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Editorial Comment — January 2018

High Hopes for 2018 …

The shutdown wake-up call in mid-January definitely did not help a system that is trying to deal, four-plus years after the 16-day government shutdown in 2013, with a downsized patron base, transformation turmoil and much stiffer competition outside the gate.

Now that everyone’s wide awake, here’s hoping that this year, the powers that be:

• Call a halt to the so-called Category Performance Improvement (CPI) initiative. CPI has not supported commissary customers’ historical product choices; no one has disclosed whether it has achieved any anticipated goals toward offsetting appropriations; and it certainly hasn’t succeeded in stimulating commissary sales!

• Release Private Label and Variable Pricing results data. Let’s pull back the curtain to see if these initiatives have helped make the commissaries “worth the trip!” again.

• Give DoD and DeCA dictionaries so they can look up the meaning of the word “transparency.” What masquerades as transparency these days is a “Cone of Silence.” You might be able to hear a pin drop, but the latest before-and-after savings and other data on which key decisions are based remain hidden.

• Have DeCA take over shelf-stocking in all its stores. Let the agency get this job done the way it should, whenever it needs to, night or day, to avoid Not-in-Stocks (NIS). Paying its own employees or contracted shelf-stockers directly gets rid of any hidden costs of having someone else do it.

• Take a long look at the declining sales numbers; then restore deleted items that had solid track records … even “goods at cost.” Customers understood the savings in buying merchandise “at cost”… until the water was muddied and the business model disrupted. Many of the SKUs removed by CPI had earned their place on the shelf through patron purchases. Stocking products that have sold well: now there’s a best business practice!

• Bring back case-lot sales. Full-scale, system-wide customer appreciation case-lot sales have always been patron favorites. The fall 2017 sidewalk sales and those announced for later this year are a step in the right direction, but they only go halfway. Going all-out tells the world that DeCA appreciates all its customers, not just some … and every case purchased at a DeCA sale is one less case a military family is tempted to go to a big-box store to pick up.

• Share savings and satisfaction survey findings with industry and other stakeholders. After all, taxpayer dollars have paid for the surveys. Everyone understanding where patrons want improvements can lead to solutions.

• Take the shackles off MBU folks so they can answer calls and emails and communicate with industry again as they used to. If DeCA has to compete with stores outside the gate, then reopening the lines of communication and rebuilding trust with industry is another big step in the right direction.

• Publish and promote “Da Plan, Da Plan!” … Where is the plan to increase sales? A sound strategic sales plan with good tactical execution, addressing satisfaction shortfalls in both pricing and produce … lean on industry partners’ expertise where it’s available, in categories where those partners are most adept at generating sales, earnings and satisfaction.

• Show some results from these high-level meetings we hear about. Whether recurring board meetings or leaders meeting with stakeholder groups, prove that they’re not just frustrating exercises in futility that accomplish nothing … but that all participants understand and believe in the importance of the military family, and their goal is to protect that family’s benefits.

      If there’s no hope for these, then
Start the ball rolling to convert the commissary system to a NAF operation, to protect it — and the rest of the on-base resale and MWR ecosystem — from the severe impact of any future government shutdowns.

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