APRIL 1, 2016, VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) – Navy Exchange Service Command can trace its roots back to the 1800s when Sailors had to depend on “bumboats” that moored alongside their ships to buy personal items.
It wasn’t until April 1, 1946, that Navy leadership officially created a command to handle the necessary retail business within the Navy.
“We’ve come a long way since those early days,” said retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, chief executive officer, NEXCOM. “From bumboats and slop chests to a world-class retail business, NEXCOM delivers what our Navy families need, wherever they are stationed.”
Today, 70 years after its official establishment, NEXCOM provides oversight for 100 NEX complexes made up of more than 300 individual stores, 39 Navy Lodges, 134 ships stores, the Navy Clothing Textile and Research Facility, Uniform Program Management Office, and Telecommunications Program Office.
NEXCOM’s mission is to provide quality goods and services at a savings to its authorized customers and to support Navy quality-of-life programs for active duty military, retirees, reservists, and their families.
“While our look may have changed over the years, our mission and commitment to premier customer service has not and that is evident each and every day at each and every location,” said Bianchi.
“NEX customers can expect to see us reinforce the important value of their NEX benefit during the month of April, in celebration of 70 years of excellence,” said Rich Honiball, NEXCOM’s senior vice president, chief merchandising and marketing officer. “Our team is working on special events, products, and offers that I think our customers will appreciate.”
NEXCOM’s Place in Naval History
The Navy Exchange and Ships Store of today are vastly different from the ones that originated over 200 years ago. NEXs have come a long way since the days when bumboats sold their wares to Sailors aboard naval vessels in the 1800s. Back then, Sailors had to depend on these unreliable boats to get their personal items while aboard ship. The bumboats, small vessels that pulled alongside U.S. Navy ships, exchanged merchandise for money by pails lowered over the side by the crew of the Navy ship. Goods sold by the bumboats were normally inferior and were sold at very high prices.
As an alternate to bumboats, many Navy ships operated canteens or “slop chests” so that the money spent by the crew members stayed on the boat to improve the quality of the food served by the general mess. The canteens were often financed by the crew under an agreement with the ship’s captain and were managed by the ship’s paymaster, the forerunner of today’s supply officer. The merchandise was bought on a consignment basis, but because of the movement of the ship, payment for the merchandise was often difficult. Because of this problem, many people in the Navy thought canteens reflected poorly on the integrity of the service.
The first canteen opened on the USS Indiana in 1896 and sold only beer. Soon canteens started carrying tobacco and other items for the ship’s crew to purchase. The increased profits from these sales went to support welfare and recreation programs aboard each ship, something that still happens today.
By 1909, the Naval Appropriations Act established the first official resale activity, the commissaries and ships’ stores. The act allowed the Navy to procure and sell merchandise to Navy and Marine Corps officers and enlisted and to civilian employees at naval stations outside the continental United States and Alaska. The ships’ stores were authorized to make a profit, as long as it did not exceed 15 percent. Unfortunately, ships’ stores did not produce sufficient revenue for financing the welfare and recreation funds. So, in 1923, ships’ service stores were given official sanction by Navy regulation to provide Navy crew members nearly any legal article of merchandise without the profit restrictions placed on the existing ships’ stores.
However, this created a duplication of effort between ships’ stores and ships’ service stores. It became clear by 1942 that there was no need or space for two ships’ store type operations aboard Navy ships. A recommendation was made to the chief of naval operations by the supply officer, U.S. Atlantic Fleet to merge the two stores into one official ships’ store operation. The recommendation was accepted and by 1944, the secretary of the Navy made the establishment of the merged stores mandatory on all ships that had a supply officer and permissive on all naval activities.
Ships’ service stores ashore also began steps toward centralization in 1945 when a committee was formed to study the resale activities. The recommendation of the committee, headed by Capt. Wheelock H. Bingham, Supply Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, was that all resale activities be operated like a large chain of retail stores and that a central office be established to oversee the operation of this new Navy resale system.
The secretary of the Navy gave his approval of the Bingham Plan that stated, in part, that the ships’ service stores ashore be operated with non-appropriated funds and that civilians should fill positions at the operating level. Top management positions, however, would be filled by Navy Supply Corps officers. Naval personnel were operating the ships’ service stores afloat and as part of the Bingham Plan, would be managed under the new central office. On April 1, 1946, the Navy officially established the Navy Ship’s Store Office and appointed Capt. T.L. Becknell Jr., Supply Corps, as the officer in charge. The newly formed central office was located in Brooklyn, New York.
NSSO, as a Navy command, has evolved over the years. Subsequent organizational changes resulted in command name changes, first the Navy Resale System Office in 1968; Navy Resale and Service Support Office in 1979; and, Navy Exchange Service Command in 1991. With the changes came other responsibilities and the command was designated the program manager of several business lines in addition to the Navy Exchange and Ships Store. In 1993, NEXCOM moved its headquarters to Virginia Beach.
In 1960, NSSO assumed control of the Naval Uniform Shop. At the time, this 40-year-old shop consisted of a factory where uniforms were constructed, a mail order department and a retail clothing store, which served customers in the immediate vicinity. This was the only source of enlisted uniforms. Under the direction of NSSO, the Naval Uniform Shop also supported Navy Exchange uniform outlets, which sold uniforms and related items to officers and chiefs only. This eventually became the Uniform Program Management Office. When the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility in Natick, Massachusetts, was realigned under NAVRESSO in 1980, all uniform matters became consolidated under one command. In 1969, the Navy Lodge Program was formed to give service members and their families on permanent change of station orders temporary and reasonably priced lodging facilities. And in 1994, the CNO designated NEXCOM as the program manager for all unofficial telecommunications services in the Navy, creating the Telecommunications Program Office.
As part of a secretary of defense initiative to reduce flag and general officers within the Department of Defense, NEXCOM’s flag officer billet was converted to a non-appropriated fund senior executive civilian billet in late 2011. Rear Adm. Glenn Robillard was the final flag officer to command NEXCOM. At that time, NEXCOM oversaw six business lines: Navy Exchange, Ships Store, Navy Lodge, Telecommunications Program Office, Uniform Program Management Office and Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility. A former NEXCOM commander, retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, Supply Corps, was competitively selected as NEXCOM’s first civilian chief executive officer, and assumed this position in January 2012.