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Commissary Takes Aim at Sales Goals

By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT LEE, Va., Aug. 16, 1996 – The commissary system has never been sales- driven. Until now.

Since commissaries sell groceries at cost to military shoppers, making sales goals has not always been a top priority. Yet Charles M. Wiker, the Defense Commissary Agency's chief executive officer, wants to change that way of thinking. He said he believes ultimately shoppers win -- through lower prices.

The agency operates 311 commissaries in the United States and overseas. Each of its seven regions has a director who reports to Wiker.

"I have been encouraging the directors to initiate sanctioned merchandising activities that will result in increased sales," Wiker said. As a result, overall sales through June are slightly above initial projections. Two regions-- southern and central -- are showing increases over fiscal 1995.

Southern region director Chet Boutelle is bringing a bit of his past commercial grocery experience into play. He is setting a sales goal of $1 billion for his region in fiscal 1997.

"It's not impossible," Boutelle said of the goal. Southern region sales in fiscal 1995 were more than $980 million, but sales have been affected by troop reductions and base closures. "So we're trying to be more innovative in the way we sell products. One way is to get people more excited about doing their jobs."

Directors such as Boutelle and Cecil Saunders of the central region rely on teamwork among the agency Operations Support Center's Marketing Business Unit, manufacturers, distributors, region personnel and stores to make promotions a success. The business unit decides which products are sold in the stores and negotiates the best prices with manufacturers.

Special promotions coordinator Joyce Chandler said they try to find the best deals on groceries, but the regions still have flexibility in planning promotions on produce, meat and soft drinks. She said recent truckload promotions helped increase sales in the Central and Southern regions. "We didn't mandate that they participate, but they are picking up the ball and running with it," she said.

Saunders said special promotions and truckload sales are key to sales -- and to bringing the best deals to the customer. "It's a question of doing aggressive promotions and taking advantage of all the specials," he said.

Commissaries at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Norfolk Naval Base, Va., were both in the top 10 in a recent "Tide's 50th Anniversary" promotion. "That's two of our region stores in the top 10 out of all grocery stores," said Saunders. Six of the top 17 stores in the promotion were commissaries.

Boutelle called Southern region a sleeping giant. He participated in a recent promotion with Keebler, resulting in a 163 percent sales increase of Keebler products regionwide. At the Maxwell Air Force Base Gunter Annex Commissary in Montgomery, Ala., sales skyrocketed from a normal 300 cases to over 3,000 cases during the promotion, said store manager Gordon Harris.

Truckload sales are also a great way to get stores enthusiastic about sales goals. The product is usually at a special low price, and that builds excitement among customers, said Boutelle.

Regionwide truckload sales of produce have included corn, honeydew melons, pineapples and watermelons. Boutelle set a sales target of 40 truckloads over a period of two weeks for a Fourth of July watermelon sale. The region easily exceeded the goal by four truckloads.

The sale spurred a single-day record on July 2 at Gunter. "Customers were buying like there was no tomorrow," said Barbara Sannino, Gunter's commissary officer. The store sold over 2,500 watermelons during the sale.

Sales goals, and innovative ways to achieve them, will play a role in the commissary agency's future.

"I'm very pleased the regions are using their initiative to execute and implement the deals that the [agency] has been making for them," Wiker said. "There's no doubt in my mind that a great DeCA team -- combined with superb offerings of sales features -- gives customers terrific savings. Hopefully this will further instill in the minds of the whole military family that their 'supermarket of choice' is the commissary." (Bonnie Powell writes for the Defense Commissary Agency, Fort Lee, Va.)

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