ECN CoverE&C Commissary News

Editorial Comment — June 2019

Challenge — and Reboot? …

There’s no question about it; it’s a challenge. With June fading away and only three months left in the Defense Commissary Agency’s fiscal 2019, it will take all hands on deck at peak performance levels just to stay the course, let alone close the gap in declining sales.

And the future is already pounding at the door! Industry deadlines for promotions in January and February 2020 … Family Fit Lifestyle, Special Olympics, the Super Bowl … are only a month away, in late July and early August.

Like the supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford, the agency cannot turn on a dime. But it must be turned around.

No matter who you’ve listened to this year — the Census Bureau, which said retail sales in March were up 3.5 percent over March 2018 (grocery store sales up 2.1 percent), or the National Retail Federation, which said sales were flat in March year-over-year (grocery store sales down 1.1 percent) — when you checked this issue’s Resale Snapshot, you would still have been concerned to see DeCA figures continuing a 3 or 4 percent slide down month after month, now and then easing up to drop only a little more than 2 percent. And you would certainly have been extremely disappointed to see AAFES, NEXCOM and the MCX, which had held their own week-by-week in 2018, begin to slip down the same slope. Most of the time so far this year, only the Coast Guard Exchange and Veterans Canteen PatriotStores have stayed in positive territory.

Keep in mind that in 2020, the agency will be using up all its leftover unexecuted funds; and in 2021 there’s another DeCA budget cutback in the FYDP … and that would severely impact the personnel situation, both at store level and above.

So everybody will have to do more with less!

To engineer a turnaround means pulling out all the stops: Purchase the right items; promote the right things; keep the shelves full (stock your own damned shelves if you have to!) ...and make sure your prices can’t be beat!!!

What does it take to pull out all the stops? Contests, BOGO sales, birthday bash anniversary celebration blowouts? How about a case-lot sale every week? How about DeCA’s own Prime Day for online grocery orders?

Team DeCA, show us what you’ve got!

Now, if only Walmart and Kroger would just stand still for a minute …

Private label? Well, you can tout the fact that there are private labels on the shelves (even though except for Home Base and Freedom’s Choice, those same “private” labels can be bought at thousands of supermarkets outside the gate, from King Kullen and ShopRite to Piggly Wiggly, Meijer and Stater Bros.), but at best they’re going to generate only a very small part of the commissaries’ operating budget, and Kroger and Aldi — especially Aldi — are still going to do a better private-label job.

Category managers, call your suppliers … meet with manufacturers and sign up for some of the new items commercial stores are stocking on their shelves (they stock their own) ... to help bring military patrons back into their commissaries.

For a few months, try going backwards … yes, backwards … put old items that were some of your best sellers back on the shelves, and add new items that have people flocking elsewhere.

Or is it time for a reboot? Can resale take a tip from TV, and bring back old military family favorites?

A revival of The Twilight Zone began new episodes in April. Also in the works: Bewitched, The Jetsons, NYPD Blue, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A DeCA reboot should start with, in TV terms, a new showrunner: a director with grocery management background, who would not be dependent upon consultants or yes-men in charting the agency’s course. (No offense to Rob Bianchi, who has done a great job with the limited time he could devote to DeCA.)

And as we said, if commissaries brought back some of their deleted brands, that might bring back some of those missing customers.

It may be time, too, to rethink transformation.

The GAO reviews promised in the defense authorization bills moving through Congress might be a good place to start.

There’s something suspect in the fuzzy math that demands that suppliers cut out funds for services or promotions to shave their prices to the bone … all to make servicemembers and their families pay the bulk of the cost, in the form of variably priced markups, of their own purported “non-pay benefit.”

According to the Senate, the challenge is in this, so simple to state but so difficult to achieve: To maintain a system that can compete with the private sector while preserving the in-kind benefit that patrons expect.

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