In a week characterised by poor availability, Waitrose's enthusiastic and efficient staff were integral to the Chesham store being crowned this week's best in class. Employees at the 16,000 sq ft branch complete an extensive customer service programme on their arrival, a scheme that's clearly paying dividends for store manager Stuart Gibbon. Our shopper noted a terrific atmosphere among staff, exemplified by the willingness of one assistant to fetch a niche bread product from a delivery lorry that had only just arrived at the store. "Our employees have specific guidelines in terms of how they interact with customers, but also have the autonomy to do what they perceive to be the right thing," said Gibbon. Waitrose is ideally suited to Chesham, which has a high percentage of wealthy achievers. The store places great emphasis on the quality and variety of its fresh produce and has expanded other areas to appeal to the town's discerning foodies. "Our key growth areas are wine, fresh meat and fish so we've concentrated on making our offering in these areas as comprehensive as possible," said Gibbon. The Chesham store recently debuted Waitrose's new Delicatezze range of indulgent Mediterranean-inspired appetizers, which Gibbon expects to go down a storm with customers should the sun come out to play this summer.

Q&A with Stuart Gibbon Store manager of the week


Are you faced with a surplus of barbecue products after the miserable bank holiday weather? Fortunately not. We predicted that the weather wouldn't be great and planned accordingly. Although we didn't get a rush on barbecue items, the store was actually busier on Sunday than it was the previous year. I guess nobody wanted to be outside. How much of a challenge is it to maintain good availability at this time of year? We're pretty well serviced where availability is concerned. We've recently started using a new stock management system whereby we bring in stock more frequently to ensure the shelves are always well-merchandised. Have you introduced any new initiatives since the turn of the year? Our most successful new initiative is definitely a green checkout, which is reserved for customers who bring their own reusable carrier bags. It's proving extremely popular. We've also cut down our carrier bag usage by 50% in the last year. Do you get involved with the local community? We're involved in at least one event each month with local groups. We've also been running healthy eating projects in local schools, which have been a great success. We see ourselves at the heart of our local community. Your retail space is only 16,000 sq ft. Would you welcome an expansion of the store? The store size works really well for us and our customers. Chesham isn't a huge town and it gives us the opportunity to focus on our great food service. Average spend is really high, even without a significant non-food offering. What's the competition like in the area? Marks & Spencer and Tesco both have stores in the town, but our main rival is Sainsbury's, which is literally 50 yards away across a walkway. It makes it even more important that we provide an excellent level of service to keep customers coming back for more.


Asda Ipswich

3 - The staff played a starring role at this Asda branch with their jovial attitude and efficiency in dealing with queries. However, the store was difficult to navigate in places and the car park was full. A wide range of Clipper teas was on sale but the required organic white variety was sold out. Only half a dozen loose mushrooms were on display and they were bruised, while loose broccoli was out of stock and the desired size of frozen prawns was not stocked. We visited on 23 May at 2.30pm. Our shop lasted 55 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was seven minutes.


Morrisons Liverpool

1 - This Morrisons branch was well signposted and generally well-merchandised although soft drink stocks were low. Staff were very approachable and an assistant was eager to help our shopper search for an unusual item. Several packing trolleys were encroaching on the aisles and some packaging was littering the floor. The 4-pack of Red Bull was sold out, while prawns were charged at £2.69 despite being displayed on shelf at £2.49. We visited on 23 May at 6.45pm. Our shop lasted 50 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was five minutes.


Sainsbury's Tunbridge Wells, Kent

5 - Chaos reigned at this Sainsbury's store with empty, untidy shelves, hazardously placed crates, dirty floors and a lack of assistance just some of the lowlights. The mushrooms, sugar, brie, milk and Hula Hoops were out of stock while our shopper had to open a cardboard box containing packs of red grapes himself. The checkout assistant was very apologetic for the poor availability and said the store was short-staffed. Just 16 of 32 tills were open resulting in long queues. We visited on 23 May at 6.45pm. Our shop lasted 59 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was eight minutes.


Tesco Stretford, Manchester

3 - This Tesco Metro looked in need of refurbishment with narrow, congested aisles. However it was tidy with few gaps on the shelves. The store was extremely busy but all available checkouts were open and the assistant was polite and helpful. Loose avocados and Lemsip Max Strength were both out of stock while Bold Powder was sold out in the required size. Due to a lack of storage space, our shopper had to wait 10 minutes for a free trolley. We visited on 23 May at 11.20am. Our shop lasted one hour and 10 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was nine minutes.


Waitrose Chesham, Bucks

1 - Our shopper was impressed with every aspect of this Waitrose store from the clean and tidy aisles to the well-stocked shelves and polite staff. There were numerous promotions in store including bogofs on Right Guard and Pringles and an extensive selection of breads and fresh produce. All but one of the seven tills were open and our shopper was served immediately. Despite a large variety of teas being stocked, the white tea was out of stock in the 25-pack size. We visited on 23 May at 9.21am. Our shop lasted 42 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was two minutes.