, wardrobe pros and stylists, who are always putting together colorful ensembles for photo shoots for their clients. The different colored lenses on quality glasses could be perfect for different outfits. Then, what often happened was that the model or actor would be allowed to take the glasses home after the shoot rather than giving them back like some articles of clothing. The company enjoyed seeing various celebrities wearing Hawkers glasses in public, such as at red-carpet events. Once word got out, demand increased.
- Social media push. Along with offering an easy-to-use web portal to order Hawkers, the company also uses many social media platforms to connect with ideal customers. This includes Facebook, which makes it easy to segment audiences by age, gender and location and then target them with inexpensive ads that will attract their attention.
- Easy incentives. As a way to target younger wearers interested in looking good, Hawkers created a Campus Ambassador program, where certain students at schools around the world were provided with glasses and asked to wear them. Then, if other students asked about them or bought them, the ambassadors received various prizes. Hawkers also personally contacted many online influencers and asked them to consider wearing the sunglasses and showing a picture or video.
Continual innovation. Smart businesses are always looking ahead, and Hawkers is known for doing so too. One product launched in 2020 was made entirely from recycled plastic. This shows a commitment to helping the environment and promoting sustainable products.