Relationships: The key to success

Susan Gravely (far right) with her sister, Frances, and their mother, Lee.

Susan Gravely (far right) with her sister, Frances, and their mother, Lee.

Imagine bringing dinnerware to life – the colors, the designs, the texture and the naturally unique beauty of knowing each piece is handmade and slightly different from the others. Vietri has been doing this for over 26 years, beating out large stores and imitators from the Far East.

Susan Gravely spoke to students at the Family Enterprise Center and shared the fairytale-like story of how she, her sister and mother grew an idea into a profitable and booming business from eastern North Carolina.

Soon after the death of her father, Susan took a trip to Italy with her mother and sister. The trip was fantastic until her mother’s purse – containing their money, traveler’s checks and passports – was stolen.

Luckily, Susan had forged a relationship with an Italian businessman from Florence on their flight to Italy. He helped Susan and her family obtain new passports and also introduced them to executives and artisans. Those connections enabled the family to start Vietri, their Italian-inspired dinnerware company.

Susan believes entrepreneurship is about having an incessant passion for your products and ideas while taking the time to get to know the people you work with – from agents, suppliers and artisans to family members and customers. When her family started Vietri, they knew it would be extremely difficult as they were competing against large companies who sourced their pieces from the same artisans in Italy. . Because Susan understood Italian culture and spoke the language, she was able to build relationships and show respect to her suppliers in a way they understood. The relationships Susan built with the artisans were extremely special to both parties – she even attended their children’s weddings and brought gifts to their families. Because they had a close relationship with Susan, the artisans would save designs and pieces exclusively for Susan, giving Vietri a competitive advantange over the larger players.

Susan’s story showed me the importance of what my own family has created – a family business that, like Vietri, prides itself on customer service, dedication and, above all, relationships with family and associates.

By Alexander Wright (BSBA ’12)

The Family Enterprise Center prepares next generation family business students for leadership and ownership in family firms.