July 6, 2012

Commissary hits ‘reset’ button on store layout

by 1st Lt. Ryan DeCamp
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Commissary staff fill shelves according to the new floor reset plan.

Shoppers visiting the Luke Air Force Base Commissary June 27 may have walked in feeling like it was the first time they’ve ever visited the store. A packed parking lot worth of customers could be heard asking a handful of attendants inside, “Where do I find the bread?” or “Where is the sugar?”

However, according to commissary officials, the time it took to ask those questions will be saved many times over once shoppers experience why they had to ask those questions in the first place.

Luke’s Commissary underwent a floor reset June 24 to 26 as employees moved most of the items in the store, shifting them next to other items that are commonly used to together. The time also allowed other major construction to occur, continuing the store’s remodel that began just over a year ago.

“A customer-friendly product flow means dog food will be next to pet supplies instead of charcoal while peanut butter and jam will be set close together,” said Darnell Hicks, Defense Commissary Agency store operation team lead of resets. “You shouldn’t have to cruise three different aisles to find all your cleaning products. It’s a simple matter of making the commissary layout more sensible by resetting the store.”

The store’s leadership said the new product locations will help shoppers move, or flow, through the store more efficiently. This will save time in the long run and ensure customers are able to find the items they came to buy without being frustrated and leaving without products they came to buy.

The reset also allowed Luke’s commissary to place products based on consumer feedback of what they liked and align the items around the store’s specific building layout versus other commissaries.

“We split the sales floor in half and the center area is now a merchandizing space where we can put pallets of items that sell in high volumes,” said Christopher Thomas, Luke Commissary store director. “The side closest to produce is all food whereas nonfood is closer to the freezers. We want to keep food away from items with chemicals.

“The only item that doesn’t follow that plan is bread. It’s at the end of a shopper’s flow through the commissary before they get to the register. They add that to their basket last so it doesn’t get crushed by the rest of their items.”

He said his team has placed flow charts in the aisles to help customers find items. The reset also made room for 50 to 100 new products in the store that already includes more than 19,000 individual items.

The last time the commissary underwent a reset was six years ago. The last time major construction occurred to give the store a facelift, known as a remodel, was around 1993, according to Thomas.

Construction on the commissary began just over a year ago and is expected to wrap up with a ribbon-cutting event in the fall. The two-and-a-half days of closure allowed the team to save energy in the store by replacing infrastructure.

“We replaced a handful of areas around the store, but the bulk of the construction was in upgrading and updating the refrigeration equipment,” Thomas said. “A lot of it is maintenance and upkeep. It gets to the point where it’s cheaper to replace it. We reduce maintenance costs, and the big push is to increase environmental efficiency and be greener. All of the refrigeration units have LED lighting. The lights use less electricity and the units use more environmentally friendly air conditioners.”

Despite the project cost of $8 million to Luke’s commissary, customers don’t need to worry about prices increasing due to the construction, according to Thomas.

“The renovations are funded by a surcharge each customer pays when they shop at any commissary in the Defense Department,” he said. “If food costs go up, they’re not related to the construction costs. Those surcharges are pooled together and the stores with the most need who have gone the longest will be updated.

“The commissaries are not profit bearing entities, and we’re funded by appropriated funds as a benefit to servicemembers past and present.”

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