FireFly Automatix engineers and manufactures large turf harvesters. The FireFly team’s mission is to reduce labor while increasing quality and productivity for turf farmers. Like so many small businesses during the Coronavirus Pandemic FireFly has reassessed its processes and adapted to meet the needs of its employees and customers.
FireFly CEO Matt Aposhian and his team have implemented several new initiatives since the pandemic changed the entire business landscape. “Immediately we started to over communicate with our customers. This had a two-fold purpose. First to truly understand how the pandemic was impacting their demand and to assure them that we were in good standing and ready to serve their needs even though the world was different in such a shocking way.” he said.
They produced a video for their clients illustrating the factory and how their teams were engaged and working to support them. They also trained employees on proper hygiene in a work environment and for home as well. “We encouraged them to be careful on the weekends about where they went socially and how they contacted family members,” Aposhian said.
“We have put into place a cleaning and sanitizing environment for our business. We went as far as to tape off the appropriate square footage per table in the lunchroom to insure proper distance even during breaks. This coupled with staggered days and staggered shifts created a safe distancing setting,” Aposhian said.
FireFly operated their business successfully at full capacity before the pandemic. “However, it is very difficult to anticipate an immediate erosion of more than 50% of our back log after the pandemic and the state closures hit. It was a gut-wrenching reality. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding has been a tremendous stabilizer, so we weren’t thinking about layoffs or cuts constantly, but we focused on innovation and efficiency instead,” Aposhian said.
Pivoting how they sell because traveling to do local farm demos was no longer an option, they launched virtual demo tours using Facebook Live. “It changed how we could inexpensively contact farms around the world. It was tremendous as far as generating interest and starting relevant sales conversations with farmers. We plan on having this virtual demo strategy be part of who we are forever,” Aphoshian said. “It’s a great lesson on focusing on what you ‘can do’ during the pandemic; not being sad about how the old ways don’t work anymore.”
They applied for the PPP during the second traunch of the program. “We ended up reapplying through a local Utah bank and got a positive result back within a couple of days. It has changed our attitudes and confidence in immeasurable ways,” Aposhian said. “We are increasing hours again and moving back to full capacity in the factory immediately.”
The PPP has been very important for their business that employs 135 people. “The assistance from the Utah SBA office and our local bank helped to save many of these jobs,” Aposhian said. “We and the 135 families are very grateful for the efforts of the SBA and our local bank.”
FireFly isn’t new to the SBA, when the company was new and growing Firefly took out an SBA loan. “The loan was relatively small but very timely and it really helped us fund our company at a critical time.” Aposhian said.
“Programs like the PPP are a Godsend but are part of the solution not the total solution. Look for ways to positively disrupt your business yourself before the market does it for you,” Aposhian said. “Ask your employees about these new ideas on how to serve customers. They likely have more contact with your customer base than you as the owner might so listen to everyone. Good ideas are good regardless of the source.”
“The power of our company and our country frankly is staying together and working as a team. After this downturn we will be stronger and better positioned to ride the improvement in the economy and prosper in the coming years,” Aposhian said.
During the pandemic FireFly has leaned on a close group of advisors and business contacts. “We have sought out advice from many other business leaders. Many were online and we watched many press conferences and pod casts on LinkedIn and others,” Aphosian said.