Maintaining well-stocked shelves between Christmas and New Year has proved a challenge for retailers, but Tesco's Sale branch in Greater Manchester provided a full basket to win the first Top Store award of 2008. The 50,000 sq ft town centre store impressed our shopper with an extensive range of special offers, wide and clear aisles and helpful customer service. All 19 checkouts were open and processing queues quickly. But just because the festive season is over doesn't mean store manager Mark Williams can relax. An extensive refit started at the 30-year-old supermarket this week to expand its clothing and general merchandise range. Williams believes this will give Tesco the edge over nearby competitors, including Sainsbury's, which CACI data found to be the best suited store to the area. "The 12-week refurb will be tough but ultimately worthwhile. Our electrical products range is already popular as there are no Dixons or Currys stores in Sale and the local Sainsbury's doesn't offer electrical goods," said Williams. "Sainsbury's is strong competition for us because it has a bigger car park, whereas ours is on the store roof and not as big as I would like, so developing our general merchandise range will strengthen our position in the town." Deputy manager Tony Zandie is pictured (above right) as Williams was unavailable for a photograph.


Q&A with Mark Williams Store manager of the week

Did your store have a good Christmas? Yes, business was very good and we managed to keep an excellent level of availability despite the high footfall. Digital photo frames were a surprisingly good seller and, of course, our stocks of Nintendo Wiis sold out immediately. Goose fat-covered roast potatoes were popular and turkey crowns - where everything but the breast meat is removed - were far more popular than whole turkeys. At one point we temporarily sold out of organic turkey crowns and a customer desperately needed one. Luckily my first job was as a butcher, so I was happy to carve a whole bird for her. What is your average shopper like? Sale is on the doorstep of Manchester and the surrounding area is very affluent, but our store is very popular with old-age pensioners. However, our electronic range of products draws in people of all ages, something we intend to reinforce with the refit. It is a shame that our refurbishment plans cannot extend to our car parking situation, as that is the one area that is frustrating customers at the moment, but in a congested town centre location like this it is difficult to expand. What is your competition like? As well as the Sainsbury's, we have a large Marks & Spencer Simply Food 100 metres down the road, but we are the biggest store around here and our employee training at this store is second to none. How do you achieve such high staff morale? Developing the skills and responsibilities of staff is something I strongly believe in and encourage among our team and it makes for a happy environment. Over the past few months, we have done a great job of succession planning, with 15 people promoted to various management positions across the store. Spotting the 16-year-old lad with a talent for customer interaction or the middle-aged woman with untapped people skills is the key to nurturing successful store staff.



Asda Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge

0 - This new Asda store was a close runner-up and was highly praised by our shopper. It provided a full basket and the staff impressed with their friendly attitudes and helpful manner. However, there were several gaps on the shelves and stocks of a number of essentials, such as bread, were significantly depleted. We visited on 28 December at 4.30pm. Our shop lasted one hour and 51 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was two minutes.

morrisons Wigan, Lancashire

1 - Our shopper had a mixed experience at this store. Two staff members said they would look for hard-to-find items but did not return and our shopper had to wait more than 10 minutes at the customer service desk for assistance. However, the store was clean and tidy and the checkout assistant offered to help pack her bags. We visited on 28 December at 10.25am. Our shop lasted one hour and 30 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was 15 minutes.

sainsbury's Warwick, Warwickshire

1 - Another close contender for our Top Store award, this store was extremely clean and tidy, as well as very well merchandised. The only out-of-stock item was Hovis bread, and our shopper noted there were a number of interesting promotions on fruit and veg. We visited on 28 December at 6.50pm. Our shop lasted 46 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was four minutes.

somerfield Broxburn, West Lothian

2 - This tidy store was well-staffed and welcoming. Again, Hovis bread was out of stock, alongside Fanta Orange, but staff were helpful when asked for assistance in locating items and our shopper was pleased a member of staff automatically packed her bags at the checkout without being asked. Four of five checkouts were operating. We visited on 28 December at 6.25pm. Our shop lasted 40 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was two minutes.

tesco Sale, Greater Manchester

0 - Our first Top Store of the year managed to keep its shelves gap-free despite the high volume of post-Christmas shoppers. As well as having all 33 items on the list, the store was clean and welcoming. All 19 checkouts were in operation, which kept queues to a minimum, and staff were polite and efficient. We visited on 28 December at 1.15pm. Our shop lasted one hour and five minutes. Time spent at the checkout was four minutes.

waitrose Epsom , Surrey

4 - This store was poorly merchandised and packing trolleys were blocking many of the aisles. However, our shopper was most impressed with the excellent customer service and staff tried hard to provide suitable replacements for the four missing items on our list. We visited on 28 December at 2.30pm. Our shop lasted 37 minutes. Time spent at the checkout was six minutes.