Commissary Experiments With New 'Club'


The commissary system is testing a new store idea -- increase lower-cost bulk items.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord commissary the bulk buys increase is housed in a new section in the back of the McChord Field store called "Commissary Club." When completely stocked, this section will have about 700 bulk items expected to be priced below those in the regular part of the commissary. At Navy Outlying Field Imperial Beach, Calif., the agency is instead using a "commissary plus" model and stocking the bulk versions of items next to their smaller counterparts in the traditional portions of the store.

In my normal commissary shopping I've often noticed that the products in the "Club Pack" section are not necessarily cheaper than those elsewhere in the store. For example, the smaller package of any given dishwasher detergent may be on sale while the "club pack" size is not, leaving the item cheaper per ounce in the smaller version that in the larger one -- exactly the opposite of the usual bulk buying rule of thumb.

Read my Military.com story about Joint Base Lewis McChord Commissary Club

But the McChord Field manager, Janice Coleman, said she expects the bulk items in the new "Commissary Club" section to always be less than the items in the front of the store.

The long term goal of an increased bulk selection is to keep shoppers in the commissary instead of wandering off base to big-box retailers like Sams Club and Costco.

And using the commissary over those stores does have its good points, such as no membership fee and the ability to use manufacturer coupons, which neither Sams nor Costco permits.

The McChord Field "Commissary Club" has only been open for about a month as of this writing, and Coleman said it's too soon to gauge how patrons like it.

But there does seem to be a bit of a public relations problem. When we asked JBLM area spouses on a few Facebook pages, most of them didn't know it was there. And Coleman actually laughed when we asked if they would be advertising at the Fort Lewis location less than 10 miles away. The stores are under different management, she said, and have a "friendly competition."

McChord was chosen as the perfect place for the bulk buys pilot section because adding the space required minimal construction -- they converted warehouse space and an area formally used to house sodas and water. Commissary officials haven't gotten back to us on how much they spent on converting the space.

If the pilot program does well, officials say they may expand it to other stores. That would work as a possible replacement for the bi-annual case lot sales the system has done in the past. Those sales were canceled for 2013 as well as this year. The sale would bring in low-cost bulk items and sell them in a tent or patio sale outside the store. By canceling that sale series, officials said they saved $900,000 in personnel costs.

Here at Household Bushatz we love (LOVE) Costco and, to a lesser extent and for very specific items (and mostly because there is no Costco locally) Sams Club. I'm not sure "commissary club" would keep me from shopping there.

What do you think?

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