By
Cassius Shuman
Providence Business News

WARWICK – Cheryl Zimmerman, CEO of FarSounder Inc., a company that develops and manufactures 3D forward-looking sonar for vessels of all sizes, said she has been personally and professionally impacted by the pandemic.

Zimmerman said even after “following all of the health and social distancing rules, the devastating effects of the pandemic cannot be avoided or ignored. I recently lost my 94-year-old mother to the virus. I was able to visit her on her last few days. I was gowned up and working beside the most amazing health care workers, who were my mother’s family over the previous months of isolation. Seeing these people wearing used and barely adequate PPEs risking their lives for these seniors is something I will never forget.” 

Home Office
CEO of FarSounder Inc. in her home office.

As for the impact to her company, Zimmerman said, “With 25% of our business in 2019 selling to the cruise ship industry, we immediately knew we had to refocus and explore new markets. Our newest, compact sonar system fortuitously was launched in Q4 of 2019 with the American recreational yacht market in mind expanding opportunities in the U.S. Our products are sold globally, with approximately 85% being exports, and we have spent a good part of time traveling to these customers. Our global markets are still strong. Now that the shipyards are open and operating, we are finding new ways to reach our customers, with webinars, conference calls, and creative marketing methods.”

“We were able to keep our entire staff employed during this time. We applied for the PPP Loan/grant and were fortunate to receive it just in time to prevent any layoffs. This helped us through the shipyards’ closures around the world. The EIDL loan, though much smaller than first advertised as available, also helped fill the gap as the PPP ended. We needed and utilized these SBA programs as they were intended to keep our small businesses operating.”

PBN is asking local business owners and leaders five questions in a survey designed to understand how the new coronavirus has affected them and their businesses and what they have learned from the unprecedented challenges. Here are Zimmerman’s responses:

How are you coping amid the COVID-19 crisis?

FarSounder is coping well. Most of our team is working remotely. We were lucky to have much of the systems needed to run our business remotely in place when the pandemic hit. Our supply change has slowed a bit and so has some projects. Enough projects are going forward as scheduled and those are keeping us moving along nicely.

Have you found silver linings in these difficult times?

What I have been pleasantly surprised by is the positive effect on our environment. Without all of the commuters and so many airplanes flying, the environment seems to be healing. It is exciting to see that with change comes a cleaner world.

For years, we have been wanting to create videos and webinars for training our global service network. The goal is to also alter them to be able to use them for marketing and sales efforts. This never became a reality due to heavy travel schedules. Instead of traveling this year, we are focused on getting our first training classes online by September.

How are you maintaining your company culture?

We do daily 30-minute Google video meetings to catch up with each other. We are a small company who ate lunch together every day. This is a way for our team to continue to have that personal group time to connect on a non-work-related level.

Our culture and teamwork is going quite strong. Back in early March, the first week working remotely, we implemented a daily check in called “Watercooler,” for 15 minutes. We discuss mainly non-work items, and make sure all of us are emotionally supported during these trying times. This has been so popular that we are going to continue this as long as we feel it is helpful.

Did your business continuity plan work or were there surprises?

Our day to day continued to be mostly unchanged. However, as an international company, we travel globally to trade shows to meet with customers. In addition, annually we invite our dealers to come to Rhode Island for training. As you can imagine, we were not able to continue either activities. As a result, we are in the midst of creating online training modules. It will not be to completely replace our training, but it is a positive step towards the goal of keeping our dealer network educated on our systems. Also, we have been replacing the hole that is created by not meeting with customers at international trade shows with webinars. This has been well-received, and we will continue to do as many as we can in the coming months.

Do you have advice for other local companies?

You have to adapt and be open to new ideas. Ask your team and your customers for their input. They are your best resources as they are your business. Every business is unique, and they will help you figure out what works for you as you move through this pandemic.