ECN CoverE&C Commissary News

Editorial Comment — October 2014

Unite. Educate. Prevail.

Whether you’re through with it yet or not, fiscal 2014 will certainly be remembered as a tough year for military resale. Enough said. Time to move on.

But as we turn to focus on the future … everything is on the table again. Demands to curtail servicemember benefits threaten to further truncate the exchange and commissary enterprises, their sales, and the partnership they have built up over the past century with industry.

Here, for consideration and discussion, are goals for actions that can be taken within the market to help strengthen these enterprises and protect those benefits.

First: Unite! The military resale enterprise needs the combined support of all its elements: all the exchange services and the commissary agency as well, working together to develop effective ways to bring patrons back on base to shop exchanges and commissaries. No organization is an island.

Second: Educate! Get the word out again and again, and then again. Patrons come, patrons go — they’re transferred, they retire, they move — so remind every patron on the updated buddy list, and the buddy’s buddy list, that exchanges, commissaries and PatriotStores still stand, and still represent the best shopping bang for the buck. Don’t just tell them; show them. Remind patrons they earned their resale benefit, and they should make use of what’s theirs. If they don’t, it may not be there when they really need it, in the future.

We realize many out there have already used and reused the mailing lists and the media, both print and social, but the work of communicating the total value proposition should never end. There’s no place for pointing fingers at other resale venues and saying “well, that’s so-and-so’s problem.” The deeper issues resale must confront on behalf of the patron are shared by all.

There’s not much we can do about the ebb and flow of troop strengths. There’s not much we can do about restrictions on alcohol or cigarettes in military convenience stores that sap hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and tens of millions in dividends. (Except point that fact out! They do!) But we can all pick up the phone and reestablish a connection, post signage, send out flyers … stuff shopping bags with deals, promotions and incentives … place ads in base papers, have our own “Town Hall” meetings with patrons — these are not just reserved for high-level commissions — to educate new enlisteds and young military families, servicemembers on a slim budget, about the savings they can reap from shopping on base. Resale can and does make a huge difference in military families’ monthly budgets.

Third: Keep always on the lookout for new products. It’s time to loosen the grip on presentations and cut red tape, so manufacturers and brokers can more easily introduce new items to resale shelves. When SKUs already being sold in civilian stores are nowhere to be found in your organization’s outlets, that just gives patrons another reason to shop outside the gate. There are more than enough de facto merchandise restrictions already; no more are needed.

Fourth: Network and mingle — and get the priorities right. Teleconferencing may have its uses for training, but for networking and the lively interchange of ideas, nothing beats a meeting. Don’t be shy in trying to persuade headquarters to lift the worst of the current travel restrictions, or at the minimum, to set a budget that allows key vendor contacts and organizational liaisons to attend conferences and shows relevant to their categories of business. Meeting face-to-face is essential for the future growth of resale.

Fifth: Break down the wall separating exchange and commissary meetings. Holding at least some of them together can bring brokers and manufacturers significant savings, which can then be spent on contests, demos, scholarship awards and more excitement-building events in the stores.

Sixth: Consider sharing a few best practices if it can help revitalize the market. Who do you know who’s “getting it right”? Without revealing any trade secrets of course, let folks know what works in your category, your division, your organization.

Last but not least: E-Commerce. If it’s working to drive expansion of brick and mortar stores in the civilian market — even Amazon.com is jumping on the bandwagon — it can work to drive traffic to resale stores, too.

The prevailing wind is not the economy, not endstrengths, not the next reverse-gear budget proposal, not even the train wreck named sequestration. These storms have been weathered before and, with resolve and tenacity, will be weathered again.

The real threat to the service family benefit is in the misrepresentation of resale’s total ROI to the servicemember, to DoD and to the taxpayer, and the climate of “divide and conquer” that has resulted from it — let’s stop that infection’s spread into the resale environment itself. The ecosystem of all the savings benefits that service families have earned is far stronger with at-cost groceries as one of the main drivers of traffic flow to exchanges and other facilities on base and putting savings back into a stronger military community.

Let’s keep it together, people. United we stand.

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