RAF LAKENHEATH, England — The renovation of the commissary at RAF Lakenheath should be complete this summer, more than two years after it began and a few months behind schedule.
Maureen O’Connor, the store director, said the delay is a result of trying to increase the size of the store by half while remaining open for customers.
During each phase of the effort to increase the store from about 19,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, she said, “we had to make sure we were meeting the needs of the customer.”
She has evidence to show that’s happened. She said customer service surveys done twice since the renovation began in the spring of 2003 have shown an increase in customer satisfaction despite the inconvenience of the ongoing work.
Sharryl Whitley, deputy store director, said the greatest challenge to the store staff has been “keeping the customers happy.”
She said that as the store shifted its products from time to time to make way for the workers, customers wondered, “Where’s the peanut butter and jelly today?”
“We make sure we have adequate staff on the floor to help the customer,” Whitley said.
O’Connor said the current date for completion is this month, but that won’t be met. She said she simply says “summer” when asked for a completion date. The cost of the renovation is in excess of $12 million.
Once complete, the store will maintain the same number of items – about 10,000 – but will have more shopping space. Shelves and coolers will require less restocking through the shopping day.
The coolers and freezers have been inadequate, she said.
“Right now, we have to restock all day long,” she said.
The renovated store will have enough space to require one stocking before the store opens in the morning, freeing workers for other tasks, she said.
Other improvements will be a larger bakery and deli. A pasta bar will also be open with tables for people to have lunch while shopping. A larger parking lot may be open next week.
Already the produce department has doubled in size, she said, and has increased sales by about 17 percent even during the renovation, earning it an honor from the Defense Commissary Agency as the best produce department in a large overseas store.
The store also has opened a handful of machines for self-checking, allowing customers to scan and bag their own items and pay without using a cashier.
O’Connor said the Lakenheath commissary is the second largest in Europe, behind the one at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The Lakenheath store does a bit less than $30 million of business each year now, but she expects to top that mark annually when the work is complete.