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Commissaries, Exchanges Work Together for Customer Bargains

By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., May 19, 1998 – Tent sales. Case lot sales. You love them because you save big -- and now exchanges and commissaries are working together closely to stage these bargain blowouts.

The first few are already history, but more are on the way.

Commissaries sell groceries at cost to military members and their families as part of their benefits package. Exchanges use their profits to support morale, welfare and recreation activities. Special discount events mean more sales, which mean manufacturers can usually lower prices -- which encourages more special events. Everyone wins.

In Arkansas, Little Rock Air Force Base commissary officer Eddie Williams held a tent sale with the exchange May 1-2. "Military shoppers got the lowest prices available on everything from laundry detergent to canned goods," he said. The two-day sales fest included free vendor- provided hot dogs and sodas on the second day. The exchange printed up T-shirts that said "AAFES/DeCA - Serving the Best Customers in the World."

The Little Rock commissary and exchange are about a mile apart, so the tent sale was "a great way to offer patrons a chance to shop under one roof," said Williams. "And we've always had a good working relationship with the exchange."

Exchange store manager Dave Ingram sold everything from grills to TVs during the first-ever event at Little Rock. "It's really a remarkable accomplishment for two organizations this large," he said. "The benefit is really going to the customers."

Both managers hoped for a big success in the days prior to the sale. "We want to be able to brag about this," said Ingram.

And brag they can. According to Williams, his customers purchased $53,000 more in groceries than normal for two days. "We went through 160 cases of pizza, 300 cases of tortilla chips and 175 cases of sausages, just to name a few items," Williams said. "We sold out of just about everything!"

"It was fantastic! The customers loved it and want to see more," said George Main, Little Rock Exchange sales and merchandise manager. "Every time I went back to the store I saw customers who'd had just come over from the tent sale. Many of them were new." He said the exchange saw an increase of nearly 20 percent in sales over the same weekend last year.

The Little Rock stores are already plotting their next cooperative sale in September. Main said they also accomplished a secondary objective: letting customers know they offer good deals.

Kings Bay Naval Sub Base, Ga., held its first cooperative sale in early April. "It was great," said commissary officer Jim Carnes. "We learned a lot, and we're already talking about doing something in July."

Carnes' assistant, Tom States, said the Kings Bay exchange and commissary have always shared a spirit of cooperation. "They help us out and we help them out -- that's the way people do business and get things done!" he said.

The commissary and exchange at Key West Naval Air Station, Fla., had a successful tent sale last Halloween that directly involved local MWR activities. In April they tried again with a kind of sidewalk sale. Customers came in droves for bargains, giveaways and daily drawings, said commissary officer Dana Nickless. Employees had sunburns and sore shoulder muscles from carrying cases of soda, but it was worth it, because the event accounted for 34 percent of total stores sales over the three-day period, Nickless noted.

The Key West Exchange only participated for one day, but the 100 percent increase in normal sales volume didn't go unnoticed by general manager Rick Hillman. "It's really been good," he said. "We're planning another sale this summer and looking at cross-promotion." He called the cooperative ventures a "can't lose situation." "It's a smart move for all of us," he said. "Let's look out for each other!"

Mayport Naval Station, Fla., and Fort Gillem, Ga., are other installations planning cooperative sales in the coming weeks and months. Mayport's sale will be July 2-3 as a lead-in to the Fourth of July holiday. Last year the commissary had its first sidewalk sale alone and that was a success. This year, said commissary officer Edie Confino, "The exchange was very receptive to the joint sale."

"We don't know what to expect, but it should be fun!" said Fort Gillem commissary officer Bob Soper.

One thing is sure: The military customers and MWR activities are the winners.

(Powell is Defense Commissary Agency regional public affairs officer at Maxwell Air Force Base.)

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