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Commissary Patron Council Brings Benefit into Focus

By Carrie Williams

FORT LEE, Va. – "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence," said Rick Page, acting director of the Defense Commissary Agency, quoting Vince Lombardi on the subject of excellence. Page kicked off his "state of the benefit" briefing at the agency's recent Patron Council meeting with these words to emphasize DeCA's pursuit of an excellent commissary benefit.

The meeting, held at the Association of the United States Army Headquarters, in Arlington, Va., brought together senior DeCA leaders and council members to share commissary information and customer concerns. Council members represent active duty, Guard and Reserve members, retirees and military families.

The big news from the meeting is the ground the agency has gained in taking the benefit on the road. DeCA has taken the commissary benefit to Guard and Reserve members and their families at remote locations, conducting on-site sales out of warehouses, aircraft hangars, armories, tents in parking lots, and even the back ends of semitrailers. Page said the agency has about 100 of these on-site sales planned for 2008. "Remember, we're not interested in being good," he said. "We want to be excellent. That means bringing the benefit to customers in out-of-the-way locations so that they, too, can reap the savings only the commissary can deliver." While the focus is on Guard and Reserve, the on-site sales are a boon to all authorized shoppers living near them. All customers are welcome, Page noted.

Randy Chandler, DeCA's sales director, briefed council members on future trends and changes to product mix. He talked about the new "Go Green" promotion and explained that the agency is encouraging customers to purchase eco-friendly products that are now available in commissaries worldwide, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, recycled paper products, "green" cleaning supplies and reusable grocery bags. Made of sturdy green cloth and costing 70 cents each, the bags have been so popular DeCA's supplier has had difficulty keeping them in the stores. "We've sold about half a million in four months," Page said. "Customer demand is greater than we expected, but rest assured we are working to get additional shipments to all commissaries as soon as possible."

Sallie Cauthers, DeCA's marketing chief, discussed the agency's latest promotional campaigns, including "Discover Your Benefit." This is a big, year-long campaign designed to encourage customers to discover all that their benefit has to offer, not just in the store, but also on, where customers can check out Kay's Kitchen and Ask the DeCA Dietitian; sign up for Commissary Connection, an e-mail newsletter; print coupons; and register for shopping sprees, to name just a few of its features.

DeCA Dietician Maj. Karen Fauber delivered information about the agency's newest health and wellness initiatives. These include a new online forum called Ask the DeCA Dietitian and many store-level programs such as "Walk into Wellness," health screenings and commissary tours that focus on nutrition education.

One result of the recent meeting is an expanded Patron Council page. Council members can now log in and get the latest commissary news digested and formatted for use in newsletters and publications they distribute to their respective military audiences.

Council members are nominated as official representatives of their respective service or association and are then selected by DeCA's director. They work throughout the year with DeCA officials to provide factual commissary information to their constituents and to relay customer concerns and issues back to DeCA.