‘We Didn’t Miss a Beat,’ Shull Tells American Logistics Association

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service has remained mission essential. The Department of Defense retailer’s agility is proving to be a force multiplier in protecting the force as strategic shifts ensure the Exchange benefit remains strong for many years to come.

During an American Logistics Association/Exchange virtual roundtable, Director/CEO Tom Shull and other Exchange executives gave resale industry leaders insight on how the Exchange quickly transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t miss a beat,” Shull said. “From installing acrylic shields at points to sale and encouraging physical distancing to distributing personal protective equipment to our teammates, the Exchange leaned forward from Day One.”

ALA is a nonprofit trade association that promotes, protects and enhances Quality-of-Life benefits for service members, military retirees and military families. The virtual workshop Aug. 25 included roughly 200 ALA members and Exchange leaders from Merchandising, Customer Experience, Corporate Communication, Customer Relationship Management and Logistics.

Shull highlighted the Exchange team’s efforts to provide safe, secure, sanitized safe haven to our Nation’s military communities while providing new ways to deliver the benefit, including curbside pickup at stores worldwide. Since the pandemic began, the Exchange:

  • Increased e-commerce orders by 88% year to date.
  • Fulfilled nearly 130,000 buy online, pick up in store.
  • Received 9,280 curbside pickup orders.
  • Prepared 93,000 grab-and-go school meals for Department of Defense Educational Activity students overseas.
  • Drove an additional 48,000 miles to deliver COVID-19 supplies.
  • Hand-picked more than 18,000 orders for troops in quarantine.
  • Deployed four mobile field Exchanges to bring supplies and comfort.

Uncertainty in retail remains, Shull said, acknowledging that more than 20 retailers have filed for bankruptcy since COVID-19 took hold in the United States in March. As many commercial companies have made personnel cuts, the Exchange has aggressively conserved resources to avoid layoffs and furloughs, including inventory reduction, capital expenditure delays and expense cutbacks.

“We have been faithful in making sure our workforce is stable,” Shull said. “We are dedicated to workplaces that are safe, secure and sanitized so associates can remain dedicated to the mission.”

Shull also highlighted:

  • The overall Exchange benefit, with 18 lines of business to care for Soldiers, Airmen and military families around the world.
  • Progress toward the Exchange’s goal of hiring 50,000 Veterans and military spouses by the end of 2020. The goal is within reach, with more than 45,500 hired since 2013.
  • In-store and online shopping benefits for Veterans.

Exchange President and Chief Merchandising Officer Ana Middleton praised the team’s ability to pivot swiftly during challenging times.

“Retail as we know it is gone,” Middleton said. “People have become used to convenience and curbside pickup. Together we will rise and embrace the new norm.”

Other Exchange leaders briefed the group including:

  • Chief Logistics Officer Karen Stack
  • Logistics Senior Vice President Alan French
  • Hardlines Vice President Chris Burton
  • Softlines Vice President Martha Robuck
  • Consumables Vice President Eric Sidman
  • Planning, Allocation and Replenishment Vice President Eric Boen
  • Omnichannel Marketing Vice President Kyle Allison
  • E-commerce Operations Vice President David Lemons
  • Marketing Customer Engagement Vice President Sandi Lute
  • Customer Relationship Management Senior Vice President Jim Skibo
  • Supply Chain Operations Vice President Jeremy Boyd
  • Transportation Operations Vice President Morgan Meeks

Throughout the pandemic, the Exchange has held firm on a “sua sponte” mindset—one Shull recalls from his Ranger training.

“‘Sua sponte’ means ‘on your own accord,’” Shull said. “The Exchange has been ‘sua sponte’ throughout the pandemic. We are all in for the military communities we are honored to serve.”

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