Catch a rising star

Rob Cowen
Thursday 26 June 2008 11:53

Talent and drive were justly rewarded at the Retail Apprentice of the Year Awards.

When Marc Smith left school, he had no real idea what he wanted to do for a career. He took a job as a sales assistant in a Clarks shoe shop because he could work the hours he needed as he studied. However, he quickly realised that the retail industry offered many opportunities for quick progression and early responsibility, so he enrolled in an apprenticeship to further his management aspirations.

After just three years, Marc is not only managing his first store in Inverness, but has just been awarded the Retail Apprentice of the Year Award at this year’s prestigious Rising Stars Awards.

The awards which are presented at a glitzy night at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London are in their third year and have become an important event or recognising the talents of those who work hard to progress in the industry. Marc’s award category was created to celebrate retail apprentices who have gone beyond their employer’s expectations and produced exceptional and measurable benefits to their business.

In 2007, the judging panel of major retail figures was incredibly impressed at the progress Marc had made after originally joining Clarks as a sales team member at 18, and decided he was a deserved winner.

Since becoming store manager he has brought about a number of progressive changes to his branch, increasing store profits by 12 per cent and helping it become top of the league table out of 33 stores. As a result, staff morale is high, customer service has improved significantly and Marc is now an inspiring role model for other new managers.

On receiving the award, he said: “I am absolutely delighted and over the moon to win, as it gives me a sense of recognition from people higher up in the company who appreciate the work I do. When I started work with Clarks I was only part-time as I was going to university to study social sciences, but I soon left the course as I decided I wanted a career in retail. Winning this award has given me a great pat on the back for all my work.”

Receiving a “highly commended” award was Katie Steer, who began her apprenticeship soon after starting as a weekend sales adviser at Jones Bootmaker in Hereford. She showed her enthusiasm to learn and put her knowledge into practice in-store, gaining confidence and experience through the course and securing the role of Sunday manager before her quick promotion to supervisor.

By introducing a customer service checklist in-store, she highlighted strengths and weaknesses for all store staff and subsequently devised a plan of action to improve employees in the required areas, leading to an improved store performance. Now Katie balances the day-to-day running of the store, administration and managing staff, setting up training evenings on topics such as merchandising and customer satisfaction.

Both Marc and Katie’s success is down to them seizing the initiative and joining up for an apprenticeship in retail. This course is available in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and offers employed people aged from 16 to 24 the opportunity to enhance their career opportunities through nationally recognised qualifications in the industry.

Trainers guide apprentices through learning in areas such as customer service, merchandising and sales, stock management, team management and developing people. Assessors visit the learners in their place of work and make sure the programme is being delivered in the best possible way, meaning apprenticeships are the perfect way to learn while you earn. It certainly worked for Marc and Katie.

To find out more about doing an apprenticeship in retail, visit

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