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Editorial Comment — July 2014

Strike Up the Band! ...

Wave the flag! Sound the bugle! Beat the drum!

The time is now …— for everyone — brokers, manufacturers, distributors, service organizations, industry associations — to pitch in and pull together with DeCA in a giant, momentous parade of unbeatable deals and promotions sending a message to patrons that they are the reason you're there. Remind them, loud and clear, “Your commissary is here for YOU!”

There's absolutely no doubt that many families are feeling the pinch of the rising cost of living; the basic market basket of food has been rising in price. And there's even less doubt about the damaging impact of last year's government shutdown and furloughs. They may have turned some patrons away, but the opportunity is there to bring them back and win more new fans.

In this time of crisis, calls to do away with the established commissary system are louder and more strident than they have been in generations.

The constant threat to do away with “their” stores has not gone unnoticed by military families, and has created uncertainty. This industry appreciates these families' sacrifices, and it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them. All the more reason to show them how much you care, by cranking up support for their benefit to a high pitch.

Despite the uncertainty, one thing is for sure: we know that there are many folks at DeCA who are devoted and invested in making sure their patrons know they are the best patrons in the world. And we know from industry's efforts, and the militarycentric uniqueness of their displays and promotions, that there are many in the market who feel exactly the same way about serving military patrons.

It's time for everyone out there who sells in this marketplace to not just make a stand for the commissary benefit ... but also to redouble your efforts to reach out to patrons, reconnect with the military consumer, and bring them back “home” to shop their commissaries.

DeCA needs industry's help in getting the word out. Recent attempts to change legislation remind us that DeCA is not legally permitted to spend taxpayer money on advertising like its so-called “competitors” off base. At the same time, those competitors have not hesitated to build stores just outside the gate … and then run elaborate commercials, advertisements, promotions and events to lure the military shopper.

They know that it is time, effort and money well spent to bring these shoppers to their doors, and they do it with gusto.

But those military customers are truly the core of military resale, and the marketplace should woo them twice as intently …… send out emails … blog, chat, text, tweet … put up signage in stores and on base bulletin boards … communicate with patrons any way you can to remind every shopper that the best day-in, day-out savings for them are most certainly at their commissary.

Sure, no 21st-century customer shops in only one store. Loss leaders, giveaways and super promotions outside the gate create a tug of war, but this is one tug of war worth grabbing the rope, digging in the heels and pulling hard for. The fight to preserve the commissary, the backbone of the military resale system, is not a spectator sport.

So what is everyone waiting for? The timing was never better to mount a major campaign to get patrons back, push sales back up, and show everyone that this military benefit is wanted, needed, valued and appreciated.

Exchange and Commissary 101 ...

Going over discussions, testimony and, above all, “comment” blogs regarding exchanges and commissaries, one thing becomes immediately clear: the explanations of the commissary benefit and the exchange contribution to morale, welfare and recreation activities that recruits used to get in boot camp need to be sharpened, hyped up and presented at center stage. And refresher courses are in order when the boots get out in the field.

The troops and their families need to be told, and reminded, that the commissary sells at cost, but that Walmart doesn't … that commercial stores' markup exceeds the surcharge by quite a bit … and though a store chain may contribute thousands of dollars for a military event, the $300 million the exchange systems contribute to MWR every year is what keeps the after-school programs going and the rec centers open.

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