Case Study: Coast Mountain Photo: A Well Rounded HR Strategy Creates a Home for Employees

When Rick Clare’s new staff members meet him for the first time, he introduces himself as an employee of Coast Mountain Photos, just like them.

Coast Mountain Photography

It’s not until a while later – after get-to-know-you games, and an annual welcome dinner of pizza and beer – that the twenty-five new recruits, hired each year for the winter months, learn that Rick is in fact the owner, and by extension, their boss.

“This isn’t just a business,” says Rick. “When you join our organization, you join our family.” And like any good father figure, Rick ensures that all of his staff members – many of whom are away from home for the very first time – have a wonderful experience, underpinned by clearly defined boundaries, high expectations, and a whole lot of support.

Rick’s philosophy is deceptively simple: demand nothing but the best of your staff, and give it right back in return. From being upfront about the business finances, to giving constructive feedback to young photographers to make their pictures more saleable, Rick views his role as mentor more than boss. He says this isn’t just good human resources – it is good business sense.

“We’ll help our photographers buy better camera equipment, and we’ll teach them skills. The better they are at their jobs, the more money the company earns, and the more we’ll pay them,” explains Rick. “We run workshops about how to take the best photos in different light, how to capture a moving target, how to shoot against snow. And we consistently get good feedback,” says Rick, who notes his staff are eager to gain new skills and boost their resumes.

Coast Mountain also allows employees to buy cameras, interest free, on a payment plan, and pays on a sliding scale that rewards photographers who become more adept at their craft. But Rick says the support offered to his staff goes beyond professional development. “We don’t just help our staff with job skills; we help them with life skills. Where to get cheap wings, how to cook a meal – little things that improve their quality of life.”

At Coast Mountain Photos, new and returning staff are greeted with free two-day ski passes. When Christmas rolls around, a company feast ensures that no one celebrates the festive season alone. And summer heralds group barbeques and bowling excursions. But Rick is quick to point out that it’s a two-way street, and he makes no apologies for holding his staff to a high standard.

Rick believes that by offering his mostly young staff a 40-page training manual, requiring them to learn the names of their coworkers, and offering regular – and honest – evaluations, he’s levelling the playing field. “If everybody knows the rules, and plays by them, everyone can be an equal,” he says.

And at heart, he believes this mutual respect is the secret to his more than twenty-five years of success. “The secret is mutual respect – and checking references. That is the single most important piece of advice I would give to other employers,” says Rick. “Take the time to check references. It’s definitely worth it.”

And Rick’s approach is working. Many of his staff have been with the company for years. And the majority of those who’ve moved on stay connected through the company’s Facebook page. Rick often gets referrals through the social networking site. “I pay former staff $50 if we hire their referral and another $50 once that employee completes the season. It’s our way to say thanks, and keep in touch.” And even if they decide to move on, after one season, or five, or ten, most do just that.

When they leave, Rick’s staff are given a professionally produced video of their experiences as a timeless keepsake. “After all,” says Rick, “capturing memories is what we do.”

Thanks to Coast Mountain Photo’s HR practices, they’ll have plenty of good ones to take with them.