PROFILE

Brandon Rael

Strategy & Operations Delivery Leader

Brandon Rael is a trusted advisor with significant strategy, operational improvement, profit optimization, organizational change, and technology experience in the retail, wholesale, consumer goods, and consumer-facing industries. Having worked for and in partnership with Fortune 100 companies, Brandon has a deep understanding of the retail market landscape and the evolving consumer mindset. He is a valued partner for companies as they evolve, adapt, and grow.

Brandon has an exceptional track record of success in leading complex business transformation programs, delivering significant EBITDA improvements, driving meaningful ROI, building high performing teams, inspiring organizational change, and exceeding the client’s expectations. He has authored industry articles, is a regular podcast and conference presenter, and is a member of the RetailWire Braintrust global community. *

Select prior engagements include:

▪️ Led the global business transformation for a $10B vertically integrated multi-brand apparel company, with a presence in both retail and wholesale, across all elements of growth, including assortment optimization, omnichannel improvements, product development, business processes, pricing, e-commerce, digital and customer experience strategies. The operating model transformations resulted in 150 EBITDA basis points improvements alongside a 3% comp sales increase and $100M in cost savings

▪️ Delivered and defined localized micro-merchandising assortment planning methodologies and processes for a $45B national off-price retailer, which optimized inventories and enhanced the customer experience, contributing to 75 EBITDA basis point improvement and a 2% comp sales increases

▪️ Executed and led the business transformation for a $3B teenage apparel company, empowering a fully integrated merchandising assortment planning solution that increased efficiencies, optimized the supply chain, and led to 100 EBITDA basis points improvements

▪️ Directed an IT infrastructure outsourcing global delivery engagement workstream for a $150B pharmaceutical company to restructure, define and operationalize processes across 140 countries and centralized work-groups across 4 continents, which led to $225M in cost improvements

▪️ Established commerce solutions for an $8B vertically integrated global beauty company that enhanced cross channel customer experiences by executing the future state assortment planning processes and pricing strategies, which contributed to 2% comp sales increases, and 100 EBITDA basis points improvements

* Opinions are my own

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  • Posted on: 06/14/2021

    UPS entry could even the same-day delivery playing field

    UPS is a late entrant in the game that Amazon has both disrupted and innovated in the age of instant gratification and same-day delivery. The traditional operating shipment model of 3-5 business days is no longer the standard. Customer expectations are around choice and the ability to choose their delivery preferences on how, when, and where they will receive their products. The state of the supply chain and customer fulfillment industry calls for same-day delivery mechanisms, and UPS has to have the ability to play in this arena. Whether or not they are a late entrant is another story. However, they offer the consumer another choice, especially if they are satisfied with the UPS brand and overall experience.
  • Posted on: 06/14/2021

    Is Netflix about to replicate Disney’s product merchandising success?

    Eventually, all in-person and virtual experiences (i.e., streaming content) will lead to follow-up merchandising opportunities to help extend those memories. However, at this time, Netflix is predominantly known for its streaming content. In contrast, Disney has built its empire around its amusement parks, movies, cruises, vacations, Disney streaming content, and the significant merchandising strategies built around each character. Perhaps in the longer term, strategic merchandising may prove to be a viable revenue stream for Netflix. There are short to medium-term implications of starting up a retail business. These include combining the arts and sciences to drive multisensory experiences that are personalized and are powered by the art of discovery. In addition, there are back-end infrastructure, supply chain, merchandising systems, pricing, promotional strategies that need to be considered. Until things scale up, this may continue to be somewhat of a novelty for Netflix, as they experiment and innovate in a retail industry that is extremely dynamic and relentlessly changing.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2021

    Will retail achieve double-digit sales growth this year?

    Coming off such an unprecedented year of chaos, uncertainty, and global disruption, we should expect a major turnaround throughout 2021 across the entire retail industry. However while it's been impressive so far, macro-economic factors need to be accounted for to keep maintaining and sustaining these growth levels. We have not recovered to the point where the employment levels are where they were pre-pandemic. There are price increases, cost of living, and inflationary factors that will impact customer's discretionary spending. Retailers have to leverage an agile, flexible strategy to develop promotional pricing, personalized strategies, and incentives to entice customers to shop and engage with their brands. By focusing on an outstanding value-added customer experience, retailers have a fighting chance to maintain this level of growth and recovery.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2021

    Will grocery basket sizes be cut down to their former size?

    Without the pandemic fueled shopping phenomenon, we should expect that consumers' grocery shopping journeys become more normalized, with multiple weekly trips to the store. We should also expect with the opening up of our economy, and the loosening of the COVID-19 restrictions and restaurants reopening up beyond outside seating, that people will eat out more often. The consumer behaviors have also shifted to the point that consumers are looking for grocery stores to offer ancillary services, premium packaged foods, prepared foods, meal kits, and takeout options. These are prime areas of opportunity for the grocery industry to capitalize on revenue and margin growth as the center store consolidates even further. With the return to pre-pandemic shopping baskets, now is the time to revitalize profitable grocery industry growth by focusing on a customer-first strategy and value-added customer experiences.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2021

    Walmart gives associates free phones and a mobile work app

    Empowering and enabling store associates with the right technology and capabilities is crucial to providing an outstanding customer experience. The modern digital-first customer is at times 10X ahead of the store associates. Without the access, visibility, and tools to keep up with the customer, store associates need to be empowered, and Walmart's investments will absolutely pay dividends. Considering that the store associates are a crucial component of the "last mile" of retail, it is imperative to invest in the training, technology, capabilities, and incentivization to allow store associates to thrive in this new digital-first shopping environment.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2021

    Will closing stores on Thanksgiving become the new retail tradition?

    With the significant emergence of digital commerce throughout the pandemic, we should expect that retailers will not feel the pressure of having to keep their stores open on Thanksgiving Day. While Black Friday will continue to be the single-day shopping phenomenon for many reasons, we have witnessed the Holiday season and promotional cycle extending well before and after Black Friday. Considering how challenging the past year has been on all of us, the hope is that retail store associates will have Thanksgiving Day off to spend with their families and disconnect. Without having the dependency on the stores being open on Thanksgiving Day, we should expect that e-commerce sales will rise exponentially once the Turkey Dinner and NFL games have finished.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2021

    Should Amazon or rivals be more wary if it opens brick and mortar pharmacies?

    Amazon has proven to be adept and successful with opening physical locations. Aside from the Whole Foods acquisition, many of the rumored Amazon brick-and-mortar acquisitions did not come to fruition. Amazon will have to open physical retail pharmacies in a very congested and competitive landscape to win consumers' hearts and minds out of necessity. While digital is an outstanding entry point into the market, the competitive landscape is flooded with Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid stores, along with Target, Walmart, and other retail giants' presence in the retail pharmacy space. Amazon could absolutely capitalize on the opportunity to extend into the physical pharmacy space by positioning the brand as a one-stop shop for all health, medical, and wellness needs. This segment may not be as meaningful as we would expect for Amazon without an aggressive brick-and-mortar strategy or a major retail pharmacy acquisition.
  • Posted on: 05/25/2021

    Is Foot Locker throwing in the towel on key consumers by closing Footaction?

    Once a direct competitor, Footaction's stores are in close proximity to the Foot Locker nationwide stores. There is absolutely a cannibalization impact, as the merchandising, pricing, and brand strategies overlapped between the two brands. Considering the economic climate we are in, Foot Locker and other leading retailers certainly have the opportunity to revisit their store footprints and rationalize their fleets to meet the changing consumer demands. Unfortunately, the profitability and productivity of Footaction were below the company’s portfolio average. Approximately 85 percent of Footaction stores are located in the proximity of one of its other Foot Locker banners to represent high overlap. It has been challenging for the company to differentiate the Footaction banners with different product assortments and experience strategies. The real estate realignment comes as the accelerated shift to digital during the pandemic forced the company to quickly adapt to consumers’ changing preferences and create stronger connections with them.
  • Posted on: 05/24/2021

    Do chatbots need to be more likable?

    Chatbots could be useful if the experience is intuitive and ultimately leads to the customer's request or problem being solved. Removing the frustration and friction out of the experience and being solution-driven makes the chatbot model effective. Context is absolutely critical, and if the chatbot leads to an endless loop of questions without solving the problem, then where is the value add of that experience? If the experience is not what the customer expects, they may default to speaking to a live customer service representative to solve the problem. While efficiency matters in filtering out customer requests, the experience should be personalized to the extent that the chatbot "knows" who you are and has the context behind your request to solve the need. Otherwise, it's going to lead to a friction-filled experience and plenty of customer frustration.
  • Posted on: 05/24/2021

    What are the greatest pain points for mobile checkout?

    Considering the level of innovation in the digital space, retailers and brands should make the mobile checkout experience as seamless as possible. There should be a frictionless and intuitive path to purchase on our mobile devices. Simply put, companies should make it very easy to take our money without having to manually enter in your credit card information with each transaction. With the advent of Apple Pay, Google Pay, and other mobile payment options, retailers and brands should capitalize on integrating this as one of the main options during the checkout process. The industry has a mixed bag, and there are clear winners in the space who have raised the customer experience levels, so the checkout process is as simple as a single click or face scan.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2021

    Will made-to-order polos have everyone wanting to wear Ralph Lauren?

    In the effort to be unique and authentic, Ralph Lauren and other mass merchandising retailers should embrace the personalization operating model and capitalize on this emerging segment. A mass customization model is a win-win for both the consumers and for the DTC retail brands. The customer controls the journey and decides the level of customizations they would like. In parallel, Ralph Lauren's manufacturing on-demand operating model, while initially costly, will mitigate the sheer amount of inventory they will need to carry once the economies of scale kick in. This is somewhat reminiscent of the DTC movement, where Bonobos, Indochino, and others established a mass customization model. Where every single transaction is personalized, customized, and fits the customer's exact specifications. By taking a page out of the DTC strategy playbook, Ralph Lauren could certainly drive a new business model, and resonate with a customer who wants to drive their own experiences.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2021

    Is enabling young kids to buy toys online a teaching tool or something else?

    There is a fine balance between attracting the younger consumer with immersive, multi-sensory experiences and violating privacy concerns. As a Father to both a 10 and 8-year-old, I would not be comfortable with a retailer enabling underage children to buy toys online. However, it is common knowledge that children have a powerful and direct influence on the parent's shopping behaviors. As a parent, my children are absolutely part of the shopping journey that extends to both digital and physical shopping channels. The winners in this space include the Lego Store, the reimagined FAO Schwarz store, American Girl Place, Build a Bear, etc., that have focused on the experiential part of the equation, which leads to the parent's purchase decision. This is the model that most Gen X, Millennial parents would be comfortable with, as we navigate these digital-always times together.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Remote work is rough on big retail districts

    Remote work and the pandemic have significantly impacted the independent retailers, especially in larger cities such as NYC. While landlords have cut small retailers a break on rent during the pandemic, independent retailers still struggle because too few office workers and tourists have returned. Unfortunately, at the same time, the landlords are also under growing financial pressure as office vacancies soar and commuters and visitors stay away. While the city is home to some of the largest companies in the world, small businesses employed about 900,000 people and made up 98 percent of all businesses before the pandemic. NYC has always proven to be so resilient and has recovered from many disruptive periods. Let's hope that the independent retailers and their landlords could come out stronger on the other side of the pandemic.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Kroger takes flight with drone delivery test

    The mitigation of the last mile has led to the emergence of the micro-fulfillment movement, which includes the BOPIS, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery operating models. This new model has shifted. With the great acceleration sparked by the pandemic, these new capabilities have really scaled out, with the retail store serving as a fulfillment center for digital orders. This new operating model calls for an innovation-first approach. The industry has responded with a more agile, flexible, scalable approach by leveraging a mix of physical stores, micro-fulfillment centers, and dark stores. Kroger has taken bold steps to experiment with drone delivery. However until it's scalable, it will remain a novelty. While drones have become a bit more commonplace, they will remain a novelty and a curiosity until they are fully autonomous and, most importantly, safe. Once this happens, there could be measurable improvements that will positively impact the retailer's bottom line.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Will CVS make a breakthrough as it expands in-store mental health services?

    The health and wellness movement has really gained significant momentum throughout the pandemic. CVS and its competing retail pharmacy chains have really stepped up to respond to the changing consumer behaviors. Unfortunately, mental health services have not been at the forefront of retailer's strategies until recently. There is a great opportunity for CVS, Walgreens, and other retail pharmacies to become the one-stop-shop for health, wellness, and medical needs, and mental health services. The first step is to recognize that it is a real issue, and as a culture, we need to remove the stigma related to mental health needs. The first step is for organizations to have the courage to offer these services, and the next step is to provide a safe and secure environment where the customers could get the help they need.

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