Patrons continue to give benefit ringing endorsement

By Kevin L. Robinson, DECA  

            FORT LEE , Va. – Patrons continue to be satisfied with the delivery of the benefit, according to opinions expressed in the 2007 Commissary Customer Service Survey. They rated the commissary at 4.60 (on a scale of 1 to 5) – the second-highest score in the agency’s history.

“The commissary benefit belongs to our patrons, so we take their opinions very seriously,” said Patrick Nixon, director and chief executive officer of the Defense Commissary Agency. “This is more than an indication of where we are. We also use these results to help determine improvements and changes such as the design of future stores and the products we put on the shelves.”

            DeCA conducted the annual survey over 10 days beginning June 26 at its commissaries worldwide. Surveyed customers answered a series of 14 questions designed to measure all facets of their commissary shopping experience. The questions targeted the following areas: savings and prices; store hours, décor and appearance; product quality, selection and availability; checkout procedures; and employee customer service.

            The resulting 21,609 responses were measured on a 5-point rating scale, ranging from 1, “very poor,” to 5, “very good.” The overall CCSS score is an average of the 14 item scores: 

  CCSS Item Scores                                                                             2005    2006    2007

1.  Low prices/overall savings                                                               4.58     4.61     4.60

2.  Well stocked, full shelves                                                                 4.38     4.48     4.49

3.  Convenient hours                                                                             4.59     4.63     4.64

4.  Entrance/sales area/restrooms cleanliness                                         4.58     4.64     4.61

5.  Produce quality/selection                                                                  4.47     4.52     4.52

6.  Meat quality/selection                                                                      4.56     4.62     4.63

7.  Deli quality/selection                                                                        4.51     4.59     4.58

8.  Bakery quality/selection                                                                   4.45     4.52     4.53

9.  Other food items (dry goods, frozen foods & dairy) selection            4.55     4.61     4.61

10. Store layout and time required to shop                                            4.55     4.61     4.61

11. Checkout waiting time                                                                     4.56     4.58     4.57

12. Attractive displays/store décor                                                        4.54     4.58     4.58

13. Courteous, friendly and helpful employees                                       4.75     4.77     4.76

14. Overall satisfaction (How did we do?)                                             4.68     4.72     4.72

Overall Score                                                                                     4.55     4.61     4.60

             The top three items receiving the highest ratings were “Courteous, friendly and helpful employees” at 4.76, “Overall satisfaction (How did we do?)” at 4.72, and “Convenient hours” at 4.64. “Well-stocked, full shelves” at 4.49, continued its rise, up one point from last year, and 11 points from 2005.

            DeCA officials evaluate the results and look at areas for improvement, said Barry White, an operations research analyst at DeCA headquarters. At the same time, the commissary agency sees the continued high marks as patrons’ validation of the benefit.

            “We predicted that at some point the scores would tend to level off, and we may be at that point now,” White said. “This year’s score follows a relatively large increase from the 2005 score of 4.55.” The 2007 score of 4.60 is within the “A” range, he added.

            DeCA has used a survey to rate its customer service since its formation in 1991. Before 2000, the survey was called the Customer Service and Evaluation System or CSES, an Air Force system based on a 0-100 rating scale. Since 2000, the agency has used the CCSS because it is custom-made for evaluating commissary operations.  

            Ultimately, DeCA considers the survey a tool for identifying opportunities to deliver a better commissary benefit, Nixon said. 

            “The survey results give us a means to identify potential improvements and to monitor our customers’ perceptions,” the director said. “You cannot operate in a vacuum and be successful. This process allows us to stay in tune with our patrons and continue to do what’s best for them.”

Seven military grocery stores recognized for ‘guerilla marketing’ of the commissary benefit

By Carrie Williams, DECA  

       FORT LEE , Va. Defense Commissary Agency officials recognized seven commissaries for outstanding outreach during the agency’s 2007 Conference and Training Event in Richmond , Va. The winning commissaries are Fort Hood, Texas (best outreach to retirees); Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas (best outreach to new recruits); Fort Jackson, S.C. (best outreach to Guard and Reserve); Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (best outreach to young enlisted service members); Fort Campbell , Ky. (best outreach to military families); Misawa Air Base, Japan (best outreach to young enlisted service members overseas); and Ramstein Air Base, Germany (best outreach to military families overseas).

      Each year for the past four years DeCA has held an Outreach Challenge in which commissaries compete for most originality and creativity in marketing the benefit. The challenge encourages commissaries to reach out to authorized shoppers who may not be using their commissary benefit, or who may not be using it regularly, and provides a unique opportunity for store directors worldwide to share their best outreach practices with others and to strengthen the commissary benefit.

     This year’s theme was “Guerrilla Marketing and Outreach: Maximizing Impact,” which emphasized a targeted approach to outreach and marketing to military families, spouses and retirees, with a special focus on key demographic groups such as young, single service members and the Guard and Reserve. The theme encouraged commissary employees to think nontraditional in their approach to outreach, in a time of tight budgets and time constraints.

      Zone managers who oversee operations of the winning commissaries accepted the awards from Scott Simpson, DeCA’s chief operating officer. “We’re always struggling to deliver more commissary benefit for les s money,” Simpson said, “so the idea of guerrilla marketing – using limited resources for maximum impact – was a great theme for the competition and a great philosophy for the agency as a whole. I am proud of the hard work of everyone involved in this competition. Congratulations to the winning stores!”

     Commissaries entering the competition submitted packages that documented their best outreach efforts over the previous year. Entries were judged on originality and creativity of outreach strategy, effectiveness in reaching intended audiences, and results.

     Employees at Fort Jackson Commissary conducted an off site case lot sale last fall at the Donaldson Reserve Center in Greenville, S.C., reaching more than 6,500 Guard and Reserve personnel in the area who would have had to travel more than two hours to shop at the commissary. Sa les for the two-day event were a record $135,000.

     Commissary employees at Sheppard Air Force Base focused on educating new recruits by inviting flights of technical training students to the store for a tour of the facility. This led to a strengthened store and installation command partnership, and the collaboration produced a “commissary briefing.” The briefing is now required for all students within their first 72 hours on station, and it gives Sheppard Commissary the opportunity to reach about 800 students a month.

     The Nellis Air Force Base Commissary took home the award for best outreach to young enlisted service members by stepping up commissary education among the installation’s first-term airmen. Working with the installation, commissary staffers now provide information about the benefit to the airmen during their first installation assignment. A special commissary benefit video – a collaborative effort between commissary staff and Command Chief Master Sgt. Britton Ellis – runs multiple times each month on the installation’s command channel and other locations on base to reinforce the core commissary messages learned during the training. View the actual video on the Nellis Commissary Web page at

Commissary agency celebrates 15th anniversary

by Kevin Robinson, DECA

     “Quality First, People Always” is the motto of the Defense Commissary Agency, but it could just as well be “We’ve come a long way baby.” On Oct. 1, commissaries worldwide began a 15th anniversary celebration lasting through the end of 2006. “This agency continues to save taxpayer dollars while delivering a vital military benefit important to military family quality of life, and the recruiting and retention of military personnel,” said DeCA Director Patrick Nixon. “We’re proud to have accomplished so much in our short lifetime as an agency.” Although it’s only been 15 years since the four military commissary systems combined into one agency, the commissary benefit is nearly 140 years old. 

     In 1868, commissary customers had 82 items from which to choose. In 2006, many larger commissaries have as many as 17,000 items. In 1991, commissaries provided average customer savings of 20 percent when compared with local commercial grocery stores, but today’s average commissary savings are over 30 percent. Thanks to customer surcharge dollars which are mandated by Congress, DeCA has completed over 140 major construction projects for new or upgraded stores. In response to customer needs and convenience, ID checks have been moved from the front door to the registers; and self checkouts, sushi bars, hot foods, deli/bakeries, credit/debit card acceptance, gift certificates and much more have been added to modern commissaries. In 2003, Guard and Reserve families were authorized full time shopping privileges.

DeCA has new consumer advocate

By Ron Kelly, DECA

 FORT LEE, Va. – Robert Hansgen, former deputy secretariat of the U.S. Armed Forces Sports Program, Arlington, Va., is the Defense Commissary Agency’s new consumer advocate program manager. He replaces Bonita Moffett, who moved to a new position within the agency’s Corporate Operations Group in February.

As DeCA’s consumer advocate, Hansgen is responsible for improving communications between commissary customers and DeCA officials, and serves as the agency’s principal liaison with DeCA’s Patron Council and other military quality-of-life stakeholders.

“I look forward to the challenge of fostering better understanding of the commissary benefit among all of our eligible shoppers and helping the agency respond to customers’ needs,” Hansgen says. An important part of his new job is bringing the customer’s point of view to management policy and decision making, he adds.

Hansgen joined DeCA in July after serving nearly 10 years with Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation. As deputy secretariat of the Armed Forces Sports program, he developed and strengthened communications between athletes, Department of Defense leaders and the general public, and implemented partnerships with commercial sponsors to promote the Armed Forces Sports Program.

He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, Wis., in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and is working on his master’s degree in public administration at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.

Hansgen can be reached by e-mail at

New Commissary Patron Council members reflect all shopping audiences

By Bonnie Powell 

FORT LEE, Va. – The most recent commissary customer satisfaction survey shows that 2 percent of respondents were new commissary shoppers. That’s not all that’s “new” at the Defense Commissary Agency. Eleven new members have been recruited for service on DeCA’s Patron Council, bringing the council up to 22 members and four alternates.

DeCA Director Maj. Gen. Michael P. Wiedemer welcomed an unprecedented representation of active-duty, retiree, National Guard and Reserve, Coast Guard, and military association leaders to DeCA’s annual Patron Council meeting held July 23 at Fort Belvoir, Va.

DeCA’s Patron Council provides the DeCA Director and key managers with customer insights about the commissary system, as well as issues of concern to active duty, retiree, and Guard and Reserve customers. The council consists of individuals and organizations representing retired or active duty members or spouses of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserve who have been designated as official representatives by their respective service or association.

“DeCA is on track to achieve much greater awareness of the commissary benefit,” said Wiedemer. “The addition of these new members means the patron council truly reflects the great diversity of our customers. Through their extensive networks, the new members will also increase our ability to broadcast commissary benefit messages to authorized shoppers everywhere.”

 The recent patron council meeting was an opportunity to give council members, both new and returning, a business review of DeCA operations, corporate communications, budget, human resources, information technology, food safety and security, and even where they can expect to see new commissaries or store improvements over the next five years. The good news included information about significant increases in customer savings and customer satisfaction scores.

For veteran council members, the event was also a chance to share the initiatives they’ve put in place to communicate the value of the commissary benefit. Army National Guard representative Ron Tipa, said he has been a loyal commissary shopper for many years. “I figure I’ve put two kids through college, thanks to commissary savings,” he said. Patron Council members have worked hard during the last few years to get that kind of commissary information out to authorized shoppers through Web sites, newsletters, conferences, e-mails and networking opportunities.

For the new participants it was more than a learning experience. “This is a great opportunity to share thoughts and strategies,” said Sgt. Maj. Eduerdo Gadsden, the new Marine Corps senior enlisted representative. “I’m here to learn as much as I can about the commissary benefit so I can carry that back with me,” said Chief Petty Officer Lynda Kennedy, Coast Guard Reserve senior enlisted representative. “I want to be able to answer questions for both Reserve and active duty and pass along the information that using the commissary is a great way for service members to save money.”

“I hope our patron council members will encourage their constituents to use their commissary benefit,” said Kaye Kennedy, chief of DeCA corporate communications. “How can anyone not want to save 30 percent or more on their grocery bill?”

DeCA Patron Council members can be contacted with customer questions or concerns through the DeCA web site feedback page at “The new members have already agreed to participate,” said Kennedy. “This adds another dimension to DeCA’s commitment to two-way communication with customers.”

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Patron Council members share their Views!


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