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Commissary leadership: open doors, open ears

Military personnel save an average of 30 percent or more shopping at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. With almost 20 new employees, the new staff help to keep the products rotated and fresh for customers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

Military personnel save an average of 30 percent or more shopping at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. With almost 20 new employees, the new staff help to keep the products rotated and fresh for customers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

Airmen shop for fresh produce at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. The produce sold at the commissary is the same produce provided to the Royal Family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

Airmen shop for fresh produce at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. The produce sold at the commissary is the same produce provided to the Royal Family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

A family purchases groceries at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. Military personnel save an average of 30 percent or more shopping at the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

A family purchases groceries at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. Military personnel save an average of 30 percent or more shopping at the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

Fresh produce is displayed for purchase at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. The produce sold at the commissary is the same produce provided to the Royal Family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

Fresh produce is displayed for purchase at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. The produce sold at the commissary is the same produce provided to the Royal Family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

With almost 20 new employees, the staff helps to keep the products rotated and fresh for customers at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. Military personnel save an average of 30 percent or more shopping at the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

With almost 20 new employees, the staff helps to keep the products rotated and fresh for customers at the commissary at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 7, 2015. Military personnel save an average of 30 percent or more shopping at the commissary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- In with the new, out with the old. With new leadership, the commissary has brought in new ideas to improve the customer experience and the facility itself.

"We want people to have fun when they're shopping," Clyde Nolen, RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall store director, a recent addition to the commissary team. "If you, as a customer, came through here and were looking for something and you felt like you were short changed or ignored, I want to know about it. Management wants to know about it to make that correction, because I want to be treated the same when I'm a customer." 

The commissary has been working to improve its role in the RAF Lakenheath community, explained Nolen. School groups come through to get hands-on experience learning about healthy foods and a balanced diet, military children work there after school for tips, groups can raise funds through donation tables and walking tours are available upon request to learn more and make suggestions.

Refrigeration used to be a big issue, noted Nolen, but thanks to a new vendor through the Defense Commissary Agency, contractors have not only replaced the refrigeration units, but have been able to respond quickly to the recent request to have screens installed to keep the dairy products better chilled.

Waiting in line at the deli counter for both sandwiches and the daily specials is no longer an issue. Nolen said he had the build-your-own sandwich bar added, as well as a separate cashier, to quickly ring up the orders of those stopping in for lunch.

During a recent spouses' tour, Nolen brought in the produce supplier to explain how the commissary receives the same produce as the Royal family.  Lawrence Maravilla, RAF Lakenheath deputy store director, explained that the fresh produce is less processed than American shoppers are used to at conventional grocery stores. Due to grocery regulations in the U.K., it's more common to shop frequently purchasing fresh produce when needed so it doesn't spoil before eating.

Nolen has also worked to improve the commissary working relationship with Public Health. He explained that he requests they visit regularly and make suggestions to improve food storage, hence the new screens in front of the dairy products. He's also had employees attend food handling classes from the Public Health office that are not required, explaining that the extra training can only help reinforce good habits.

The commissary team has been working to improve the facility in every aspect, but Nolen explained that it helps to have input directly from the customer. The team wants to know what customers have to say. Nolen had an open-door policy and encourages customers to use his e-mail address on the commissary website to reach him with suggestions.

"They are making massive improvements," explained Alexander Kovras, 48th Mission Support Group deputy director for installation support. "There is always something new we can try, a different thing we can add, or an aisle we can make larger. There are countless ways we can make the place better. It will never be perfection, but we will keep making improvements."

For more information about the commissary and to reach the RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall store director, visit http://www.commissaries.com/