This year’s Sales Assistant of the Year category winners have been selected. Here’s what makes these super sales staff stand out 

Four shining applicants have been crowned the category winners in the Sales Assistant of the Year Awards 2017.

These four people are examples of what every c-store operator hopes for when employing their staff. They genuinely care about the work that they do and the service they provide to their communities, and this means they go above and beyond to ensure every customer and colleague is happy.

Each winner will be awarded a £500 cash prize for reaching the final, as well as one night’s accommodation in London and £100 spending money while they are there. The person named the overall winner of the awards will walk away with a further £500. There’s also an extra cash prize for the assistant who is chosen to win the title of Community Hero.

The awards ceremony will take place at London’s Dorchester Hotel. To find out who wins on the day, see the next issue of Convenience Store.

The Sales Assistant of the Year Awards is supported by Coca-Cola European Partners, JTI and Procter & Gamble.

Multiple Sector

Kirsty Rhodes

A strong bond with elderly shoppers and her sound business sense make Kirsty a worthy category winner

Kirsty Rhodes

Kirsty Rhodes, a supervisor at Spar St Dials, in Cwmbran, Wales, started working for Blakemore more than seven years ago, working weekends and evenings. Two years later and she was promoted to a grade one supervisor after completing the company’s supervisor programme. She now works Monday to Thursday, 7am until 3pm.

Kirsty has built a strong bond with all the customers of the store, especially an elderly lady called Marion who relies on Kirsty’s help to select items, pack her bags and take them to her scooter.

“Marion often says to me ‘if you weren’t here, I don’t know what I would do’. I think she means the store, not just me! It’s heart warming to know you’re providing such an important service for people like Marion who rely on local stores as she wouldn’t physically be able to make it to a big supermarket.”

But Kirsty’s commitment to the business goes beyond her affection for the customers; she’s also very business-minded. She initiated the idea of extending the store’s opening hours so it now opens until 10pm, rather than 9pm.

Kirsty has also put forward other ideas to encourage the team to upsell. She first suggested to management that their tills prompt the sales assistants when there are multi-buys and promotions running, to ensure the staff can inform shoppers, and this idea has been implemented nationally. She then developed a system of registering the number of up-sells each member of staff achieves each week and created a chart in the back room to encourage a bit of healthy competition and to reward the staff member who achieves the best numbers. This improved up-sells by more than 20%.

Kirsty’s list of charity work is also long. It has included: sponsored sky-diving; abseiling from the Transporter Bridge in Newport; and running both the Cardiff half-marathon and the strenuous Tenby full marathon.

She has organised and led many community initiatives linking the store and the company with local schools and community groups. This has included litter picking groups; school parties; and a walk of 83 participants across the Transporter Bridge in Newport involving Blakemore sponsorship.

Kirsty’s latest passion is in developing invaluable support for community food banks.

Kirsty has even personally undertaken mystery shopper assignments in order to fully understand and appreciate the shopping experience from the perspective of both the customer and the company.

James Bishop, St Dials store manager, says Kirsty shines out as a “steadfast shoulder of support”. He also speaks of her excellent service to the business: “Kirsty is directly responsible for our store’s strong sales. Her steadfast approach ensures that store and company procedures are reliably followed, presenting an organised and pleasurable shopping experience to our customers.”

Independent Sector, supported by JTI

Gerard O’Neill

Gerard’s energy and dedication to his colleagues and the customers in the store are crystal clear

Gerard O'Neill

Gerard O’Neill truly defies expectations, as an extremely outgoing and confident deaf and mute shop floor sales assistant at Springisland Supermarket in Dungannon.

Despite Gerard’s obvious communication barriers he is one of the most communicative members of staff in the store, partly thanks to his expressive personality and also thanks to his trusty notepad, covered inch-for-inch in notes.

Watching Gerard go about his day, it’s clear customers know him and have their own way of communicating with him. No customer seems to think twice about approaching him to sign to him in their own personal way, and he always responds with a smile and a response.

Austin Kelly, the store manager, is extremely pleased that he chose to employ Gerard.

“The kids come over to high-five him. This store really is his life, between this job and the football club, it’s his whole world and both are so important to him.”

Gerard is so devoted to his football club (Clonoe O Rahilleys GAA club) that the club has nominated him for a volunteers award.

Gerard has set up special charity days to raise money for his friend Aaran, who was seriously injured when hit by a car in the USA. His medical bills were more than $100,000.

Gerard asked Austin if the store could help raise funds and he has already raised more than £500 through charity buckets alone. They also held a fun day at the store at the end of October. Separately, Gerard helped host a fundraising day with the football club in September.

“He never stops,” continues Austin. “He’s constantly on the go, making sure the shelves look tidy and checking if his colleagues need help. He never wants to stop and never wants to take his breaks. We definitely notice when he’s not here, because he is like the equivalent of two members of staff, but his hard-working attitude is all second nature 
to him.”

Gerard says he’s hugely grateful for the opportunity to work at Springisland after he was made redundant from his previous job of 21 years.

“I did not know what I was going to do and I was rejected any jobs that I applied for.

“I was out of work for more than a month and was getting bored at home because I had always been used to working… I was delighted when Austin offered me a job.

“When I first started working here other members of staff found it very hard to communicate with me and so just avoided talking to me, but now everyone is much happier communicating 
with me.

“When a new employee starts work I like to find out their name so that I can get to know them quickly and make them feel welcome like I was made welcome when I started.”

Austin adds: “Gerard has given us invaluable service in the seven years he has been with us. Not only is he my right-hand man, but he has become a great friend.”

Forecourt Sector, supported by P&G

Kim Curry

Kim’s impressive attributes include her priority of keeping customers smiling, alongside an ambition to learn all she can about her business

Kim Curry

Kim Curry is certainly a jack of all trades. She has worked at Spar Tates Avenue, Belfast, for two-and-a-half years, but in that time she has taken on one responsibility after the next.

She has been Coffee Champion and Cigarette Champion - the latter meaning she had to ensure maximum availability throughout the changes in tobacco packaging and keep sales growing during the difficult period.

During her time, Kim has also taken charge of bread & cakes. She has made sure pricing stays compliant, and speaking to suppliers daily to discuss what was selling out and when. As a result, the bread department moved from +27% year on year in January to +32.5% year on year in June - a phenomenal result.

Kim has also completed her petrol handling competent persons training, food safety training and management skills training.

After completing team leader development training she has been made team leader and taken on responsibility for health and safety and training up other members of staff.

Customers can’t help but get to know who Kim is. Not only is she the member of staff who is always smiling and chatting, but she is often the member of staff who wears a tiara to celebrate special days. She says this is just one way she aims to keep her customers smiling. “I will do anything - within reason - to make my customers smile, including wearing a tiara on what I call Princess Day, otherwise known as pay day.

“All too often you can go into a store and find customer service is good, but robotic. I try to ensure each customer gets a bit of that ‘Kimmy sparkle’.

“I genuinely care about the customers and I try to make sure they know that. I’ve learned who will be in and at what time, and I have a good idea of what they’ll be buying. This allows me to provide a more personal service.

“It is rewarding knowing that a quick five-minute conversation could brighten someone’s day or stop someone from feeling lonely.

“I have been told a few times that my smile has made a bad day better and that’s the reason some people continue to shop with us.”

Kim has organised a range of interesting fundraising events at the store, including a PJ day, a Guess the Baby competition and a tea party to raise funds for Marie Curie.

Store manager Samantha Stewart says there is something very special about the way Kim interacts with customers. “She interacts with the customers like they are old friends catching up over a coffee.

“You can see the customers relax more when they see Kim, and as a manager that fills me with pride, because you can clearly see the rapport that Kim has built up with our customers.”

Co-operative Sector, supported by CCEP

Shirley Holt

As the Community Liaison Representative for the store, Shirley is always on the lookout for who she can help next

Shirley Holt

Shirley Holt has worked at Lincolnshire Co-operative, in North Hykeham, for nearly four years. She started on an eight-hour contract and quickly increased her hours to 30, being promoted to become the store’s Community Liaison Representative.

This role involves managing staff training with which she says her patience and humour help greatly.

“Whenever I train up the new starters I ask them what’s their favourite thing about this store compared with a larger multiple store, and the correct answer is that we can offer a personal service.

“It was lovely to work here after moving here just four years ago as it’s meant that in a relatively short space of time I know everyone’s name. Most of my friends I’ve met through this job.”

Shirley believes that customer service is the most important part of her job. “I really do enjoy getting to know all of our customers; getting to know all about their lives, what newspaper they buy, which bread they prefer, and finding out what’s important to them, what they want for the community, and how I can make things better for them, even down to the smallest things like keeping a couple of sausage rolls back for them, helping take their shopping to their car. I am a people person!”

Shirley’s bubbly personality definitely shines through. “I can remember last Christmas while I was putting some stock out and the in-store media was playing some Christmas songs, I was singing away and one of our regulars came in and we danced up and down the shop - unknown to me my regional manager and one of the directors were visiting and watching. The director commented what a happy store he was in and the regular told him that it had made his year.”

Shirley is passionate about charity work and carries out a lot of her own charity fundraisers, as well as taking a leading role with the store’s activities.

“I often have the girls over for tea and cakes and raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support or Cancer Research. We do clothes swaps and these can raise up to £100. These things are fun and easy and they raise a good amount of money with only a small group of people.”

Regional manager Richard Robinson says: “Upon meeting Shirley for the first time it is instantly noticeable the type of person she is, immediately coming across as a warm, friendly and caring individual.

“Nothing is too much trouble, from helping customers, supporting her colleagues in store with training and inducting them into their role, to organising a team night out.

“Shirley is a knowledgeable and supportive Customer Liaison Representative and also delivers a fantastic standard on the in-store bakery operation as she serves on there each week, baking and growing the sales along with her colleagues.”