Next week sees our store superheroes travel to London to fight it out for the industry's top award for sales staff. Dave Visick went to see them in action

The judges of the Sales Assistant of the Year Awards can tell you it's nearly 300 miles from Plymouth to Braintree in Essex, and more than 250 from there to Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast.

Those are just two of the journeys we undertook as we criss-crossed the country in search of the superheroes of local retailing the unsung workers whose enthusiasm for their job marks them out as true champions of their stores and their communities.

Faced with a field of almost 80 entrants, the judges took on the near-impossible task of choosing five category winners to join us later this month at London's Dorchester Hotel, where a final showdown will see the overall winner pick up the title, a trophy, and a £1,000 prize.

Along the way we met store staff who drive miles out of their way to deliver a customer's shopping; who always have a kind word for the elderly and a smile for the toddlers; who risk abuse and even violence to disperse gangs of youths outside the store; and who readily volunteer to work a double shift at short notice if a colleague is ill.

And everywhere we went, we saw dedicated people who understand the role local stores play in their communities and the responsibility that comes with the job.

Picking five finalists wasn't easy, but with grateful thanks to everyone who took the trouble to enter, and entertained us so royally in their stores let's meet the category winners.