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Editorial Comment — October 2013

Time for a High Five! ...


It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Darkness, it was the winter of despair. Unlike Dickens’s tale, there were no two ways about it.

But in the face of numerous cutbacks, dwindling resources, gloomy prognostications and pokes at their very existence in the press and in the marble halls of Washington; and yes, even while carrying the baggage that comes with sequestration — cuts, cuts, and more cuts — the military resale systems stood tall, held their ground and carried on.

As it transitioned from 2012 into 2013, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service set out to conquer some very lofty objectives: completely overhauling Selling General and Administrative Expenses (SG&A); repositioning the main store with a focus on gross margin dollars per square foot, and standing up a new e-Commerce Directorate and online storefront that will boldly go where no benefit has ever gone before. If fiscal 2013's strong earnings — up 13 percent through July — are any gauge, the Exchange has built a firm foundation for future business; and the second part of its dual mission, to deliver a dividend to morale, welfare and recreation (MWR), should be in great shape. Along the way, moreover, the team has instilled a new sense of purpose, matching the right people with the right jobs and dramatically upgrading the customer experience. There's a greater sense of urgency and an even stronger sense of mission.

The Coast Guard Exchange is nothing if not resilient in the extreme. It seemed like only a short while ago that the number of recruits was being cut, the Cape Cod store burned down, New Orleans stores were ruined by Katrina and Sandy Hook was demolished by Hurricane Sandy. No matter what comes its way, from flooding along heartland waterways to coastal evacuations, the Coast Guard is not only first on the scene in maritime emergencies, but with its new deployable support exchange, the CGX makes it its mission to support not only Coastguardsmen and women but also other emergency workers. Floods and storms have done their damage, but CGX comes out shining with a new look, refreshed stores, 1.8 percent growth in a time of economic weakness … and a clever alliance with DeCA to provide produce in selected outlets.

The Defense Commissary Agency can always be counted on to pull a rabbit from a hat. As an appropriated fund entity, it is perhaps under the closest scrutiny and heaviest pressure of all. Year-in, year-out, the entire DeCA team, from store level to the last cubicle at headquarters, has been asked to do more with less. They've put their heads together, brainstormed and come up with new ways to streamline a grocery operation that is not only a model government agency in terms of efficiency and clean audits, but also a benefit that outperforms leading civilian chains in customer service and that can be held up as an example of “this is how you do the impossible.”

Just as Marines are typically expeditionary and first to the fight, the Marine Corps Exchange is equally tireless in pursuing retail innovation to satisfy its patrons’ high expectations. And with sales up in July 2.8 percent in CONUS and 1.9 percent overall, the results speak for themselves. But what seems to have warmed the hearts of the folks at headquarters the most this year has been patrons’ enthusiastic responses to their newly rebranded stores. One grateful customer said it all in these words that speak volumes, “Thank you, thank you … ! The Marine Corps understands the value of the exchange benefit, and does it right!”

NEXCOM does it Navy Blue. It’s how the Navy likes it, it’s what sailors and their families want — and it works. The Navy Exchange Service Command’s focus has been squarely on patron satisfaction and margins, and fashioning exactly the right benefit for patrons … and one which adheres to the Navy’s stringent standards. Anywhere in civilian re-tail, such a rigorous set of rules might spell deep trouble for business. But NEXCOM finds a way to make it work; and its customer satisfaction continues to not only shine a bright light across all of military resale but also outshine many of main street’s most vaunted chains.

Veterans and their caregivers often lead difficult lives, and no-one takes the mission of bringing them savings and sustenance and nutrition more seriously than the Veterans Canteen Service. Thanks to the sterling resolve and imagination of the VCS team, from top to bottom, Veterans around the nation now have a new breed of PatriotStores and Cafes worthy of their service to the country, assorted refreshments and refreshed assortments … and they have responded by driving sales skyward year after year.

Throughout the retail year, it's important to recognize and applaud the strength behind the scenes in military resale. What it all comes down to is a bold testament to the drive, determination, and above all passion, for the mission that drives each of these organizations and its suppliers.

Times may be tough, but with the people of military resale at their backs, the best customers in the world can rest assured that wherever they go, they have the most dedicated retailers anywhere to be found at their service.

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