From Florida to Samoa, on-site sales extend benefit

FORT LEE, Va. — Army National Guard gray area retiree JoAnn Czerwinski lives in Fargo, North Dakota, about 75 miles away from a commissary, too far to shop there regularly. But thanks to twice-a-year Guard/Reserve On-Site Sales in Fargo, she stretches her food dollars by stocking up on items, especially meat, at low commissary prices to feed her family of four. 

“I’ve been to lots of these sales over the years,” said Czerwinski, a mother of two teenage sons. “The meat prices just can’t be beat. In May we normally stock up on steak, and in September it’s more like stew meat and roasts. We stock up on other items like cereal, paper goods and laundry detergent, but the meats are the big draw for us.”

The Grand Forks Air Force Base Commissary supports the two sales in Fargo, one held at the Army National Guard facility there and the other at the Armed Forces Reserve Center. It’s all part of the Defense Commissary Agency’s Guard/Reserve On-Site Sales program.

“We’ve been doing these on-site sales for years, and this year it looks like we could have a couple more sales than usual at other locations because of the interest we’re getting from area Guard and Reserve units,” said Lori Looney, the Grand Forks commissary store director.

Willie Watkins, chief of agency e-Commerce and Guard/ Reserve On-Site Sales Program Management, says the sales are a way to bring the commissary benefit to authorized patrons who don’t live near a commissary. For fiscal year 2016, the agency anticipates exceeding 50 on-site sales in 17 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. That’s more than the 42 held last fiscal year, totaling $3.7 million in sales with 27,000 customer transactions.

 “It’s a cooperative effort,” Watkins said. “Guard and Reserve units and commissary store directors across the country work together to determine sale locations and dates. And the sales are open to any commissary-authorized shopper, not just members of the sponsoring unit.”

Here’s how it works:

• The host commissaries, sponsoring military units and commissary vendors do extensive logistical planning before a sale

• The wide variety of items featured at sales is determined by store directors and driven by customer demand. The results of previous sales are used to refine product assortment, which consists of grocery and dry goods and can feature fresh fruits and vegetables, selections of fresh meat, frozen items, chill items and even deli and bakery items 

• Sale items are delivered directly to the site and staged for sale

• Customers shop and pay for purchases much like they would at a commissary 

“Nothing communicates the value of the commissary benefit quite like our on-site sales,” said Looney. “I’ve seen a few Camp Grafton on-site sale customers who have travelled al the way to our store because they appreciate the value and quality of the on-site sale. That’s a 95-mile trip one way.”

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