Barbara Commons went from a part-time laborer to Fort Riley main store manager in eight years.
“It was kind of a fluke that I started here,” she said. “I just needed a part-time job. I was going to school (for her bachelor’s degree). And then I found all the training programs that the company offers to develop associates into managers. I started taking those programs and those classes and it worked out.”
She started the position Oct. 14.
Immediately prior, she was the sales and merchandising manager; before that, the Military Clothing and Service store manager, but has spent most of her time with the Express.
Although the work in the various positions is different, the one constant is the part of the job she likes the most — serving Soldiers.
“I was raised in the military,” Commons said. “My father was military and I’ve always had a close connection with the military — it’s a very rewarding job.”
She’s worked in retail since she was a teenager, but she appreciates working on post because she can maintain that connection with the Soldiers and their families.
“Especially when I was at the Express,” she said. “You have your regulars who come in and get coffee every morning, and you form a relationship and get to know them. Then, you see they’re gone for nine months and realize that they just deployed and now they’re back with their family.”
At the main Exchange, the interaction with the customer will be different, but no less important. At the Express, transactions are very quick, she said.
There are repeat customers she would see every day, but they would come and go quickly. At the main Exchange, she can spend more time with one customer.
Commons recalled being able to help one Soldier find a camera to take photographs at his daughter’s wedding.
“Here, I get to go step-by-step with the customer,” she said. “You hear their whole life story — it’s a lot more personal than just a quick get the coffee and go.”
Although the new position will require more paperwork, Commons said it is important for her to find a balance between time spent in the office and on the floor.
“I’ve been in retail all these years because I love the people, I love interacting with customers, not because I love paperwork,” she said. “Also, if I don’t know my customers, I don’t know what to sell them, what they need, what they’re looking for.
“I do like to spend as much time as possible interacting and being on the sales floor.”
As manager, she will also work with more associates. She said she will be looking to them for their expertise, especially because she started her position in the fourth quarter, which is the busiest time of the year.
The store staff is now preparing for the Black Friday and Christmas sales.
“I always knew they got a lot of products in for the holidays, but never really understood the scale,” Commons said. “Thankfully, I have a great team.”
Many of the employees have been at the store for more than 10 years. They know how to prepare the store for those events and she will let them do what they do best, she said.
For the time, she expects to stay here. Her parents are both native Kansans — her father is from Lawrence and her mother is from Bison. After her father retired, they stayed in the area.
Commons is pursuing her master’s degree in business administration with the emphasis in strategic leadership.
“I am hoping to stay in one place until I get the master’s degree completed,” she said. “And then after that, it’s wherever the company wants to send me, wherever the opportunity is.”
Her long-range plan is to stay with the Exchange. She already took advantage of a deployment program the company offers and went to the United Arab Emirates for six months.
“That was right at my five-year mark and I was (contemplating) should I stay or should I go, and after deploying and experiencing that, it convinced me to stay,” Commons said. “As a deployed civilian it gave me a fresh perspective on the customers that I serve.”
She also went to Camp Humphreys in Korea for a month to help get that store opened.
“It’s an amazing company,” she said. “It’s got amazing benefits, an amazing culture.”
Gail Parsons is a writer for the 1st Infantry Division Post, where the article appeared originally.