The's just celebrated turning 80, with an iced cake, a balloon-filled store and a giant banner outside the shopfront. But ask sales assistant Elaine Leaney about her greatest day and she won't wax lyrical about her birthday. "Receiving my Sales Assistant of the Year Award was the best day ever," she beams. "I've never had so much praise in my life!"

And her win in last year's competition wasn't just good news for Elaine on a personal level, it also led to increased footfall for the Total-branded Sussex Square Service Station on Eastern Road, Brighton, where she works. "It's brought more customers to the store," says Elaine. "People who I don't even know have come in and said 'Hi Elaine!' They tell me that they've heard from friends that I've won and have come to congratulate me!" she grins. "We've even had cars beeping as they drive past!"

Elaine stole the judges' hearts with her commitment to the store and her remarkable customer service skills, in addition to her impressive sales techniques. But Elaine isn't the only sales assistant who is making a difference to their business. Businesses across the UK have unsung heroes who go the extra mile every day to make their stores a success.

If you have one such member of staff then we want to hear about it. Look out for your bespoke entry form supplied with the next issue of C-Store (July 8), or you can enter by email straight away by answering the questions printed in the panel on the facing page. The deadline for entries is August 19, following which our paper judging panel will draw up a shortlist.

Our on-the-road judging team will then visit those shortlisted at their stores, before picking the best five from the following categories: Independent, Independent Symbol, Multiple Symbol, Co-operative and Multiple, and Forecourt.

Along with our supplier supporters JTI, P&G, Coca-Cola Enterprises and Mars Chocolate Convenience Store will welcome the five finalists to London. We'll put them up in a hotel and treat them to a night out before they attend the awards lunch, which takes place at The Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair, London, on November 15.

On the day of the event, finalists will once more be interviewed before the Sales Assistant of the Year, as well as an additional award for Community Hero, are chosen.

Finalists will receive a £500 prize, with the winner going on to receive an additional £500, and an award of £250 for the Community Hero.

If the staff member you nominate goes on to be our overall winner, then you'll also receive £250 for your support in putting them forward. So what are you waiting for? Show off the diamond that makes your store sparkle.

Last year's awards uncovered some true gems. Take Independent Symbol winner Trish Johnson of Singh's Premier in Sheffield. She not only provides excellent customer service, but has also set up a book group with some of the older customers as well as helping patients from the nearby hospital back into society. And what's more, she heads up a customer panel whose job it is to decide where the shop's quarterly community donations of £250 should be spent.

And then, of course, there's Elaine, who has trudged through deep snow, and journeyed to the store in the middle of the night to help out because she refuses to give her customers anything less than 110%. "You've got to be the best you can be," she says.

If this is the mantra of one of your sales assistants, then get in touch and give them a chance to shine.
What you can win
We're looking for entries by August 19, 2011 in the following categories: Independent supported by Mars Chocolate UK£500 Independent Symbol supported by JTI£500 Multiple Symbol supported by P&G£500 Co-operative and Multiple£500 Forecourt supported by Coca-Cola Enterprises£500 From these the judges will select: Sales Assistant of the Year£500 With additional awards for: Community Hero £250 Overall winner's store manager £250
How to enter
Ask your candidate to answer the following six questions, and send them to us by post or email. Please include a letter of endorsement (350 words max) from the store owner or manager summing up the great work the candidate does, and a recent photo of them. And don't forget to include their name, store name and address, and which category they are entering. A simple, bespoke entry form will be mailed to every reader with the next issue of C-Store (July 8). 1. List your five most important responsibilities in your store (e.g deputising for manager, banking, ordering, supervising a section etc) 2. What aspects of your work in the store are you most proud of and why? 3. Describe a crisis or challenging incident that occurred in your store recently, and how you helped to resolve it. 4. When you are asked for cigarettes or alcohol by someone you believe to be under the legal age to purchase these goods, what do you do? 5. Describe an idea you have introduced recently to improve customer service in your store. 6. Which was the most successful new product in your store in the past year. In your opinion, why was it so popular? Post your entries to Sales Assistant of the Year Awards 2011, William Reed Business Media, FREEPOST (RCC1797), Broadfield Park, Crawley, West Sussex, RH11 9RT. Entries can also be emailed to cstevents@wrbm.com.

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