The standard for this year's Sales Assistant of the Year awards was the highest in the competition's 27-year history, according to the judges, who had a tough job deciding the overall winner. However, all agreed that Felicity Brown of Tates Spar Northgate in Aberystwyth was the deserved winner of the accolade.
As well as the coveted title, certificate and trophy, Felicity wins £1,500 which, she says, will go towards a trip to New Zealand with her boyfriend. Category winners won £500 each and accomodation in a top London hotel on the night before the awards.
Felicity and the category winners were presented with their awards by GMTV personality Penny Smith at a celebration lunch at the famous Bluebird restaurant in London, sponsored by Gallaher, Masterfoods and Procter & Gamble.
Judging for the overall winner, this year sponsored by Masterfoods, began earlier on in the day, and judges agreed that despite the high standard of candidates overall, Felicity shone through with her obvious dedication, professionalism and knowledge. Convenience Store editor David Rees said: "Felicity showed an exceptional understanding of all aspects of her store and her role within it."
Felicity said that she had filled in the form without ever believing she would win: "I thought that being young I wouldn't have the experience so I'm thrilled and completely surprised. I'd had such a nice time anyway, staying in a beautiful hotel and with such a lovely lunch, that this was just the icing on the cake. It's been such a great experience. I'd recommend everyone to enter."
She said that in the days prior to the awards she was inundated with texts and phone calls from colleagues, customers and area managers, wishing her good luck: "They're all going to be so pleased. I've told my manager and he's in shock, too."
She said that she couldn't wait to put the trophy up in her store but celebrations would have to wait until the weekend as she was due back at the shop at 7am the next morning.
Felicity began working at the store three-and-a-half years ago as a holiday job. Since then she's worked her way up from part-time to full-time work to become senior supervisor and is now on the Tates Spar management training programme, having already outshone 3,000 others to win the company's own sales assistant award earlier this year.
One of the most interesting parts of the awards, said Felicity, was meeting other candidates and sharing experiences: "I was talking to one of the other winners and they've got some good ideas which we'd like to try within our store. It's good to see what's going on in other stores."
In the Independent category, sponsored by Procter & Gamble, Morwen Williams of Sarah's Newsagents, Maenclochog, South Wales, was celebrating her second consecutive win. "I'm very proud," she said. "It's an achievement that other people think we've done well."
She said that she would be sharing news of her win, and probably a bottle of Champagne, with her customers.
Lee Firth, winner of the Symbol category, sponsored by Masterfoods, said he was surprised to be put forward for the award by Raj Patel, manager of the Porters (Londis) store in Canterbury, Kent, where he has worked for 10 years. The 32-year-old is a favourite with the elderly residents of the St Stephen's area, which also caters for the city's student population and two local schools. He always finds the time to welcome them to the shop, but doesn't feel that his efforts are unusual among the store's 13 staff. "We all have close relationships with our customers," he said.
Entering the awards was well worth it, Lee added. "It's been fantastic. It's nice to be recognised for doing a job you love."
Although she has worked at the Three Elm service station in Tonbridge, Kent, for less than 18 months, Patricia Harvey has made a good impression on her customers, who were delighted to hear she had been awarded the title of Forecourt Sales Assistant of the Year.
Having been a regular customer at the store before joining the staff, 'Aunty Pat', as she's known, realises how important it is to be not only a helpful and knowledgeable salesperson, but also to put the shop at the centre of the community it serves. She is known for the care and consideration she shows to older customers and has established a scheme in association with a local college to tackle underage drinking.
Morwen Williams is a familiar face at the Sales Assistant awards as she was a finalist in 2004, and has now won her category two years running.
One of the reasons may be her dedication to her job, demonstrated this year when she severely damaged her back just before store owner Sarah was due to take her mum and niece to EuroDisney. Despite being in terrible pain, Morwen was determined that they shouldn't miss the holiday and, with the help of painkillers, kept the shop open until their return. "I just knew I couldn't let them down."
As well as helping out the boss, Morwen is also popular with the customers, often carrying their basket around the shop for them if they can't manage it.
Serving in the shop isn't her only job. As she lives on a farm, three days a week she can be found up at the crack of dawn delivering milk around the local area and, if asked, delivering a few groceries from the shop, too.