FORT LEE, Va. – Ways to improve the patron shopping experience were the main focus of the Defense Commissary Agency and its industry partners during a July 25 meeting at agency headquarters in Fort Lee, Virginia.

The daylong event brought DeCA’s top volume suppliers and their brokers together with agency sales and marketing officials to continue a deep dive into potential actions commissaries can promote to impact the value of the benefit.

Billed as a “joint business planning session,” the meeting was a follow up to an initial summit that retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi – then DeCA interim director and CEO, and now special assistant for commissary operations – had with industry in late March, said Chris Burns, DeCA’s executive director for business transformation.

“Our focus is to improve our patrons’ shopping experience, maintain savings and grow sales,” Burns said. “There are 3.1 million military households [close to the base] and we want to convince more of them to consider their installation as the first and best stop for their commissary and exchange shopping.

“For commissaries in particular, we have to win when it comes to the product being available on our shelves at the best possible price,” he added. “Our category mangers are working hand in glove with many of the people in this room to help us improve this benefit.”

As the fiscal 2019 calendar approaches, Burns said it’s vital that commissaries blast off during the first quarter and the subsequent holiday season. With that in mind, he charged DeCA and industry participants to collaborate on developing three to five initiatives to move the needle for the commissaries top 30 product categories.

Central to this collaboration is the introduction of a joint business planning guide the sales directorate will use in its negotiations with industry to help commissaries develop category-focused business plans that maintain the current level of savings and value in the product assortment; grow sales; increase shopping trips, patron transactions and basket sizes; and ensure at least 98 percent product availability in the stores.

“We are starting to see some upward sales growth as we head toward the end of this fiscal year, and with the help of our industry partners we want to keep building on that momentum,” said Tracie Russ, DeCA’s sales director. “Our plans are in place for what we hope will be a vibrant holiday season – our patrons can expect some hot savings on turkeys. We are also adding more meals-ready-to-eat and meal solutions with recipes that give our patrons faster options for home-cooked menus.”

Other agenda items included the following topics:

• A “State of Our Business” presentation from Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company, that discussed DeCA’s sales performance and how that fits in with retail grocery trends

• A presentation from Delbert Myrick, the director of policy, on “Trends and Insights,” discussing patron demographics related to category and brand analysis. He also discussed the importance of DeCA improving its fill rate performance or the relationship between the products ordered from suppliers and those that end up on the shelves

• A presentation from Hector Granado, the marketing director, on “Marketing and Promotions.” He and his marketing team addressed the impact of the Commissary Rewards Card on patron purchases, and the promotions matrix and calendar. They also answered questions on agency initiatives related to product pricing, branding, promotions, marketing, health and wellness, patron awareness and social media

• Breakout sessions with category managers discussing ways to drive patron value, basket size and foot traffic in commissaries

Burns also spoke to industry members about DeCA’s increased partnership with the exchanges in areas of joint sales promotions, dating back to a military resale marketing conference hosted by DeCA in February.

“We are working as a military resale system to drive more patrons to the installation,” Burns said. “There’s a lot of synergy between commissaries and exchanges, and we want to complement each other as we work to offer an installation shopping experience that our service members and their families have earned.”