We were spoilt for choice this year with a wealth of strong entries, but there were five sales assistants who shone above the rest. This year’s winners not only demonstrate superb customer service, but also a great understanding of their businesses as a whole. By working closely with suppliers, up-selling produce and bonding both with customers and with the community as a whole, these five exceptional candidates have truly raised the bar. They will make their way up to London for our prestigious awards ceremony at the Dorchester Hotel on November 15, where celebrity host Anthea Turner will be announcing the overall Sales Assistant of the Year 2011.

WINNER Multiple Symbol Sector
Anne Fogg
Tates Spar Brumby, Scunthorpe

Anne has a strong working knowledge of her fruit and veg section and works with her managers to decide on the most suitable and cost-effective products to order. She is also eager to make her product displays as creative as possible, and along with her teammates has even won competitions for eye-catching beer stacks, which are decorated with flags and footballs for sporting events.

Her manager, Joan Padley, put her forward to do an NVQ level 3, and although she wasn’t confident to start with, Anne surprised herself by completing it in just six months. “I’m really proud that I managed to do it. It really taught me how to deal with the everyday running of the store,” says Anne. Her assessor at Derby College was so impressed with her efforts that Anne was nominated for student of the month.Anne’s people skills have also been recognised. A local vicar wrote to Spar’s headquarters praising Anne and her colleagues for delivering her shopping, and the regional manager recognised their efforts by rewarding them with the firm’s Customer Care Award.
Supported by: P&G

WINNER Independent Sector
Gaynor Rzepka
Filco Foods, Cowbridge, Glamorgan

A natural saleswoman, Gaynor hugely increased sales at her deli counter by offering customers free tasters. “One day we had an extra-large order come in and I thought I might as well offer it up as samples so that people could have a try before they bought,” she says. “The idea worked really well and I now request that suppliers send a small amount of stock free of charge especially for sampling.”

Gaynor is also careful to listen to customer requests, and will even contact suppliers to source specialist products if they are not available in store. “I like to get to know my suppliers - it’s not just a case of them dropping off products - it’s about working together as a team,” she says.

She is very active outside of the store, too. She mans the shop’s deli stand at the village show, and designs sauces and garnishes in her spare time, which she adds to the meats on display to ensure people find them irresistible.Gaynor is also an active fundraiser and is now running her sixth half-marathon with Filco to raise money for charity.”Without people like Gaynor, we’d never have the number of participants in the race that we do each year - she always encourages everyone else to join in as well,” says area manager Nathan Walmsley.
Supported by: Mars Chocolate UK

WINNER Independent Symbol Sector
David Tustain
Mace, Mundesley, Norfolk

Before working in convenience, David spent much of his time as a DJ in London, but since catching the retail bug he’s never looked back. “I was supposed to work here for a month, but I never left!” he grins. “I know everyone in the village and they’re not just customers, they’re friends.”

As the store is by the seaside, trade can be very seasonal, meaning that David has to work extra hard to ensure that appropriate products are on display at the right time of the year. And this year, he had even more responsibilities than usual as manager Derek Balding and wife Lou left him in charge for three weeks while on holiday. “Knowing that they put their trust in me is really rewarding,” says David.But even when he’s not in charge, David isn’t one to put his feet up. “I’m always looking at various categories and trying out different products in different places,” he says. When he’s not busy in the store, David has his hands full organising events for the community. The most recent was a pumpkin carving competition, which was hugely popular with the local children.
Supported by: JTI

WINNER Forecourt Sector
Pauline Irvine
Spar Lagan Valley, Lisburn, Northern Ireland

Ten months ago the Spar in Lagan Valley where Pauline worked was re-opened following a major expansion, which saw staff numbers inflate from five to 38. Pauline went from working the tills to becoming a training rep, where she had to bring 32 new members of staff up to speed on policies and procedures.

She took this mammoth task in her stride, and to make inductions less daunting for the new recruits, she even went to the trouble of condensing the store’s 146-page guidebook into a much more manageable four-page document containing key points. Her dedication made the whole process run as smoothly as possible.

To encourage staff to be as open as possible, Pauline distributes staff suggestion sheets to all employees so that ideas to improve the workplace can be shared and implemented. As the store’s community representative, she organised a charity raffle and a sponsored walk where she dressed up as Batgirl. But it wasn’t all fun and games - in order to bring the event to life, she had to apply to the Parades Commission for permission, the council for a licence to sell raffle tickets, and the local paper to ensure maximum press coverage of the event, which raised an impressive £1,000 for the local hospital’s stroke unit.