McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

April 30, 2014

Vance AFB: Award for the best small commissary in the U.S.

ENID, Okla. — It is said an army travels on its stomach, but the same is true of the Air Force.

The primary source of food for the men and women of Vance Air Force Base — the Vance Commissary — has been named the winner of the 2013 Richard M. Paget Award, given annually to the best small commissary in the United States.

“I have such a great group of employees,” said Sheila Gilbert, store director. “They won the award, I didn’t. It was a shock. I don’t think I came down off cloud nine. I’m very proud of them, proud of the little store and proud of my employees. The store may be little, but it’s a good one.”

Vance’s commissary earned the award despite being short-staffed for much of the year, working with as few as 17 employees at times, far short of the normal 30.

“It started in May and we didn’t get back up until mid-December,” said Gilbert. “We were pretty thin. But everybody did what they had to do, if we needed someone to run a cash register, they ran the cash register.”

During 2013, the Vance commissary’s grocery department was at one point down to two personnel and no manager, while the produce department staff also fell to two people at one point.

The Vance Commissary was competing with 50 other small stores for the Paget award, named for a management consultant who protected the commissary benefit and championed quality-of-life issues for military personnel and their families. In all, there are 245 commissaries worldwide.

Vance’s commissary has twice received honorable mention in the competition, the latest coming for 2012, but hadn’t won the top prize since 1993.

The award is based on a number of factors, including accountability, customer satisfaction, unit cost, sales and accident rates.

Accountability involves the store’s profit/loss margin, which, Gilbert said, is a slim one.

“We can’t make money and we can’t lose money,” she said.

The store’s customer service rating is based on an annual customer service survey.

“Customer service to me is just paramount,” Gilbert said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. I preach to my people that without customers, none of us would have a job.”

Vance’s commissary stocks more than 8,000 items and averages about $500,000 per month and more than $6 million per year in sales.

Gilbert, who has worked for the Defense Commissary Agency for 31 years, said the Vance commissary is more than just a grocery store.

“It is a benefit,” said Gilbert. “I feel like we are part of the support mechanism. When the people deploy and they leave their families here, they don’t have to worry about their families because they know their families are going to be saving an average of $3,500 a year on their groceries. And more than that, we’re here to support them.”

Approximately half of the Vance Commissary’s employees are either military spouses or former military personnel, said Gilbert.

Commissaries serve military personnel, retirees and their families worldwide. Items are sold at cost plus a 5 percent up charge, which is used to build new commissaries or remodel existing stores.

“These awards highlight the best of what our stores do every day for our service members and their families,” said Joseph Jeu, DeCA director and chief executive officer. “Achieving this honor has never been easy.”

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