How skilled are your staff? I suspect most of you would respond positively to that question. I also think that the answer you might give today would be radically different from the one you might have given five years ago.

The local shop industry has been transformed in recent years. Whereas once shop staff were rarely required to do more than stand at the till or fill the shelves, activity these days is much more complex with new technology, fresh food, foodservice and bigger promotions to get to grips with. And you can add refusing underage sales to that list.

But even more importantly, stores need to be more than just in the neighbourhood these days, they need to be neighbourly. So the ability to engage with shoppers inside the store, and to organise a programme of community events outside, are also vital skills.

The continued growth of the supermarket chains has made creating a point of difference a priority, and independent stores have risen to the challenge by making sure that shoppers get a friendly, personalised welcome from the most helpful staff in town. One successful independent recently told me that a friendly personality type is a more important requirement than retail experience when he selects new staff.

The changes have been evident in C-Store's Sales Assistant of the Year competition, which each year brings to the fore an increasingly impressive set of finalists. So if you have a superstar in your staffroom, there's still time to enter this year's awards programme. We'd love to help you give them the recognition they deserve.

It's a rollover

Camelot's bid to offer bill payments and phone top-ups has rolled over into another month, as it has asked the National Lottery Commission (NLC) to reconsider its view that offering new services through the terminal might create a breach in competition law.

Thank you to all the retailers who contacted us about the matter I would say that it's about 95% in favour of Camelot at this stage. Or, more precisely, in favour of greater competition, as the retail community remains frustrated by the low margins on in-store pay terminals.

Interestingly, Vodafone wrote to support Camelot's application, saying that more operators in the market would increase its bargaining position, so it doesn't necessarily follow that retailers would earn more under a new system. For its part, Camelot is confident that its proposed service can be operated entirely within the law, so there are sure to be more twists and turns to come.

Please keep the comments coming, and if you feel strongly about the issue contact the NLC as well.