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: 09/16/2021

    Should Banana Republic revisit its safari past?

    Everyone loves a good story, and they especially love a good comeback. The Banana Republic team may capture lightning in a bottle to return to their roots and the spirit of adventure. For a company whose brand identity was once about the safari, along with the urban late '90s look and preppy '00s, now might be the perfect time to reimagining what the Banana Republic could be. However, a new assortment strategy is not enough to resonate with a consumer base that is more interested in the brand's promises, especially around sustainability, inclusivity, sourcing transparency, responsible workforce practices, and other political stances. What a brand means and promises in 2021 is far different than the narrative was in Banana Republic's glory days. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2021

    Online grocery shopping is pretty much all about convenience

    Convenience is everything, especially in the pandemic-like economic climate we are living through. Consumers who have moved to the online grocery shopping experience will most likely stay there, vs. other consumer groups that take advantage of either in-store or delivery journeys. Those customers who are comfortable with grocery home delivery most likely will not return to the stores. The key competitive differentiator in competing with the Instacart model is the strategies to mitigate the last mile of fulfillment. Successful and scalable online grocery is critically dependent on the dark store and micro fulfillment operating models. In addition, the incorporation of robotics, automation, AI, and other emerging technologies will drive the industry forward.
  • Posted on: 09/15/2021

    Rite Aid is going remote-first with its corporate workforce

    As Rite Aid is driving the customer-first retail transformation, a remote first approach to their corporate operations is a very progressive step in the right direction. The corporate world operating model has shifted to where working remotely has become more of the norm. More regionalized collaboration centers, based on worker population density and the need to meet in person, are the way to go in our current pandemic climate. While nothing beats the excitement, and the adrenaline rush of working in a corporate office, the corporate operating model of today/tomorrow of being remote-first, will enable companies to attract outstanding talent without the need to relocate permanently. For this progressive model to work, it requires companies such as Rite Aid and others to foster an environment built around trust and transparency.
  • Posted on: 09/14/2021

    Walmart says crypto press release is a fake

    Misinformation and fake news are, unfortunately, nothing new. The advent of social media has changed the dynamics as to how quickly a false news posting could go viral and cause chaos and disruption. The viral post is also likely to lead to a call for greater regulation of the cryptocurrency industry, which accounts for billions of dollars of trading on largely unregulated markets, where a bit of misinformation where pump-and-dump schemes occur often. The key to mitigating this is a targeted social media approach to correct and retract any misinformation. Walmart and the Global Newswire acted quickly to withdraw the illegitimate press release.
  • Posted on: 09/14/2021

    Will Kohl’s be known for something other than its retail partners?

    A customer-first approach will be a winning strategy for Kohl's to differentiate itself from the competition. In what has become a congested and competitive department landscape, Michelle Gass and Kohl's leadership team have found creative ways to drive additional foot traffic to their stores. Kohl's has established winning collaborative partnerships with Amazon and Sephora, which has renewed some interest in the brand. However, this is not a sustainable model, as Kohl's has some work to do to define and develop their brand purpose, and the "why" behind a customer would support their brand vs. others. There is plenty of customer first value-added propositions that Kohl's could push forward with. Including a robust private label assortment, exclusive products releases, and perhaps leveraging the Gen Z influencers to drive interest in their brand via TikTok and live streaming. Brand identity and purpose are everything in today's retail industry. Kohl's is off to a solid start. However, there is work to be done to ensure that this is a sustainable model.
  • Posted on: 09/07/2021

    Nordstrom ain’t what it used to be before the pandemic

    In the pre-pandemic world. Nordstrom did an outstanding job of pivoting to a customer-first strategy. They extended their reach and capabilities with the Nordstrom local model, a digital-first omnichannel always approach, and a more curated and defined assortment strategy. Unfortunately, the rules of engagement have shifted since the pandemic set in, and it has caused the need for Nordstrom and all the major retailers to reexamine their operating models. With the dynamic shift to a work from home model, Nordstrom's high-end luxury fashion apparel has taken a hit. Nordstrom is also very dependent on foot traffic to their cosmopolitan-centered stores in NYC and Washington state. Nordstrom has an opportunity to shift its assortment strategies by keeping a pulse on the casual and remote worker fashion trends and by keeping a digital-first strategy throughout. Just as Nordstrom pivoted accordingly in 2019, the company is faced with yet another shift in the landscape and an opportunity to address the changing customer behaviors.
  • Posted on: 09/07/2021

    Why does Amazon want a branded TV?

    Smart TVs are another way for Amazon to extend its branding, reach and obtain valuable insights about their loyal prime customers. Certainly, an Amazon-branded smart TV will offer yet another engagement platform for the Seattle e-commerce giant. The ongoing streaming content battle for customers' hearts, minds, and wallets is only getting more complex and congested. We should expect that the seamless integration of Alexa into this platform will only lead to further adoption and usage of voice commerce and streaming capabilities. It will be interesting to see how extensive the Prime video content library evolves into with this Amazon-branded smart TV.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2021

    How can retailers help frontline employees recharge?

    As a society, over the past 18 months, we have experienced unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, which have had a significant impact on our lives. The retail frontline associates have been challenged to continue to serve customers, despite the inherent dangers and consequences of working in a crowded public space. While health, wellness, and emotional well-being initiatives have not been at the forefront of retailer's store operations strategies, we should expect that companies will now acknowledge the significance of these crucial programs. Additional compensation and incentivization packages are nice and, of course, helpful during uncertain times. However recognizing the importance of health, wellness, and emotional stability should be at the forefront of any retailer's store operations strategies.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2021

    Amazon finally catches the ‘buy now, pay later’ wave

    The emergence of Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna, and other buy now, pay later payment models has accelerated and has become a viable option for customers who are hesitating on big purchases and all the finance charges associated with credit cards and installment loans. Amazon's partnership with Affirm only solidifies that this payment model is here to stay. A winning proposition is any strategy that enables retailers and brands to make the payment and checkout process more seamless. However as the old Spider-Man saying goes, "with great power comes great responsibility." Customers could quickly become overextended if they spend beyond their means. Even with the six to eight week installment cycles, customers have to be accountable and responsible to budget themselves accordingly. While the buy now, pay later model offers flexibility and immediate gratification, customers could potentially default on these payment arrangements without proper budgeting.
  • Posted on: 08/27/2021

    Are robots taking over Schnucks’ stores?

    Inventory optimization, replenishment, and dynamic forecasting are required to meet the needs of the dynamic and supply chain-constrained grocery industry. Leveraging robotics is a natural evolution of that process to drive efficiencies, profitability and remove some of the dependencies on the store associates to lead the replenishment processes. The most significant challenge for grocers has been the pandemic-fueled supply chain constraints and challenges in getting products on the shelves in a timely manner. Robotics is a long-term strategy to become more predictive and precise with the demand and replenishment forecasting strategies.
  • Posted on: 08/27/2021

    FMI research finds normalcy is not in the cards, not yet

    What we considered "normal" before the pandemic's onset has changed based on shifting customer behaviors. It only takes a short time for customers to adopt new methods of engagement, shopping, and how they interact with retailers and brands. A digital-first operating model is here to stay. This includes the emergence of BOPIS, curbside pickup, leveraging QR codes, social selling, live streaming, and digital personalized marketing. Resiliency, adaptability, and leveraging multiple shopping channels have been the prevalent themes from the customer's perspective. Customers have learned to adapt how they shop when dealing with retailers facing significant supply chain shortages and longer lead times. In parallel, retailers have adapted their operating models to offer a wider assortment of products when their core vendors are experiencing supply chain challenges. We may never truly return to whatever we considered the old "normal." We have to prepare contingency plans for when things don't go according to plan.
  • Posted on: 08/27/2021

    Do retailers need a chief data officer?

    There is a clear distinction between a CIO/CTO's work vs. the imperative for a chief data officer (CDO). Today's insights-driven, digital-first operating models require the CDO to have a seat in the C-suite, along with a dedicated team focusing on leveraging powerful data and analytics to drive an outstanding customer-first experience. The CIO typically supports the systems, technical architecture, data flows, and operational capabilities to run the company. The CDO's team is driving capabilities to empower, enable, and support the business team with valuable analytics and insights. Those insights could then, in turn, be leveraged to drive increased levels of personalization and localization strategies, along with bridging any divides between the digital and physical shopping experiences.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2021

    Americans have learned to shop with the virus

    The pandemic has brought out in the changing consumer landscape that consumers are an extremely resilient and adaptive group. During the pandemic, some consumer behaviors emerged, leading to a significant paradigm shift to a digital-first operating model. The shopping journey originates via digital channels and may extend to the stores for BOPIS or curbside pickup. Unfortunately, the global supply chain constraints have wreaked havoc with the overall customer experience and retailers hoping to meet or exceed their revenue and comp goals. This is an element that both customers and retailers will have to deal with for months, if not years to come. While we remain in recovery mode, the report from the census bureau is misleading, and it's not all doom and gloom. We have to consider that for the first seven months of the year, sales, as calculated by NRF, were up 15.5 percent over the same period in 2020. That is consistent with NRF’s revised forecast that 2021 retail sales should grow between 10.5 and 13.5 percent over 2020.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2021

    Have cross-selling and upselling become lost retail arts?

    The key differentiator and value proposition of going to a physical store or showroom is providing customers a platform to engage with a product expert or brand evangelist. With customers starting their shopping journeys on the digital side, many will go to a physical store to finalize their purchase and schedule an appointment to speak to a brand ambassador. While retailers and brands are driving towards a digital-first and self-service model, the luxury, fashion, home furnishings, and electronics sectors necessitate developing and refining a brand ambassador vs. the traditional store associate role. This paradigm shift requires additional training, change management, process reengineering, and an overall reengineering of the compensation structure for store associates. In the past, store associates were not incentivized to serve the digital-first customer who goes to a showroom or store to finalize their purchase. This is a motivational factor to consider when companies overhaul their compensation and commission plans, to empower brand ambassadors to drive outstanding experience.
  • Posted on: 08/19/2021

    Lagging distributors send restaurants grocery shopping

    The pandemic's supply chain constraints and challenges spurred on have had far-reaching impacts and have been especially challenging for the food and restaurant industry. A longer-term mitigation strategy is around the potential of near sourcing and leveraging locally producers across the vegetable, fruit, meat, and fish categories. The restaurant industry has also had the challenges of dealing with a significant decrease in customer traffic, social distancing mandates, and a workforce seeking employment in other viable industries. From a sourcing perspective, a supply chain should be built around resiliency, adaptability, and a contingency plan to leverage alternate and local vendors when these challenges come up.

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