One Name, One Brand


The Army Air Force Exchange debuts new look for its Express convenience stores

Consistency reigns king when it comes to building your brand. That was the rationale behind the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) decision to give the c-stores located on their military bases a comprehensive makeover.

The AAFES umbrella includes several businesses that could be found on installations around the world, ranging from military clothing, supplies and gift shops to restaurants and convenience stores. Each retail operation has carried a different name, as diverse as the needs they cater to: PX, BX or AAFES store. However, having different names also leads to confusion and AAFES is looking to change that. The new one-brand initiative encompasses all areas of AAFES' corporate brand, called the Exchange, and provides a new single brand for its convenience stores, which will now be called Express. A new tagline, “You Save, We Give Back” showcases the organization's low prices and mission to provide annual dividends to the Army's Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Air Force Services programs.

According to Adam Limbach, vice president of brand communications at Chute Gerdeman Retail, AAEFS sent out a comprehensive Request for Proposal (RFP) for a full rebranding initiative — logo, tagline, store design, private labels, advertising, Web and mobile — across all channels in its retail venue. In addition to offering convenient shopping options to the installation communities, these retail ventures also put their money back into the military installations to improve the way of life. However, big box retailers were opening right outside and taking the market share.

Part of the problem, Limbach added, was employees and residents on the installations did not realize the retail stores on base were owned and operated by the military or that the money went back to the community. “From base to base there was no consistent name or logo,” he said.

But that is all about to change. “AAFES stepped up its game and started paying attention to the brand,” Limbach explained, adding the rebranding effort will hopefully draw in the younger market. Working hand-in-hand with Chute Gerdeman Retail, the Ohio-based retail design consultants, AAFES embarked on a journey that began at the Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma City.

AAFES formulated a game plan to tackle the problem with one goal in mind: “to provide a consistent, cohesive brand image to our customers, regardless of service or life stage in the military,” said Jerry Broccoli, director of worldwide branding at AAFES.

The company sent out the RFP and after receiving four technically responsive offers, Chute Gerdeman won the contract for the top-to-bottom rebranding effort.

Chute Gerdeman Retail is no stranger to convenience store design. It has previously worked with Sheetz, Thorntons, 7-Eleven, Delta Sonic and Swiss Farms. So responding to the AAFES was certainly in its wheelhouse.

“The collaboration was comprehensive along every step of the process, from discovery to implementation of the brand at Tinker AFB,” Broccoli explained.

The Shoppette on Tinker Air Force base was chosen as the first project because it is an existing store and did not involve ground-up construction, Limbach said. “It was an opportunistic way to get the brand out there,” he added. “And so far the numbers have been great.”

Step one began with creating a destination. “We needed to marry the master brand with being able to retrofit an existing store,” Limbach explained. “They had different store names at different installations and everything had a different look. Many people thought outside companies were running the stores. So the first step was to figure out how we support that one brand. That led to Express.”

After establishing Express as the one brand to be carried across all AAFES convenience stores, the design team needed to make the space easy to shop in and memorable, he said. “We need to get customers in and out,” Limbach added. For example, the design team moved the food area behind the counter so store clerks can help customers in that area; differentiated the store between hot and cold offerings; and created a center aisle that allows promotions to be highlighted at either end.

“When you walk in you can see where the different sections are by wall color,” said Elaine Evans, senior designer for brand communications for Chute Gerdeman Retail. “You walk in and you immediately know where to go for grab-and-go food and where the cold beverages are in the store.”

Other physical changes included gutting the tile floor, polishing the concrete floor, installing all new fixtures and wall graphics, and up lighting the coolers, Limbach said. The exterior work was minimal — mostly changing the signage and gas pumps.

Cosmetic changes only go so far, however, in creating a brand. The name and logo is what people tend to remember. “The logo represents both services, Army and Air Force, and incorporates the colors of both services,” Broccoli explained. “It represents the visions and mission coming together.”

The logo was designed to be powerful, identifiable and meaningful. The two colors — red and blue — represent the Army and Air Force coming together; Exchange applies equally to the Army and Air Force; the “X” stands for Exchange; and the red arrow shows forward progress.

With the prototype finished and the Express at Tinker AFB ringing up impressive numbers, AAFES is now planning to roll out the Express name and brand at all its convenience stores. “The Exchange/X exterior signing will be implemented across Exchange buildings in [the contiguous United States] beginning in 2011, with the Pacific and Europe to follow,” Broccoli said. “The convenience stores worldwide rollout will be part of the exterior signing project to be implemented in 2011.”

Joining AAFES and Chute Gerdeman on the Tinker AFB venture were project management firm Jones Lang LaSalle and multi-media consultant Mozaic. And the effort has paid off. The Retail Design Institute (RDI) recognized the Exchange with its Retail Design Legion of Honor award. In RDI's International Store Design, the Exchange took first place in the Large Format Specialty Stores category.

For comments, please contact Melissa Kress, Associate Editor, at [email protected].

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