In 2002, Terrie Viets had a vision: to bring a bit of Italy home to Cleveland by way of opening a business. But not just any business—one that satisfied her love of all-things Italian. Enter Solari.
Solari—sunlit in Italian—imports beautiful home décor, tableware, and personal accessories from across Italy. The store offers warm personal service and a wonderful selection of unique Italian finds and one-of-a-kinds (tableware and table linens, volcanic stone tables, biscotti jars, Murano art glass and jewelry, handmade leather handbags). Solari’s specialty is its full customization offering. Viets and her team offer in-home consultations to add the finishing touch to any room. And, while the fully-equipped kitchen serves as a perfect backdrop for the store’s “functional art,” it’s also the scene of cooking demonstration classes and wine tastings with some of the area’s best chefs. Solari also organizes tours to Italy so customers can be immersed in the culture, art, food, and everyday life of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
“Our store showcases sunlight with sunny colored walls and exuberant offerings inside,” owner Viets said. “We often hear how it’s such a bright spot and helps to banish the gloom of even the dreariest day.”
Shining Behind the Clouds
It was that desire to continue shining that kept Viets afloat during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After an incredibly successful 2019 with sales up 30 percent over the previous year and sold out tours and cooking classes for the entirety of 2020 on the books, Solari experienced what businesses around the world were facing: cancelations of all travel and in-store activities. Soon after, all non-essential retail closed.
“There wasn’t a remote chance I would rescind my commitment to pay for, let alone cancel, any orders I had placed and had been in production since January,” Viets said. “This put a huge strain on finances and was a day-to-day struggle for months.”
Viets made a commitment to not let any employees go or without pay, and although she applied for a SBA disaster loan, she was not approved.
“I came into my closed store every day during the shutdown trying to creatively sell any way possible—putting ‘gift with purchase’ promos into effect, sending out emails, selling by FaceTime, and even posting on Instagram,” she said. “I created window displays and made signs indicating how customers could call or order during the shutdown … but the big hole in this process was Solari’s website.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Solari’s website didn’t reflect the quality or uniqueness of the store; it offered no way to order products, classes, or tours online; and there was no shopping cart. After receiving quotes starting at $25,000, Viets was resigned to the fact that a new site was impossible—and, when COVID hit, the current site hindered her ability to maximize desperately needed sales.
The InfoTrust Foundation Lends a Hand
Viets knew she needed to do something and took a chance applying for a Salesforce grant. Salesforce directed her to Hello Alice, a machine learning technology (and organization that the InfoTrust Foundation supports) to help business owners find personalized opportunities and resources, which offers grants to small businesses in need.
“It was an incredible feeling to know that we weren’t invisible and were being recognized as worthy of staying in existence,” Viets said. “Plus, it’s hard to express how this grant aided in relieving the unbearable stress I had endured for months. I had invoices for merchandise to pay while not knowing when or if I’d be able to reopen.”
What started as an incredible boost of a $10,000 COVID relief grant, has evolved into one of the proudest moments in Viets’ 19 years of operation: a powerful new website with online purchasing capabilities. CEO and cofounder of InfoTrust, Alex Yastrebenetsky, wanted to ensure Viets had what she needed in order to pivot and stay afloat during the uncertainty of the pandemic. He offered not only assistance with a website redesign and marketing services, but also the addition of a shopping cart for online orders on behalf of the InfoTrust Foundation. He told Viets to use the relief grant for a separate need of her choice.
Assisting Viets and her business was just one way the InfoTrust Foundation tried to help others at the beginning of the pandemic, leaning into uncertainty during a stressful time. While many companies and organizations were more focused on self-preservation, the InfoTrust Foundation wanted to take action.
Thanks to the new website and partnership with the InfoTrust Foundation, Viets said she is no longer concerned with working with new vendors who may have been cautious previously due to lack of a professional website, and also receives inquiries from across the country from people who, until now, never knew Solari existed.
“I’m so happy to have this amazing group of people at InfoTrust to share my future with and inspire me to give to grow,” Viets said. “I don’t know how the stars aligned to bring the InfoTrust family into my life, but just know I will be forever grateful and I will make the best of the chance you’ve given me.”