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It's not just a job ... for Joyce Milton and Stanley Forbes, running an army commissary has been a merchandising adventure.

It's not just a job...

For Joyce Milton and Stanley Forbes, running an army commissary has been a merchandising adventure.

Even in a commissary, merchandising can produce profits. Yes it's a captive audience, but commissaries battle each other, as well as supermarkets. One army commissary in Fort Monroe, Va., fights back with large-scale displays that often boost sales 10%.

"Let's face it. Massive displays sell more," says Stanley Forbes, deputy commissary officer, who builds most of the displays.

Cross-merchandising is the key, insists Joyce Milton, commissary officer, who fills the displays.

Between his building know-how and her ingenuity, the two manage to create elaborate designs on a minimal budget. And because they don't have to stock perishables, Forbes and Milton have plenty of room in the 8,000-square-foot store to expand endcaps with stacks of Easter candy, for example. Their hard work has paid off with a 6% increase in sales from the previous year.

Some of the displays are planned eight to 12 weeks in advance. One such display--their personal favorite-- was the massive Christmas "house" with more than 200 bags of candy, gift wrap and holiday foods. To cut costs, they repaper the base of the Christmas display for use at Halloween and Easter.

Although massive front-end displays are built only during holiday seasons, large displays are created every two weeks. Displays remaining on the floor are modified to use as tie-ins.

And Forbes is not beyond merchandising himself, if necessary. As Santa Claus or the Great Pumpkin, a costumed Forbes welcomes customers into the store. His enthusiasm is contagious. Last Halloween, not only were employees decked in costumes, customers also dressed up.

In addition to heavy merchandising, Milton and Forbes have other weapons they use against the competition. "We are at a disadvantage because our competition has extended hours, but our customers are price-conscious and appreciate that we are not here for profit. We aim at convenience and even have quicker checkout lanes than they do," says Milton.

But merchandising is their strong suit. It was Milton who decided to try mass seasonal displays and before she knew it, Forbes was hammering and sawing. "He has such a `can-do' attitude, always willing to try anything new. I call him `Stan the man with the plan' because no matter what I come up with, he has a plan for it," says Milton.

Forbes has worked at the commissary for 31 years, climbing the ladder from an entry-level cashier position. "I moved up the hard way, but I was trained in every aspect of a grocery store, giving me the initiative to promote and merchandise."

Both complement--and compliment--each other. She appreciates that he welcomed her new ideas in a business not especially open to women, and he describes her as "the most creative and efficient commissary officer I have worked with in my entire career."

Fort Monroe Commissary has been voted the Army's Best Small Commissary in the United States for three years and in the Southeast region for five consecutive years. Its success owes much to the teamwork of Milton and Forbes, though neither will admit it.

PHOTO : Cutting costs at the army commissary in Fort Monroe, Va., means reusing materials. A

PHOTO : Christmas "house" (above) became an Easter candy display (left) the following spring.

Missy Pace is a summer intern from the University of Mississippi.
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Title Annotation:Fort Monroe, VA
Author:Pace, Missy
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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