The c-store sector gathered last week at a glittering ceremony in London to recognise and celebrate outstanding retail achievement in the annual Top Shop Awards.

Craig Dike and Adam Vincent, who run the Budgens store in the village of Stoke-sub-Hamdon in Somerset, are the victorious title-holders of the Top Shop of the Year Awards 2005.

The duo, who were finalists last year, impressed the judges with their enthusiasm, innovation and retailing flair. They fought back to reclaim their customers and turnover after a fire wiped out their shop and they were forced to trade from a 600sq ft Portakabin for 21 months while the premises was rebuilt. The 3,000sq ft store now boasts fresh, chilled and flowers, kids’ toys, PayPoint, National Lottery, dry cleaning, DVDs, off licence and glass hire.

Craig and Adam were stunned by the recognition. “We’re speechless,” said Adam, “We weren’t expecting it at all - we’re really chuffed. But we couldn’t have done it without our staff and the support Budgens has given us.”

Budgens head of retailer support Mike Fitton added his congratulations. “It couldn’t have been won by a nicer family; it’s fantastic,” he said. “They are forward thinking and progressive, and to win from nothing is amazing - it really shows their dedication.”

The awards, run and organised by Convenience Store and sponsored by Cadbury Trebor Bassett, Camelot, Constellation Europe, Imperial Tobacco, Müller Dairy and Procter & Gamble, were presented during a dazzling evening at the Royal Lancaster hotel in London. The event was attended by retailers, suppliers and key representatives of the sector.

Best Neighbourhood Store 2005 was won by Kishor Patel, who runs the Nisa Local, Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire. A delighted Kishor commented: “I’m thrilled. The win is through pure hard work and attention to detail and I have to give a lot of credit to the staff.”
Kishor wowed the judges with a professional approach that delivers impressive sales per sq ft. The Houghton Regis store uses technology to drive efficiency and has doubled in size since Kishor took it over 12 years ago. Kishor has taken on a further two stores since then.

Daphne Baldwin and Gwyn Williams, who run the JR Baldwin Spar store at Tywyn, Gwynedd, were presented with the Best Town Store 2005. The duo undertook a major refit at their seaside outlet last year and boast impressive sales figures. Gwyn said: “We’re over the moon. We pride ourselves on our customer service and aim to look after the local community. I’d like to say thanks to all our staff - we wouldn’t be anywhere without every single member. I’d also like to thank Blakemore - everyone in the company is always on hand to advise and offer us their expertise.”
Daphne added: “It’s been a group effort and it’s marvellous to be recognised.”

The special Lifetime Achievement Award was this year presented to Alec Gardener. Alec runs East Bergholt Post Office (Budgens) near Colchester, Essex, and opened his first store in 1968 aged just 20.

A real champion of the small store sector, Alec retired after 32 years but within a year was back behind the till of his new outlet at East Bergholt, where turnover has gone from £8,000 to £26,000 a week within three years. Always an advocate of shared learning, Alec has often opened up his business to help other retailers learn, and has collected numerous awards for his professionalism. He was nominated by Budgens regional manager David Lee, who wrote: “Alec is the epitome of what you would want an independent retailer to be; consistently professional, always customer-driven and focusing himself and his team to give the best customer service each trading day.”
Alec commented: “This has been such a wonderful surprise and honour. I’ve been to the Top Shop awards so many times in my career as a finalist and winner but this tops the lot.”

Six special product category winners were announced during the evening. They were: Best Confectionery Presentation sponsored by Cadbury Trebor Bassett - Bertie Tyrell, Spar Mallusk, County Antrim; Best Chilled Products Display sponsored by Müller Dairy - Nick Cooper, Hudson’s, Wandsworth, London; Best Laundry & Homecare Products Display sponsored by Procter & Gamble - Yvonne Todd, Spar Castlerock, Coleraine; Best National Lottery Store sponsored by Camelot - Nalliah Uruthirian, Best One, Epsom, Surrey; Best Tobacco Merchandising sponsored by Imperial Tobacco - Elizabeth Kiernan, Botterill’s, Coatbridge, Glasgow; and finally Wine Retailer of the Year sponsored by Constellation Europe - Mark Gilson, Londis Oakdene Filling Station, Preston.

Labour MP Jim Dowd, chairman of the Parliamentary All Party Small Shops Group, presented the Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention, sponsored by ADT. Dowd said: “Local community stores play an important role in the continued health and development of communities. Providing a safe environment to work and shop is key to this.”

The award was won by Appean Sharma, who runs a Costcutter at Eltham, South London. Appean has invested £500,000 and 23 years to improving safety in his community and has been pivotal in creating an area in which customers can shop without fear and where his staff operate with peace of mind.

Appean said: “This award, which I am delighted to receive, is for my wife, my staff and the whole community who now have a shopping parade they can be proud of and shop safely in.”