Colorado-born Tom Shull has a gift for U.S. veterans: Tax-free online shopping

Tom Shull has been a key figure in the histories of some of best-recognized retailers in the world.

In the early 90s, the Harvard-educated executive helped lead restructuring efforts at Macy’s and negotiate the famed department store’s exit from bankruptcy and eventual sale. In 1997, he was the first non-family member named CEO of Barneys New York.

Now, as the first civilian to ever lead the U.S. Army and Air Force’s expansive but little-publicized retail operation, Colorado-born Shull is looking to provide a tangible thank you to fellow honorably discharged veterans: tax-free online shopping.

On Veterans Day, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service and its sister military retail operations will open their online store to all service members who received honorable discharges regardless of service time.

Shull estimated between 17 million and 21 million former soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and others will now have access to clothing, appliances, electronics and other consumer products through shopmyexchange.com. Previously, Exchange Service shopping, both online and in brick-and-mortar locations, was limited to active duty service members, Medal of Honor recipients and those who retired after 20 years. 

AURORA, CO - SEPTEMBER 25- Tom ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Tom Shull, director and CEO of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, stands for a portrait inside the exchange at Buckley Air Force Base on Sept. 25, 2017 in Aurora. Shull, an Aurora native and Vietnam veteran was on hand to highlight AAFES’ decision to make it’s online stores available to all US veterans for the first time ever. It opens the market to 21 million additional shoppers and provides those veterans with discounted and tax free merchandise. Shull was the first civilian to take the reins as CEO for the exchange when he took over in 2012. He has a track record of turning around retail businesses.

“Anytime I’ve been in a retail situation, I’ve always looked at how I can expand my customer base,” Shull said during a visit this week to the base exchange at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. “Meanwhile, we have all these veterans who served honorably with no benefit. Anything we can do to make them feel welcome in the military family, I think is important.”

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is a non-appropriated arm of the Department of the Defense that operates an estimated 2,700 department stores, gas stations, movie theaters, restaurants and more on military bases and outposts in all 50 states and 36 countries.

Stores.org counted AAFES as the nation’s 56th largest retailer in 2016. Its $8.1 billion in sales outpaced Dick’s Sporting Goods and Office Depot. Shull was named director and CEO in 2012, the first time the job was not assigned to a general. Since then, he has dedicated himself to improvements like bringing first-run movies to base theaters. A primary focus has been improving the website, which previously only offered merchandise not available in physical stores.

Count Jose Torres as a fan of the online shopping benefit. The Aurora resident served in the Army from 1997 to 2000. He was among a group of veterans selected to beta test AAFES’s service verification website, VetVerify.org. Since being verified in August, he has purchased hundreds of dollars in name brand clothes for his young daughters, perfume for his wife and tools for himself.

“Once I know there is something I need I’m always looking on there first before I go somewhere else,” Torres said. “To me it means a great deal. It means they are actually looking out for the veterans.”

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