Outstanding: that was the word used by Convenience Store's Sales Assistant of the Year 2009 as she stood on stage at London's Dorchester Hotel and received her £1,000 cheque from guest host Anthea Turner.

And, rather fittingly, the same word had been uttered by the competition's judges a few hours earlier as they learned about the enormous contribution our winner, Annette Harrison, makes to the Spar store in Rhoose, South Wales, where she works, and to the village and its community as well.

It's a measure of Annette's popularity that within minutes of her victory, her phone was buzzing with messages of congratulations from staff and customers gathered in the store, and a day later the enormous cardboard cheque and the winner's trophy were on display behind the counter for everyone in the village to join in the triumph.

Annette said: "I'm honoured to win this and it's such a pleasure to take the award home and present it to the community, the staff and my family. It's for all of them."


In the 18 years she's worked at the store, Annette has become indispensable to owner Brian David, running the business in his absence and keeping the staff focused on excellent customer service. She's passionate about every part of her job, whether it's helping a disabled customer with his shopping or introducing a new fixture for cards and celebrations. But what most impressed the judges was the way she has expanded her role in the store to become a key figure in the community, with a special emphasis on youth work.

"It all started when I overheard a member of staff speaking disrespectfully to the youngsters who used to hang around the store," she says. "I realised that would solve nothing and decided to find out how we could engage with them on their level and help to solve their problems which, in turn, were causing trouble for us."

The result is that Annette now runs two youth groups and works with the local authorities and police. The effect for the store has been amazing; there's no more trouble from kids, and both staff and customers benefit from the improved atmosphere.

Annette's sense of duty has seen her grabbing the car keys from a drunk customer and chasing down the street after adults whom she believes were buying alcohol for under-18s. It's that willingness to go the extra mile that so impressed the judges and made her such a worthy winner of this year's award.

"We look for a full range of skills," said chairman of the judges David Rees. "Customer service, sales skills, enthusiasm, commitment to the community and setting an example to other staff. Our winner scored extremely highly in all these areas, but also impressed the judges with her common sense, good humour and, above all, passion.

"She demonstrates that this job is about more than the hours you put in; it's about putting local stores at the heart of the community. She gives 100% and she expects 100% from others."

All winners

Annette wasn't the only finalist who dazzled the judging panel. The four others were each already winners in their own right as champions for their store category, and received a £500 prize as well as a night out in London's West End.

"All five say they love their job, and it's obvious their customers love them, too," David Rees said. "But as well as being people people, they are also business people; they show great understanding of their role and take their responsibilities very seriously indeed."

Independent sector winner Ruth Lafford, he said, was known for her cheery smile and understands her customers so well that she can anticipate what they want even if they've forgotten it themselves.

Heather Merry, the appropriately named life and soul of Spar Aberystwyth, is so committed to her job that she travels 300 miles a week to the store, the judges said, and stood out for her passion for her customers' welfare not to mention sales initiatives such as this month's Mince Pie Mountain.

Trisha Suckling of Co-operative Challis Lane in Braintree, Essex, is the kind of duty manager every store should have capable of taking on a huge range of responsibilities, but never too busy to "work on the tills or wipe up spills" as she put it. "I may be the duty manager, but that doesn't mean I don't wipe noses," she said.

And Val Dowling impressed the panel with her bubbly enthusiasm for life at the Mace forecourt store in Andover. She's a hit with customers many of whom were waiting to find out how she got on via her Facebook page but she also takes on tremendous responsibility on 24-hour callout to rush to the site in an emergency, and sees that staff operate a very strict underage sales policy.