Editor’s note: Our series Enterprising Spirit documents how businesses and workers are managing the economy’s slow return to life after its sudden shutdown in March – and adapting to new challenges ahead.
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the state in early March, it left business owners with a great deal of uncertainty.
But Digital Imaging Solutions President Penny Antonelli-Flegel was certain of one thing: retaining her employees.
“Before the CARES Act came out, I sat down and had a conversation with employees and explained I would pull from every resource to make sure they were taken care of as long as I could,” she said, referring to the federal government’s $2 trillion relief package.
Antonelli-Flegel was an employee of Spokane Valley-based Digital Imaging Solutions for more than 20 years and most recently held the position of chief financial officer before purchasing the business from Mary Lenz in February.
Digital Imaging Solutions is a small company with nine employees. It is a local Sharp products dealer that services copiers, printers and fax machines for area businesses. The company also offers IT support and sells laptops.
The company, which was deemed an essential business under the stay-home order, saw an initial increase in sales as people prepared to work from home. But then business gradually declined as fewer companies needed office products or services.
At first, Antonelli-Flegel thought the stay-home order would last a week or two, but as it extended into May nervousness set in, she said.
“I was really nervous,” she said. “I worried about taking on such a huge financial obligation at the age of 52,” she said. “I was wondering if I put my family and workers at risk, but it was the right choice and I’m glad I did it.”
Antonelli-Flegel prepped employees to work from home prior to the stay-home order, which ushered in several additional changes at the company.
“A lot of things changed. Because we are an essential company, one thing I did is I minimized how much toner and product we were sending out to the customer,” she said, adding she also anticipated shipping delays well ahead of time to ensure Digital Imaging Solutions had enough product from its manufacturers. “The customers have been very receptive and understanding behind the reason why we’ve done that.”
Antonelli-Flegel also procured masks and hand sanitizer from Dry Fly Distillery for her employees. She also changed the workload so at-risk employees could stay home and remain on payroll.
“The biggest challenge we had was people’s fear of what was happening. The second biggest challenge was keeping people motivated while they are at home. I kept checking in with everybody individually and talked about facts, not speculation,” she said. “I had a plan with how we are going to deal with the situation and kept tabs on everybody to make sure they were keeping a clear mind on what we were doing to protect our customers and ourselves.”
When Antonelli-Flegel heard Paycheck Protection Program loans were available to small businesses in April, she took every available step to obtain a portion of that funding to keep her company afloat.
“I was listening to the news as it was playing out and researching how I could get those funds, because that would ensure I would have eight weeks of payroll and I would not have to lay off anybody,” she said.
Antonelli-Flegel was able to secure a PPP loan with Washington Trust Bank, which was “super helpful and an amazing relief,” she said.
Antonelli-Flegel said she’s ready to navigate Digital Imaging Solutions through the “new normal.”
“I know we all want some sense of normal,” she said. “I think we are all working toward the same goal – for all of us to be working, making a living and providing a living for our employees. So I’m excited for that.”
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