As circus performers twirled and swirled overhead and fire eaters stalked the stage, retailers, caterers, suppliers, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and the Booker team gathered to congratulate the winners in this year’s Booker Prize for Excellence, hosted by comedian Al Murray, in character as The Pub Landlord.
But Jason Sanga, who runs Jeeves Convenience Store in Bristol, was the star of the evening, winning the Best Retailer and Best Premier Retailer awards. Jason operates a number of c-stores in Birmingham, with just the one in Bristol that he has owned for two years. He is refurbishing and rebadging his estate to the Jeeves brand and taking more into Premier. He told C-Store: “I’m always on the lookout for stores, but in the current climate it’s tough finding them in the right place and at the right price.” He added: “The c-store will always stay one step ahead of the multiples in the local arena because, unlike us, they cannot deal with out of stock situations swiftly. I was a multiple superstore manager and in that field as long as you achieved your monthly sales targets, availability and service standards were not an issue. Independents will always have the edge.”
Denise and Vic Loose, who run Witheridge PO and Village Stores at Witheridge in Devon, won Best Local Store. The couple took on the rundown outlet four years ago and have trebled turnover, added a buoyant bakery offer, installed an ATM and PayPoint and driven business through their post office. The store became a Premier outlet a year ago. Denise said: “Our customers are thrilled with our award and we’ve had lots of publicity in the local papers. There’s no doom and gloom here. We’re on the up.”
Newcomer of the Year was awarded to Jose and Helen Pestana, who run a Select & Save store at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex. The couple used to run an off licence in their native South Africa and took on the corner store in Essex 18 months ago, gutting and refitting it to the latest Premier spec. Jose told Convenience Store: “Customers here are much more loyal than in South Africa,” said Jose. “This has been a really exciting venture for us. Turnover is up 100% and lottery and scratchcard sales by 250%. We’ve introduced lots of services and been trying to re-educate customers around here about what the store stocks.”
Dynamic duo Paul Castle and Chris Pollard, of Barlby Village Store at Barlby, North Yorkshire, won Best Large Convenience Store while Christian Whitfield, who runs Whitfield Brothers in Bristol, accepted the award for Best Small Convenience Store. Paul Taylor, of Vickis Wine Merchants, Chobham, Surrey, won Best Off Licence.
Booker marketing director Mark Collier said: “The winners have shown the ability to create a fully rounded retail offer comprising personal service, meticulous attention to detail and a meaningful involvement in the community.”
The winners and their partners will shortly be heading to Cape Town in South Africa on a five-day study tour.