Topsail Area residents Adam and Alicia Hawley of Unique Media & Designs believe in hard work and supporting their community.
Frequent trips to his grandmother’s cottage on Topsail Island set a course for beach living for Adam Hawley, owner of Unique Media & Designs, one of the nation’s most successful real estate photography, 3-D virtual tours and media production companies.
Things that are three dimensional have length, breadth and depth. Hawley and his wife, Alicia, have that, and as their business illustrates, they have determination, discovery and drive as well.
Hawley grew up in Jacksonville and has fond summer memories of surfing, fishing and hanging out with island pals, most of whom attended Topsail schools. “We’d go to the Scotch Bonnet pier and hang out at the arcade. And back then the water slide was still here,” he reminisces. “Those were good times.”
His interest in videography began nearly 20 years ago when he created surf videos and held film premieres in Jacksonville, Surf City and Wilmington.
“I surfed, and my hobby was creating surf videos while I was managing a surf shop. I made films, put them on DVDs and sold them up and down the coast in about 30-plus surf shops,” he says. He also created two longer-length films, The Ripple Effect and Full Color.
From surfing videos, Hawley built his business one job at a time while working at the former Mainsail Restaurant and Commodore Room Bar. “I knew a lot of Realtors from the restaurant,” Hawley says. “Digital photography was just becoming available. We started with Realtor books; the web wasn’t as big in real estate world then.
“I was burning the candle at both ends — bartending and waiting tables at night, building the business during the day. I started with a couple of interns from UNCW, then business grew and we expanded. Now we’re a well-oiled machine with 14 employees servicing eastern North Carolina and Virginia, the mountains and Maine.
“It’s still all about the people,” he says. “We’re a team … like a family, and that helps us work really well together.”
Anyone who has ever employed a friend knows the challenges, but Hawley believes mutual respect forms the strong base for the business. Employees have various strengths that create success in a broad array of visual services.
The team does video production, 3-D virtual tours and floor plans, aerial photography, yacht tours and some family beach photography. “The software has improved so much in the nearly 20 years I’ve been doing this that now you can take our video, load it into a CAD program and add on or remodel before you even buy the house. It’s amazing,” Hawley says.
Hawley credits his Alicia with the customer service end of his business.
“She earned a chemistry degree from UNCW while working at Sears Landing. After college, she worked at the base (Lejeune) in I.T. doing Network Operating Systems until our son, Austin, was born. But she saved the day when she left the base and joined us.
“She’s like a 911 dispatcher taking in orders, mapping the house and assigning photographers. She’s amazing in how she handles the workflow and solves problems.”
Alicia says people wonder how their work and marriage fit together. “I tell them I have watched Adam put his whole heart into our company for many years and I am proud of what he has created,” she says. “Protecting his hard work is an easy thing to do. I want to be able to hear people talk about how wonderful our company is for many years.”
Hawley credits a part of their work ethic to starting work as young teenagers and often juggling two jobs at once.
“Most everyone here has some restaurant work experience,” he says. “You learn a lot about the public, how to handle people, how to get work done right and fast when you’re serving people food.”
When the Hawleys aren’t working, they are active in charity events where the money raised stays local. Alicia has ridden the Reel Housewives of Topsail Island event several times, including when she was pregnant, and with their son. They volunteer with Paddle4Troops. Hawley did photography and drone footage of the annual Dolphin Dip for several years. After Hurricane Florence, they raffled off three of his prints for Share the Table, the local food bank. Collectively they have contributed several thousands of dollars to local charities.
Dwight Torres praises the work the Hawleys do with his charity, Paddle4Troops. “He sponsors our event every year and provides professionally mounted photos, which have brought in thousands of dollars during our auctions. We’re proud to have his family’s friendship and support.”
Alicia is active in the Parent-Teacher Association and was room mom for two years in Austin’s school, the newly opened Surf City Elementary. Like most parents, the Hawleys jumped in to homeschooling Austin when the COVID-19 virus closed the schools.
“Last year with the hurricane and this year with the virus, the schools staff went above and beyond to make sure the kids learned,” Alicia says. “We set up a workspace for Austin in our home where I could help with most of his work. The whole school read the book, Nim’s Island, with videos of different teachers reading chapters daily. The kids completed assignments based on their grade levels. It was a great part of what the school provided.”
The school system, friendly people and a strong community spirit all contribute to why the Hawleys make Surf City their home.
“I grew up in a small town in the mountains,” Alicia says. “Surf City has that same feel. I knew I wanted to live here, and it would be home for me, for our business and our son. I love the sense of community here.”
Hawley echoes those sentiments: “It’s a small town, and we all know each other here. It’s relaxed. I hope people see that when they visit or move here. It’s a great place to live.”
Find out more about the Hawleys’ business, Unique Media & Designs, on their website: uniquemediadesign.com.