Primark celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and its double success at the Oracle Retail Week Awards last night perhaps represented its coming of age.

Primark celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and its double success at the Oracle Retail Week Awards last night perhaps represented its coming of age.

It’s always had the feel of an upstart, doing everything faster and cheaper than its more established but less fleet-of-foot rivals. Today, though, it rules the roost in value fashion retailing. It is a genuine retail phenomenon.

It is the first fashion retailer to be named retailer of the year for a decade - a reflection of 10 years in which the supermarkets have asserted their strength in non-food as well as their traditional food stronghold.

But from its extraordinary through-put of shoppers to its speed to market and frequency of deliveries, Primark has more in common with the grocers than might first be thought. It is the fashion retailer for the age of the supermarket.

There have been slip-ups along the way, most notably on the ethical side of things, but as it’s matured the business has made as lot of progress to becoming a responsible corporate citizen.

The challenge for the retailer is whether the magic can continue under a new management team. There’s no sign so far of the pace lessening, but as Sir Philip Green said in his eulogy to Arthur Ryan at last night’s ceremony, Ryan is a true one-off. His lifetime achievement award was richly deserved.

Waitrose’s Price is right

The night’s other big winner was Waitrose, and for guiding a business that should by rights have had a terrible recession to actually having a very good one, it would be hard to think of a more deserving retail leader of the year than managing director Mark Price.

It couldn’t be a more different business from Primark, but the success of both retailers through the downturn shows that understanding the needs of your customer, and responding to how they change in tough times, is the best way to prospering through a recession.

Waitrose will never be the cheapest store on the high street, but its customers don’t expect that. What they do want is value, and with the launch of the Essential range, Price transformed it into a store where shoppers no longer had to feel guilty about doing the whole weekly shop there.

His great rival Sir Stuart Rose is very fond of saying “value is a function of price times quality”. How ironic that this year Price is the man who proved the truth of the phrase.