CANEX

CANEX

CANEX builds its online presence to reach more members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) community while maintaining long-lasting relationships with its partners.

By Stephanie Crets 

Retail outlets, convenience and grocery stores, kiosks and more allow the Canadian Forces Exchange System (CANEX) to provide goods and services directly to Canadian military members, their families and the CAF community. CANEX is the retail arm of the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS), an organization that strives to enhance morale and welfare of the military community, and in the case of CANEX, has done so for almost 50 years. Plus, when the CAF Community shops at CANEX or CANEX.ca, proceeds from sales are returned to CFMWS in support of local grants to Bases/Wings for (their) morale and welfare programs and activities. Not only does CANEX give back to the military community monetarily, but CANEX also provides employment opportunities for spouses and children of the CAF members. CANEX’s priority is maintaining a strong focus on serving the unique needs of its members and their families.

With 39 retail locations, operational efficiency is one of CANEX’s four core strategies. Being right-sized and relevant to local CAF communities and providing an optimal mix of physical stores and online infrastructure continues to be its focus. This could be amalgamating store locations, adding services or concessions or opening new CANEX facilities. As an example, CANEX is building a CANEX Supermart that will encompass retail, grocery, a SISIP Financial office and other concessions in a 40,000-square-foot mall on Garrison Petawawa in Petawawa, Ontario.

This is a prototype where Diana Sousa, associate vice president of marketing, sees opportunities for growth in the company in the future. “We wanted something more robust and modern,” she says. “It’s a large, open concept and efficient layout with a revised and focused product mix that will support the needs of the local CAF community.” The project recently broke ground and will be completed in spring 2017.

CANEX has also recently opened 11 Tim Hortons kiosks across Canadian military bases, most within the CANEX retail outlets. “This has proven to be quite successful,” Sousa says. “CAF Members and the community have grown to love Tim Hortons, and it certainly motivates people to come into their local CANEX store for a cup of Tim Hortons coffee, and hopefully shop around and buy something else.”

Tim Hortons and The Personal Insurance Company have been long-standing partners to both CANEX and CFMWS for more than 20 years. The Personal Insurance Company provides a discount to members for home, automotive, pet and recreational vehicle insurance, and CANEX works closely with them in support of each other.

“It’s a mutually beneficial partnership that primarily provides a service to the CAF community and that is complementary to what we already offer,” Sousa explains. “We work very closely together with our partners on the marketing side, where we support them through social media, digital marketing, flyers and more, giving them added exposure and a form of endorsement.”

Online Presence

CANEX launched its online shopping platform in November 2014, and it’s already had a significant impact on the overall business. Not only in terms of increased sales, but having an online presence allows the company to reach customers who are not living on or close to a base with a brick-and-mortar store.

“One of our objectives is to focus reach to the CAF veterans,” Sousa says. “Veterans, including their families are so important to our overall corporate mandate that we are constantly exploring means in which to better communicate with them and how to best service them.”

But a fairly new online presence can create challenges. For example, “the site has gone done a few times in the past, which even if anticipated, can impact the customer experience,” says Sousa. Rather than being reactionary, CANEX prepares for such circumstances in an effort to mitigate effect on its customers.

“The infrastructure behind the online platform is something we are constantly trying to improve upon,” Sousa explains. “We focus on the customer experience by ensuring it is a positive one, having ease of online navigation, relevant merchandise with exclusive specials and membership benefits, and when merchandise is purchased online, it is shipped out as quickly as possible.”

Additionally, CANEX is turning more to online marketing as a critical piece to its future. The company aims to target its members in a more sophisticated manner through segment marketing. Understanding demographics and knowing who its customer is and what they want is every retailers challenge. “We’ve come up with several different segments that we will test, modify and refine in an attempt to be more relevant to the needs of our customer,” Sousa says. “Part of this is how customers want to receive their messages, whether on their mobile device, PC or tablet”.

Always Serving

CANEX’s goal is to be competitive, convenient and relevant, encouraging as many members as possible to shop with them. Customer retention is extremely important, relative to the increased costs to sell something to a new customer. The company offers a CANEX rewards loyalty points program to encourage repeat shoppers with plans to further develop it in the near future. Exclusive offers available only to those members with a CFOne card is yet another way in which they create loyalty with their members.

“Having effective marketing supported by relevant merchandise offerings, competitive prices and ease of purchasing can promote loyalty and customer retention,” Sousa adds. “Our target customer is one million strong, so customer retention in a membership organization such as ours is critical.”

Sousa started in retail many years ago, learning the ups and downs of the industry. She says that you have to have a passion for retail to be able to sustain its progressive nature; it’s such a “crazy business.” She’s worked in a variety of retail sectors, such as buying and operations, and in different leadership roles before she landed in marketing specifically. “Marketing touches on so many different aspects of the business making it complex yet exciting,” she says. “Development of new ideas and innovative ways to reach and market to our customers is boundless. The diversity of retail is exhilarating; I’ve been very fortunate to have had thoroughly expansive roles and experiences within the company.”

The mission of CFMWS is “to enhance the morale and welfare of the military community, thus contributing to the operational readiness and effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Sousa says.

“CANEX focuses on doing as much as we possibly can to ensure the members have what they need, when they need it. I’m proud of the work that’s accomplished here corporately, knowing that all divisions of CFMWS, with their specific goals and objectives, collectively pull together as a company to reach our mission,” she says. “When it comes right down to it, it’s all about the member, his or her family and the CAF community. We all do what we can in all aspects of the business in an effort to provide the member with peace of mind.”

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