Soltrino soars through pandemic
Five years in, faced with “lacklustre sales”, online retailer Soltrino was to call it a day.
Covid-19 may have saved Michelle Viera and Linda Cook’s business.
When the pandemic shuttered bricks-and-mortar stores, many residents turned to the internet to buy locally.
The pair saw it as a second chance for their range of sun-protective clothing and accessories for children and adults.
“Of course, we hadn’t bought any new stock since we were shutting down, so we had to think quickly,” Ms Viera said.
“The plan was simple: get our customers to select the items that they wanted by looking through our vendors’ websites, e-mail us their selection and we place the order. This way, we make the sales without taking on inventory. It was a success. We had great response to the pre-order idea, plus it brought attention back to our website.”
The pair were warned their business was doomed to failure shortly after they started in 2015.
Ms Viera, a water aerobics instructor, came up with the concept after clients complimented her on the swimwear she wore to protect herself from the sun. She began selling a range of items and Ms Cook contacted her wanting to place an order.
“As it turns out, our husbands were good friends in high school and she was interested in the business,” Ms Viera said. “Her exact words to me were ‘You stole my business idea!’ The partnership was a good fit. Being a scientist, Linda likes processes and spreadsheets and working on the ‘back end’. I am the total opposite — a people person — and can be in front of a crowd and making connections.”
In building their business plan they decided it was better to put Soltrino online.
“We would not have the overheads that bricks and mortar stores have, such as rent and wages, which meant we could keep our prices comparable to the [manufacturer’s suggested retail price] and we could still be home for, and spend time with, our children,” Ms Viera said.
Initially, the business was a success, although the women were kept busy doing “a lot of pop-ups” and “uploading all the inventory and thedescriptions, checking stock levels and constantly advertising our products”.
“We enlisted a business adviser to help us with setting up our company and her response was that we would fail online, that no one was going on the web to buy from stores in Bermuda.
“It made us want to work harder to prove that adviser wrong but, in the end, what she said was true. Bermuda’s residents were not ready for retail shopping online, at least not on a .bm website. Customers wanted to feel the fabric and try on to make sure it was a perfect fit but, on the other hand, we also struggled to compete with people buying from US/UK stores and shipping it in. It felt like we couldn’t win.”
They decided to call it quits and ship the remainder of their inventory to Amazon in March.
“We were sure we would sell the last of our stock and maybe get half of our investment into starting our company,” Ms Viera said.
“We were going to say goodbye to something we had worked tirelessly to set up and it felt awful. That plan soon changed when Covid-19 had everyone come to a complete stop. No one was travelling and parcels stopped arriving, which meant no one was getting their sun protection or swimwear from anywhere, but summer was still coming.
“I said to Linda, ‘With the shift to buy Bermuda and local retailers finally getting online, we would be stupid to get out of business now. Everyone needs us to stay open.’”
It proved to be the right move. According to Ms Viera, there’s been a complete turnaround in sales.
“Business is booming and it’s given us the motivation to continue and expand in what we are offering,” she said. “We also found a great way to allow our customers to have their own style by giving them the freedom to select their outfits. It will be a part of our business plan for years to come.
“My advice to anyone doing something ‘against the grain’ is to stick to your convictions. It will work out. When doors shut on you, other doors open. And when you allow yourself to pivot and take that open door, the path leads to new opportunities, lessons to be learnt, and the resilience to keep on going.”
• Visit www.soltrino.com
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