Making the Connection

The largest retailer most people have never heard of — The Army & Air Force Exchange Service, or AAFES — has updated its store brand identity and design. The brand is now simply called the Exchange and has a new tagline, “You Save, We Give Back,” that conveys the organization’s competitive prices and mission to provide annual dividends to the Army’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Air Force Services programs. The updated store design reflects the same, and puts a more contemporary face on the far-flung retail enterprise, which has some 3,000 storefronts around the globe. 

“The retail concept was in need of an update, particularly in today’s competitive retail marketplace,” said Brian Shafley, president, Chute Gerdeman Retail, which was responsible for the brand and design overall concept along with store planning and fixture and graphic design. “The organization wanted to provide its customers with a retail experience that was as good or better than they could get in off-base stores and online, while also building a lifelong emotional connection with them.”

The new look debuted in September at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. 

“We designed the prototype and applied it to the existing facility at Tinker,” Shafley explained. “It was an aggressive renovation.”

The change is apparent on the façade, which sports the new red-and-blue logo. It forms an “X” — visual shorthand for Exchange.

“Previously, they used several variations of the AAFES logo and had different names for the store brand, from PX to AAFES Store,” Shafley said. “We brought them all under one umbrella brand called Exchange, which works for both the Army and Air Force. Eventually, the storefront signs on every retail facility will be branded as Exchange. The new identity is also being used on the advertising.”

The Exchange at the Tinker base is 174, 015 sq. ft., with 14,367 sq. ft. devoted to a mall and food court area. The central attraction is the 87,918-sq.-ft. main store, which sells everything from fine jewelry and home furnishings to designer fashion apparel and consumer electronics. 

“Our main goal with the interior design was to elevate the shopping experience and give it a more contemporary look without destroying the value proposition,” Shafley said. “We also wanted the store to reflect a younger lifestyle, as most of the people on the base these days tend to be younger, with families.”

The new design provides a fresh and modern shopping experience, enhanced with lively colors and upbeat lifestyle imagery. Polished concrete, which replaced the previous VCT and carpet, adds a hip, upscale feel. Clean, open aisles allow customers to move freely through the space, and interesting focal point “vistas” at the end of aisles entice customers to explore the entire store. 

Customers enter the store from the common mall area, which has also been updated. The new entryway features a wall that honors local military personnel and their families. 

Inside the store, the customer service area has been relocated to a prominent upfront spot. With the words “Hello” and “We’re here for you” imprinted on a big blue wall, the service counter reinforces the Exchange’s brand and overall mission. 

“It’s warm, welcoming and fun,” Shafley said. “The Exchange has great service — we think it’s a real point of differentiation for [the company] — and we wanted to bring attention to it. We branded it as ‘Expert Service’ and created a series of service stations and call-outs around the store.”

Digital signage in the customer service area indicates which specific base areas are being helped by the profits generated by the Exchange. 

“We also put in a digital readerboard at the checkout that keeps track of the profits of the store and how much has gone back to the local base,” Shafley said. 

In a dramatic change, the design team laid out the store in three distinct merchandising worlds: home (includes furniture and home decor, toys and video games, housewares and pets), life (electronics, men’s wear, sporting goods, fitness and health) and style (women’s apparel, baby goods, jewelry and cosmetics). Large, impactful displays in the entry introduce the zones to incoming customers.

“The store is organized around the concept of outfitting your life,” Shafley said. “It brings out the fact that the military [personnel] and their families have a unique lifestyle and that the Exchange can provide for it.”

Key departments within the three worlds are given in-store shop, or destination, treatments. The BeFit zone, for example, combines athletic apparel, footwear, fitness equipment and nutrition in one area. A giant overhead ellipse and feature walls create a true shop feel. Metal fixture details recall the technical nature of modern workout gear.

Another primary destination is the high-energy electronics department, or PowerZone, which includes an interactive gaming pod, an enhanced HDTV wall and dedicated computer, camera and entertainment zones. The furniture department is anchored with a centerpiece model showroom setup. 

The updated approach to merchandising is evident throughout the large store. In the fine jewelry department, customers are invited to sit down and browse at an engagement diamond bar. In cosmetics, products are displayed in an interactive studio zone. 

A V-styled aisle layout takes advantage of sight lines and helps pull customers to the key destination areas and rear corners of the space. Large lifestyle graphics do the same. 

All of the components in the store, from the displays to the focal points on the walls, are modular. Even the overhead soffits, which look architectural, are built out of lightweight materials and pieced together.

“The imperative was that everything needs to be mobile,” Shafley said. “Everything had to be designed so that it could be built and sent anywhere in the world. AAFES wanted a design [it] could take hold of and put into an operations mode fast.”

A large master-brand project, the Exchange overall was a comprehensive undertaking for Chute. 

“We couldn’t have been more proud to work on this project, which is helping to improve the quality of life for our military personnel,” Shafley added. 

To see more photos of the Exchange, go to

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