Mission Continues

Decorated military hero helps lead the charge for Salute Our Troops campaign

Army Sergeant and decorated soldier Tommy Rieman traded in his full-time fatigues for civvies, but he still serves his country — just in a different way. Now, he serves in the National Guard while also helping raise awareness and funds for charities supporting military families.

Instead of leading reconnaissance missions in Iraq, this summer the military reservist led a team of retail soldiers at Kangaroo Express to build clout and financial support for the U.S. men and women in uniform. The mission was very important to Rieman because the work directly benefited active-duty service members and their families and provided a connection to home that is so important to military families.

Twenty-five percent of The Pantry's Kangaroo Express stores are located within 25 miles of a military base, and the 1,650-plus-store chain has formed a great allegiance to the bases and their service personnel that Rieman has been working hard to enhance. Through his work with The Pantry and the chain's “Salute Our Troops” campaign, in addition to his service in the National Guard, Rieman is able to serve both his country and his countrymen in many ways.

“I'm a man with a cause and a purpose to help facilitate raising funds for the USO, USO of North Carolina and the Wounded Warrior Project,” said Rieman. “I'm really passionate about giving back.”

A real-life Gl Joe, Rieman is recognized at the highest levels of The Pantry for his leadership skills and relationship-building successes during this year's “Salute Our Troops” Campaign, and is credited with helping the company exceed its $1 million summer fundraising goal and raise $2.5 million for the partner military charities. In addition to raising money for the charities, the campaign also raised the profile of The Pantry's Kangaroo Express stores in ways that resonate positively with both the military folks in and around the communities the chain serves and among non-military types as well.

“Because of what they've done, they've earned me as a customer and I will always go there,” said Rieman, who has been associated with The Pantry since the beginning of the 2011 project. “As long as Kangaroo Express wants me, I'll be there.”

Rieman had been working with the USO and on the board of the USO of North Carolina for a year prior to joining Kangaroo Express' military fundraising initiative. Already a Kangaroo Express fuel customer, Rieman said when he heard of the Salute Our Troops program, he “thought it was the coolest thing in the world” and wanted to be involved.

“Tommy is a remarkable young man,” said Dave Henninger, vice president of marketing services for The Pantry. “Tommy is great counsel, he's smart and he's been there. We're really grateful to have him on our team.”

Rieman and Henninger met at a USO of North Carolina event. Rieman attended in full military dress, spoke to the group in heartfelt and convincing words about how the USO was his connection to home and how appreciative he was for what the organization did for him during his active military service, said Henninger, noting that he was very impressed with Rieman and his command of his audience.

Rieman was hired by The Pantry to rally the retail troops to raise $1 million in the company's 100 days of summer “Salute Our Troops” campaign. This effort, which included all stores in the 13-state Southeastern-based chain, involved promoting the retailer's cold dispensed beverages as a way to drive donations for various military causes. The initiative also involved outright solicitation for donations, which meant motivating and encouraging store-level employees to actively engage in the effort.

The $1-million goal was met by July 4, but the drive didn't stop there and the donations kept pouring in while the retailer's market visibility advanced exponentially.

Rieman spent his time visiting stores, talking to associates and customers. He even ran a cash register, washed cars, pumped gas, cleaned windshields and walked through a car wash for $100, to raise money for the military charities during the program. One Friday, Rieman got a pro football player to sign photos of himself, which drove in store traffic and donations. He'll do most anything for the troops, he admitted.

“John Fisher (senior vice president of marketing and merchandising) and Dave Henninger said we need to earn the military's respect in the business. We need to earn the right to raise money for them,” Rieman explained.

At each stop, Rieman started with a motivational rally and talked about the importance of giving back. He asked employees to donate their extra change and encouraged them to open up to their customers, many of whom they already have relationships with, and ask them to donate. “If it weren't for the employees, they [Kangaroo Express] wouldn't be as successful as they are,” he said.

Rieman also worked directly with store associates on promotions, promoting the 2 for $3 Monster drinks to customers who visited the store multiple times a day. He worked with Krispy Kreme, which donated 50 dozen doughnuts that the store sold for $7 per dozen; with Bud Light/Budweiser, which gave away an iPod docking station speaker tower; and with Monster Energy Drink, which donated a tricked-out bike; and more.

“Our goal was to go into the store and run the register and give them [employees and customers] a call to action. But as people kept coming in, it sparked the energy and the creative juices began flowing,” Rieman said. When he got an idea, he implemented it.

Rieman also interacted with customers, and talked to his fellow National Guardsmen who have become Kangaroo Express customers for life, too, he said. “They realize that here's a company that doesn't have to do this. It's not a political maneuver. Here's a company that genuinely gets it and wants to give back.”

Rieman said he came to understand The Pantry has a “great realization of what the military does for them. There are very patriotic folks at the top levels and they want to give back.”

For his part, Rieman is looking forward to expanding the program next year. “I'm ready for more,” he said.

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