Best of the best: Agency announces its top commissaries for 2017

by Mike Perron
DeCA Public Affairs

Note: To see photos on DeCA’s Flickr page related to DeCA’s Best Commissary Award winners, go to


FORT LEE, Va. – The Defense Commissary Agency has announced its Best Commissary Award winners for 2017.

Honors are awarded in five categories determined by store location and size, and are named in honor of government officials who protected the commissary benefit and championed quality-of-life issues for the military and their families. Each of the winners surpassed DeCA’s strict criteria for customer service, accountability, safety, operations and sales.

“These stores have all earned this distinguished honor through their outstanding commissary operations and excellent execution of programs,” said Keith Hagenbuch, DeCA’s executive director for Store Operations. “This is a significant achievement, one that the communities they serve can all feel proud about.”

The winners and runners up are:

· Director’s Award – Super Store: 1st Place: Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; 2nd Place: Anchorage Area, Alaska

· Dan Daniel Award – Large Store Overseas: 1st Place: Naval Station Rota, Spain; 2nd Place: Aviano Air Base, Italy

· Bill Nichols Award – Large Store: 1st Place: Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Washington; 2nd Place: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

· L. Mendel Rivers Award – Small Store Overseas: 1st Place: Fleet Activities Chinhae, South Korea; 2nd Place: Kunsan Air Base, South Korea

· Richard M. Paget Award – Small Store: 1st Place: Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California; 2nd Place: Moffett Field, California

While commissary patrons can assume they’ll be getting the best price in town on their overall grocery bill, DeCA’s best know it takes more than that to keep customers coming back week after week. One theme common to each winner’s answer when asked what made their store special was their staffs’ willingness to go above and beyond the norm in customer service.

“Even though our staff is predominantly Spanish, they take the time to understand American culture by being interactive,” said Don Mitchell, store director at Rota which, along with China Lake, is celebrating its second straight win. “Many employees remember regular customers’ tastes, and can suggest add-on purchases and offer personalized meal ideas.”

Rick Means, store director at Nellis Air Force Base agrees. “The people who come through our doors have served or continue to serve our country. No matter if they are active duty, dependents, retirees or reservists … they had to make sacrifices in their lives for us all and they deserve nothing but the best when they come shopping at the commissary.”

According to Sangsoon Overly, store manager at Chinhae, good customer service begins with great employees. “Employees take pride in their jobs and ensure that they go above and beyond for our customers,” Overly said. “The interaction with our customers – opening the store early if customers are standing outside, helping them with their grocery shopping when they have three or four kids with them … All this is what makes our commissary ‘worth the trip.’”

Sticking to the basics of customer service like the widely taught “10 and 5 rule of hospitality” works well, said Kitsap Bangor Commissary store director David Peters. That guideline states that when staff is 10 feet from a guest, they smile and make direct eye contact, and when five feet from a guest, they verbally greet them. “We strive to make each and every customer's shopping experience as pleasant as we possibly can,” said Peters. “The Kitsap Bangor team is a big believer in the smile. A smile goes a long way.”

Reynold Candelaria, store director at China Lake, summed up the key to successfully building a loyal base of military patrons who can choose to shop anywhere in town: “Communication is the key to success. Set the atmosphere in the whole store that the only reason we are here is to serve those who serve our country. Ensure you are putting forth your best effort daily and keep the shelves full, clean, and well-organized. Build a good relationship with the installation command and ensure they know we are here for them.”

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