Age is no barrier to doing a great job, as 79-year-old Elaine Leaney, Sales Assistant of the Year 2010, shows.

Anyone who thinks that good old-fashioned customer service is a thing of the past should take a trip to Brighton on the south coast. For there, in the modern surroundings of the Total-branded Sussex Square Service Station on Eastern Road, you'll find Elaine Leaney, who last week was crowned Convenience Store's Sales Assistant of the Year for 2010.

Everything about Elaine is remarkable. Her manager, Martin Long, describes her as "irreplaceable" for her customer service skills, her dedication and her good nature.

She puts in a 40-plus hour shift each week 'plus' because she invariably comes in to work half-an-hour before she is due to start, and leaves late.

While she prides herself on her customer service, she doesn't shy away from difficult tasks, managing the tricky news and magazines section and taking charge when there is a fuel spill on the forecourt.

And, most remarkable of all, on her next birthday she'll be 80.

Elaine took her first job in retail while still a teenager, and she still believes in the old-fashioned virtues of customer service.

"I treat my customers as I'd like to be treated with respect," says Elaine. "To me, customer service is a priority that has been lost by some people, but it's vital for a business to have sales staff that will show the customers the proper respect. If you have the right sales staff then the business will prosper.

"I believe you should do the job as best you can; don't bring your problems to the workplace and try to be kind and sincere," she continues.

Elaine adds that as well as creating happy customers, the right attitude can lead to a few additional sales. "I'll let them know if there's something that I think they may want and sometimes I can even convince them to buy something that they didn't think they wanted!"

She describes herself as "absolutely thrilled" to win. "I received a lot of support from my customers and they are going to be so proud that I've won this award," she says.

"I've been delighted to spend my years working there and I don't plan on stopping yet!"

Elaine's big day came at the end of a six-month search which brought winners from five different store sectors to the fore.

Patricia Johnston of Singh's Premier in Sheffield was the winner in the independent symbol category and the winner of the Community Hero award, while Christine Parker was a well-deserved winner of the independent category, having worked in the same store in Bramhope, Yorkshire, for 40 years.

The multiple symbol category winner was Susanne Vaughan, a supervisor at Tates Spar in Aberystwyth, who impressed the judges with her all-round skills and responsibilities in dealing with both customers and staff colleagues. And the winner of the multiple and Co-op sector prize was Michelle Butchart from Scotmid in Inverbervie, Aberdeenshire, whose selling skills really stood out, balanced by a determination to look after her elderly customers and to responsible retailing.

All four received certificates, prize money and their place in the limelight at the Dorchester last week.

But the final word belongs to Elaine. "This is for sales assistants everywhere," she said tearfully as she accepted her award. How typical of her to think of others before herself.

Community hero: Trish is our hero

Patricia Johnston of Singh's Premier in Sheffield was named as the 2010 Community Hero for her dedication to local people in a challenging trading location. 

As well as her hours in the store, she also delivers groceries to the elderly, runs a book group and a customer panel that makes suggestions for the store alongside raising funds for the local community. She also makes a special effort to gain the trust and the confidence of patients from the nearby psychiatric hospital who often visit the store as part of their recovery. 

Patricia said: "I just can't believe that I've received this fabulous award for simply doing the job that I love. 

"This wonderful day will stay with me for a long time."

Co-operative & Multiple sector winner 

From Scotmid, Inverbervie, with Association of Convenience Stores' James Lowman

Multiple symbol sector winner

From Spar, Aberystwyth, with P&G's Paul Lettice

Independent symbol sector winner

From Singh's Premier, Sheffield, with JTI's Melanie Mills

Independent sector winner

From Christalya, Bramhope, Leeds, with Bep Dhaliwal from Mars

Forecourt sector winner

From Sussex Square Service Station, Brighton, with Coca-Cola Enterprise's Andy Brown

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