WATCH: Electric night at Wolverhampton's first ever WIRE Awards
In a night of pride and excitement Wolverhampton has celebrated the strength and diversity of its independent shops, cafes and hotels.
The first ever WIRE – Wolverhampton Independent Retail Excellence – awards culminated in an event that exceeded the expectations of its organisers, as competing businesses and the event sponsors packed out Molineux's WV1 venue and cheered each other to the rooftops.
WATCH Winners delighted at first ever WIRE awards:
Cries of joy and screams of excitement greeted every announcement of a winner as fists punched the air and hugs were exchanged.
One of the biggest winners of the night was Rudell The Jewellers, which picked up both the award for Excellence in Staff Development, and the overall title of Independent Retailer of the Year.
After praising the business for its commitment to training, the judges also said: "The moment you step inside Rudell's you are transported to another place. Staff's dedication to the business and the Rudell family vision sparkled like the diamonds they had on display."
Unable to restrain their delight, the 16-strong Rudell's team swarmed the stage hugging each other and event compere Dicky Dodd, the Signal radio DJ. The stage literally overflowed with happiness.
A few minutes later, still clutching the trophy, Rudell's director Sioux Jones said: "We are really, really delighted," while store manager Gary Jones added: "I'm surprised and elated."
Sioux added: "We are very proud to be part of the community in Wolverhampton. And we are very lucky, I think, that we have such a good mix of independent retailers. We constantly strive to follow our tradition values but push forward so we are going into the next generation."
The other big winner of the night was Wulfrun Centre toy shop Batteries Not Included, winner of the people's choice award for Our Favourite Retailer of the Year, sponsored by the Express & Star and voted for by text by nearly 3,000 people.
A hotly contested category, it came down to the best service, keenest prices, quality of the products and the managers and assistants who always had a warm welcome.
Husband and wife shop owners Iain and Coco Ashbourne said their success was down to creating a community around their toy and balloon shop. Iain said: "I love Wolverhampton, I was born and bred here. I call us a 'little big shop'. We are in a big location but we are a community shop. We'll close up at 5.30 and go and do deliveries around people's homes and it all just helps create a community environment."
Coco added: "All our customers come to our shop and know us by our names and consider us as friends."
Kicking off the evening, Wolverhampton council leader Councillor Roger Lawrence, who first proposed the competition in a speech 15 months ago, underlined the importance of the independent retail sector to the city.
Speaking to the assembled crowd of almost 300 people, most of them from the 24 finalist businesses, he said: "Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy."
They gave Wolverhampton, Bilston, Wednesfield, Tettenhall and other areas of the city their 'unique' character, said Mr Lawrence.
"This is a celebration of all of you," he added. "You are all winners in my book."
Earlier compere Dicky Dodd, a Wolverhampton boy himself, said: "Tonight is about honouring you, the amazing and dedicated independent retailers, cafes, bars and restaurants that help make the city of Wolverhampton great.
"You play a central role in the attraction and personality of not only the city centre but also the local scene.
"This is a thriving city, full of character and diversity, and these new annual awards are all about celebrating and praising the entrepreneurial spirit, dedication and hard work involved in running and managing a successful independent business. They also aim to recognise the loyalty and dedication of the staff that work within this exciting sector."
One of the individual awards was for Best Apprentice or Trainee of the Year, and in a straight two-way competition it was won by 21-year-old Sarah Dean, from Root 66 hair salon in Bilston.
The judges said: "Sarah impressed with her enjoyment of work and her determination to overcome barriers to employment through a positive attitude, hard work and a strong belief in herself. Other you people would be inspired by her story."
Holding up her trembling right hand a few minutes later Sarah said: "That says everything. I've been excited for the last two weeks. Obviously you imagine and think, hey, that could be me, but now it's actually happened."
She added: "We work as a family not as a team, which is nice. They believe in you. I've always had a drive to do hair dressing and this just adds to it."
Employee of the Year was Rupinder Kaur Singh, the alterations manager at Blooms Menswear. Judges said: "Rupinder is described as a reserved and humble lady who is in actual fact the cornerstone of the very successful Blooms store."
Rupinder said: "It feels great. My top priority is my job, I have a lot of pride in it. I am so pleased for my boss; he keeps us together and helps us work hard."
Retail Personality of the Year was Yasmine Abdelaal from Mediterranean cafe Nutmeg.
Judges said: "Yasmine, and her father Alex, at Nutmeg really personify personality in business. They are a formidable double act bouncing off each other to create a truly great experience from when you walk through the door to when you leave."
A delighted Yasmine said: "Amazed. I can't believe it. I'm very proud of myself. We've only be open 11 months so it's a really good achievement."
Proud dad Alex added: "I am over the moon. My daughter finished uni and she wanted to start her own business. It's all her ideas."
The first winners to be announced were Party Angels, who picked up the Excellence in Customer Service award and set the tone for the night with their enthusiasm and delight.
Mother and daughter team Sue and Stacey Dixon have been running the party goods shop in Wednesfield for seven years. Judges said they were "overwhelmed with the levels of customer service there two lovely ladies will go to."
Stacey said: "No-one will ever know how much this means. We work every hour God sends and our customers are our life. We have been there seven years and they start off as customers and end up as friends. We go that extra mile for our customers and that's how we've always worked."
Best Dressed Shop was Room by Room, a kitchen and bedroom store praised for its clever use of space, commitment and investment in the displays and realistic room layouts.
Owner Steve Miller said: "I'm shocked, I really am. I didn't expect it. There's some good competition and I'm completely shocked. The look of the shop is paramount, to showcase what we can do as a company."
Community Retailer of the Year was Wild Bytes Cafe and Lounge, described by judges as "a place where the community can come together. Their ethos is strong and based on inclusion and tolerance."
Excited owner Sami Pitfield said: "We are a place to connect, and a place to find a community. It will bring out of the house, into the town and it will get you connecting with other people. We are everybody's second home. That is the beauty of Wild Bytes, we cure loneliness in the city centre."
New Business of the Year was Slater's Bar. Judges said: "Slater's represents everything that is exciting about Wolverhampton's future. Set up just over a year and a half ago it is already an integral part of the city's day and night life."
Vicki Slater explained: "We wanted to bring something that, at the time, was completely different for Wolverhampton. We brought in a lot of craft beers, craft gins, wines. It was just: 'Let's go for it. If you're going to do it then just dive in'."
She added: "The customers are lovely, the staff are brilliant. We couldn't do what we do without them."
Most Improved Business was Domino Crafts, who impressed with "their conscious decision to develop a customer community which goes beyond just selling what is an extensive range of craft items."
Domino's Lesley Reynolds said: "I'm overwhelmed. It's been six years of just doing it myself. It's worthwhile getting up in the morning and coming 20-odd miles to my shop because my customers are wonderful - the best ever."
Hospitality and Leisure Business of the Year was A Park View Hotel, owned and run by Sat Dulay. She was praised by judges for setting the standards and supporting her staff; "The hotel provides first class hospitality with exceptional attention to detai and customer-focused care".
Sat said: "We've been here five and a half years, from a derelict building to creating 21 full-time jobs in Wolverhampton and bringing an old previous building in Wolverhampton to life. The WIRE awards was a platform for us to get some recognition locally. Everyone has worked so hard, buying in to my dream of running a hotel and restaurant. So onwards and upwards!"
Wolves legend Steve Bull was also a star of the night, running a charity game that helped raise around £770 on the night for Promise Dreams.
The awards were a joint venture between the city council and Wolverhampton Business Improvement District (BID), backed by a string of business sponsors. The initial plan is to run the WIRE awards for at least three years, and Roger Lawrence also revealed plans for a wider awards programme taking in other small businesses from manufacturing and the service sector.