Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2021 Superstars behind the Counter salute takes on a special meaning. With the advent of Covid-19 affecting all of our retail locations, our salespeople became the frontline workers for the imaging industry.
They literally put their lives and good health on the line every day by dealing with customers face-to-face under precarious conditions. They’ve truly earned their reputations as the unsung heroes of our industry.
As always, the 2021 superstars were nominated by their managers, their peers as well as manufacturers who recognize their value and appreciate their tireless efforts on the front lines each day.
There were too many nominations to include this year, but we’ve chosen the 10 we think represent the best in our industry. We also want to extend our thanks to every retail salesperson out there who kept the imaging industry alive and vibrant this difficult past year. We can’t thank you enough.
Digital Imaging Reporter is proud to continue this feature with our fourth annual Superstars behind the Counter. In addition, we’d like to thank those who submitted nominations, and we look forward to continuing this tradition for years to come. Here, in no particular order, are our 2021 superstars!
2021 Superstars behind the Counter
Sean Kaiser: Bedford Camera & Video – Springdale, Arkansas
Not only a superstar behind the sales counter for customers, Sean is also a superstar behind the scenes for his fellow coworkers. Early on in 2020, when stores were starting to close due to Covid-19, Sean pitched an idea to the managers for a T-shirt.
This shirt simply says: “Support your local camera store.” The importance of this project is that when people buy the T-shirt, the proceeds benefit the employees of the store of their choosing within Bedford’s seven-store chain. The fact that Sean went out of his way to create a way to support his coworkers during this stressful, unprecedented time truly shows his superstar status.—Nominated by Doris Tsai, Canon USA
Heather Shaw: Mike’s Camera – Boulder, Colorado
Heather has worked for Mike’s Camera for several years. In addition, she recently became the manager of Mike’s Dublin, California, location. Besides a photographic knowledge that she brings from managing her own photo business, she constantly projects her love of photography and cameras to everyone she encounters.
Heather works tirelessly to motivate her sales staff at Mike’s while also teaching photo classes for Mike’s customers. In addition, she writes a blog and creates videos about photography, cameras and other photo equipment. Heather is a great example of the future of the photo business.—Nominated by Kristin Long, Panasonic
Mark McIlvaine: Jack’s Cameras – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mark works in a satellite location for Jacks Cameras in Exton, Pennsylvania. No matter the skill level or camera preference of the customer, he is an excellent sounding board for customers walking into Jack’s. Behind the counter, he shares his knowledge and passion for photography, including his own personal experiences of switching to the Sony mirrorless system. Mark’s outgoing nature as well as genuine desire to encourage his customers to always improve their work has resulted in several customers even requesting tutoring from him.
A graduate of the Antonelli Art Institute in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Mark has long been affiliated with photography, specializing in shooting commercial work. In 2017, he made the switch from Nikon to Sony mirrorless and has never looked back. His investment in Sony equipment has grown in the years since, along with the quality and quantity of his work. Recently, he was proud to receive his Sony Pro Support welcome pack. He is currently enjoying all the benefits the Sony Alpha Universe has to offer him. When not behind the counter or in the studio, Mark accompanies his wife, Lauren, who is also a photographer specializing in weddings and events.—Nominated by John Bruehl, Sony
Kaitlin Owen: Pixel Connection – Avon, Ohio
Always smiling, always cheerful, always positive. Kaitlin joined Pixel’s Customer Happiness Team almost two years ago. Ever since then, she has become an essential resource for the photo community. As a sales associate, Kaitlin takes the time to learn our customers’ needs, educate them and pair them with the right recommendations.
In addition, outside of the store, she spends a lot of time supporting community events and educational events, helping clubs as well as learning about film development. She truly reflects our store’s culture. Moreover, Kaitlin is in the people business first and in the photo business next. We are lucky to have her.—Nominated by Rahul Tuteja, Pixel Connection
Steph Parker: Midwest Photo – Columbus, Ohio
We nominate our Nikon specialist and assistant manager, Steph Parker, for this year’s Superstars behind the Counter. She is a crucial part of the community that we work so hard to provide here at Midwest Photo. As a wedding photographer who shoots primarily with Nikon gear, Steph speaks from experience when troubleshooting or talking about products.
On top of that, she truly goes above and beyond for her customers and to set her coworkers up for success. Furthermore, with her broad base of knowledge and relentless work ethic, Steph makes it a consistent habit of exceeding expectations.—Nominated by Tom Wright, Midwest Photo
Aaron Frey: Rockbrook Camera – Omaha, Nebraska
Aaron does a really great job representing the photo industry as a manager at Rockbrook Camera. He always greets customers with a warm smile to make everyone feel comfortable.
In addition, Aaron has a strong photographic knowledge that he uses to support both customers and coworkers. He truly represents the best in photo-imaging retail.—Nominated by Tamron USA
Ramona Stern: District Camera and Imaging – Burke, Virginia
Ramona is the consummate sales pro. As a skillful floor manager, she knows her gear and makes buying as well as selling gear an artform. In addition, Ramona has one of the most pleasing “counter attitudes” around. That’s not something that you can teach—just a combination of her skill, personality and experience.
All these traits are why she is so popular with our customers! Ramona comes to work every day with a smile on her face as well as a dedication to do the best for everybody—the customer, the business and herself.—Nominated by Eldar Tariverdi, District Camera
Saul Sanchez: Paul’s Photo – Torrance, California
Saul may be new to the photo-imaging industry; however, he brings a great vibe to the team at Paul’s Photo.
His effective communication with customers and knowledge across still as well as video platforms make him a favorite with a loyal following after just a few months behind the counter. We are grateful to have him on our staff.—Nominated by Mark Comon, Paul’s Photo
Chris Wright: Action Camera – Roseville, California
Chris has been at Action Camera for a number of years. Like many of the employees there, he exemplifies the term “extra service.” He’s extremely knowledgably as well as able to communicate with customers on every level, from beginners to pros. What impresses me the most is his eagerness to go above and beyond. Like other store associates, Chris teaches classes. When Covid-19 hit, without being told, he swung right into action doing online classes in many categories, from Lightroom to portraiture. In addition, Chris’s wife, Blair, who works part-time at Action Camera, often acts as his model, as she is highly qualified to do.
The most important asset of any store employee is his/her ability to help promote and create more business, without being told to do so. Chris is one of those employees. His fantastic attitude as well as winning smile, along with his knowledge and know-how, make a winning combination that any store owner would love to have in an employee. Chris is always there to help and serve. What more could you ask!—Nominated by Christine Moossmann, Sigma
Harrison Cline: Roberts Camera – Indianapolis, Indiana
Harrison has been with the Roberts team for almost eight years and is also a great supporter of Fujifilm. When Harrison discovered the technology, color superiority and quality within the Fujifilm brand, he was hooked. He has especially been a great proponent of medium format over the years. Since then, he has been a great advocate as a Roberts sales associate and rental manager for getting customers hooked on Fujifilm cameras and lenses.
Harrison stays on top of new and old technology. He is also the first stop for Roberts when a new Fujifilm product is released. His thorough testing and real-world reviews of equipment are easy to understand and trusted. Harrison became a Fujifilm expert early. He also leads their events, does gear reviews and is the all-around Fujifilm resource at Roberts. Roberts is fortunate to have him as part of their team. In addition, we are fortunate to have him as an advocate of our brand.—Nominated by Jackie Hillyer, Fujifilm USA