AT THE COM­MIS­SARY

DeCA CEO fo­cuses on ser­vice to mil­i­tary shop­pers

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By DeCA Pub­lic Af­fairs

FORT LEE — The De­fense Com­mis­sary Agency and its in­dus­try part­ners met re­cently at agency head­quar­ters at Fort Lee to dis­cuss op­por­tu­ni­ties to bet­ter serve mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies.

Dur­ing what was billed as In­dus­try Day, DeCA’s in­terim di­rec­tor and CEO, Robert J. Bianchi, em­pha­sized to the agency’s in­dus­try part­ners – ven­dors, sup­pli­ers and bro­kers – that the mil­i­tary cus­tomer is the tie that binds them.

“We’re all in this to­gether, and I think we all have a com­mon goal here – to serve our mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies,” said Bianchi, a re­tired Navy rear ad­mi­ral, who is also dual-hat­ted as the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Navy Ex­change Ser­vice Com­mand (NEXCOM).

“We’ve got to fo­cus on the cus­tomer,” he added. “We’ve got to get back to be­ing rel­e­vant to them. We want strate­gic ini­tia­tives that help drive sales, pro­tect mar­gins and the ben­e­fit, and de­liver value to the pa­tron.”

Those ini­tia­tives in­clude main­tain­ing 98 per­cent prod­uct avail­abil­ity, in­creas­ing cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion dur­ing their jour­ney through the store and main­tain­ing the savings ben­e­fit, among other things.

Bianchi has also be­gun ex­plor­ing more joint sales pro­mo­tions, which led to DeCA host­ing a con­fer­ence of mil­i­tary re­sale mar­ket­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Fe­bru­ary. This first-of-its-kind meet­ing was a huge suc­cess, he said, re­sult­ing in the de­vel­op­ment of eight joint pro­mo­tional events be­tween the mil­i­tary ex­changes and the com­mis­sary in 2018.

Bianchi’s ini­tial ef­forts to­ward in­creased com­mis­sary and ex­change pro­mo­tions be­gan last De­cem­ber, when DeCA and the NEX pi­loted a “bounce back” coupon pro­mo­tion at eight co-lo­cated stores. At those eight stores, cus­tomers who spent over $50 at the com­mis­sary re­ceived a coupon worth $5 off $25 in items pur­chased at the ac­com­pa­ny­ing NEX.

“I wanted to see if we could do two things: bring cus­tomers back to the com­mis­sary and also see if it would trans­late to sales at the NEX,” Bianchi said.

Dur­ing the week-long pro­mo­tion, those eight stores rang up al­most 60,000 transactions over $50. The NEX saw a 10 per­cent coupon re­demp­tion rate, and the com­mis­saries gained new cus­tomers.

“When we ran the num­bers, we found that 3 per­cent of cus­tomers hadn’t shopped in a com­mis­sary in a year and nearly 6 per­cent hadn’t shopped in three to four months,” Bianchi said. “The pro­gram was a suc­cess. We got cus­tomers to come back to shop the com­mis­sary. Now that I have these new cus­tomers in our com­mis­sary stores, I have to keep them. And to keep them we will have to do what I would call a re­set.”

Re­set­ting the agency in­cludes tech­no­log­i­cal up­dates that give DeCA new abil­i­ties and in­sights into pric­ing, planograms, store re­sets and cus­tomer buy­ing pat­terns, al­low­ing its sales team to max­i­mize savings for cus­tomers. The up­dates will also as­sist the team in achiev­ing the agency’s goal of 98 per­cent prod­uct avail­abil­ity.

Other things DeCA is fo­cus­ing on in­clude in­tro­duc­ing a nat­u­ral and or­ganic com­mis­sary store brand, in­creas­ing the agency’s pres­ence on so­cial me­dia chan­nels and im­prov­ing the agency’s abil­ity to mea­sure cus­tomer feed­back in real time.

Since tak­ing the reins of the com­mis­sary agency in Novem­ber, Bianchi has per­son­ally reached out to in­stal­la­tion com­man­ders to de­ter­mine what their com­mu­ni­ties want from their com­mis­sary. From that en­gage­ment came the bag­ger­less check­out lane ini­tia­tive that’s be­ing pi­loted at 121 com­mis­saries world­wide.

“We have given our cus­tomers three op­tions now,” he said. “They can go through the self-check­out, a bag­ger-less lane or have their gro­ceries bagged for them.

“These are the things that I think will draw cus­tomers back to us,” Bianchi said to the in­dus­try reps. “They are wins for ev­ery­one in­volved, even more so for the cus­tomer be­cause they are sav­ing their hard-earned money.”

Bianchi is also fo­cus­ing on main­tain­ing base­line pa­tron savings. He told the group to ex­pect to see more co­or­di­nated themed pro­mo­tions with other mil­i­tary re­sale ac­tiv­i­ties, like the bounce back com­mis­sary and NEX coupon and MIL­I­TARY STAR card pro­mo­tions. STAR card us­age in com­mis­saries is on the rise. To date, the card has been used for al­most $80 mil­lion in transactions.

Other ini­tia­tives in­clude in­tro­duc­ing a savings cam­paign, adding new prod­ucts in com­mis­sary store brand prod­uct lines, fo­cus­ing on nat­u­ral and or­ganic prod­ucts, and ap­ply­ing cus­tomer-first prin­ci­ples through­out the agency.

Ul­ti­mately, Bianchi wanted to reaf­firm with DeCA’s in­dus­try part­ners the agency’s com­mit­ment to joint business plan­ning that can bet­ter serve the mil­i­tary cus­tomer.

“Good ideas are al­ways wel­come,” Bianchi said. “If there are good ideas out there, I’m will­ing to lis­ten. We will work to­gether to get it up and run­ning, and we will all suc­ceed to­gether.”

[CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO/DECA PUB­LIC AF­FAIRS]

De­fense Com­mis­sary Agency in­terim di­rec­tor and CEO Robert J. Bianchi dis­cusses his plans for the agency at an In­dus­try Day event at Fort Lee on March 29.

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