PROFILE

Brandon Rael

Strategy & Operations Leader | Retail Strategist | Trusted Advisor |
An accomplished, passionate, and inspiring leader who partners with global retail companies to solve complex business challenges. Brandon is an experienced retail strategy and operations expert who operates as a senior liaison at the intersection of the business, operations, technology, digital, and marketing worlds. Having worked for and in partnership with fortune 100 retailers, Brandon has held diverse leadership roles spanning across the Consulting Delivery, Business Development, Pre-Sales, Strategy Advisory, Marketing, Branding, Digital, Omnichannel, and Merchandising organizations. With an innate understanding of the retail market landscape and the evolving consumer mindset, Brandon is a key partner for companies, as they evolve, adapt and grow more effectively. Brandon has an exceptional track record of success in delivering significant business improvements, driving meaningful return on investments, inspiring organizational change, all with a holistic view of the changing business landscape. Most recently, Brandon has driven retail industry thought leadership, white papers, social media blogging, content marketing, led retail conference speaking engagements and has joined the prestigious RetailWire Braintrust community His core areas of expertise include: • Trusted advisor, partner, and cultivating executive level partnerships • Digital innovations and transformations • Business development, revenue acceleration, organic business growth, P&L management • Retail merchandising, assortment planning, personalization & inventory optimization • Strategic planning and operational improvements • Operational and business transformations • Customer experience strategies • Global cross-functional delivery leadership • Unified commerce, omnichannel digital business & technology transformations • Consumer insights and predictive analytics • Complex Program and Project Management/PMO expertise • Organizational Change Management
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  • Posted on: 10/17/2018

    Eddie Lampert is the worst

    Sorry, I am late to the party! Not so much love for one of the worst CEOs in modern business history. Eddie Lampert's tenure at Sears has to go down as one of the retail industry tragedies of the 21st century. Empires rise and fall, and unfortunately, Lampert's lack of leadership, vision, and overall horrible decision making have led Sears on a nightmarish downward spiral for the past 15 years. There are countless numbers of CEO horror stories. One that comes to mind is Tom Johnson's tenure at Aeropostale, a teenage apparel company that was riding high during the early to mid-2000s. Having worked there during the glory years, before Tom Johnson, the company had the right leadership, vision, and strategy. All of that was lost when Tom Johnson took over, and the company almost went completely bankrupt. Culture and the right leadership are everything. Lost in all of the publicity about the loss of Sears, are the passionate, dedicated current and former employees whose salaries, pensions are livelihoods will be stripped from them.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2018

    Does anyone pay the full retail price anymore?

    Everyone loves a bargain. There certainly is a discount and treasure hunt shopping culture across the department store. Off-price formats are alive and well. We also as a culture have become addicted to price comparisons, and the perceived value savings of Amazon Prime. However, the luxury apparel, jewelry and electronics segments will always have a strong following which will be more than willing to pay full price. For companies such as Patagonia, Gucci, Apple and other more luxury-focused lifestyle brands, there is a connection between the full priced items and the perception of the value and quality you will be receiving. Luxury brands rarely if ever discount, and the market will remain very healthy for years to come.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2018

    ‘Frictionless’ is the annoying word of the year

    Nothing in life is truly "frictionless," and while retailers, as well as society in general, seek to achieve perfection, it's honestly an impossible feat. There will always friction in any shopping experience, and it's up to the retailers to remove as much of it as possible to support a good overall customer experience. The main points of frustration and friction for customers remain the checkout experience, the returns/reverse logistics process, store policies, connectivity between the customer's online and offline profiles, as well as finding the right product, at the right time, and in the right place. Retailers will be setting themselves up for failure if they are promising a frictionless experience, the same way they would if they start to wave the omnichannel banner. Considering that we now have an empowered digital-first customer, who will engage with your brand in any manner and channel they wish, it's up to the retailers to mitigate the friction. But in the end we are all human, so mistakes do happen.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Cannabis-infused drink and food makers are high on grocery opportunities

    The market as always will dictate which direction the smaller and larger CPG brands need to go. These are indeed fascinating times, where literally the entire beverage, coffee, and tea categories are infused with something additional, and it results in high margins, otherwise known as retail magic. Cannabis foods are no exception and it does raise some interesting questions. There is a public perception of cannabis and hemp-based foods that isn't necessarily the best, however, through education and learning this may quickly be diffused. Once the regulatory constraints are lifted across the states, then we should expect every major player to be a player in the cannabis-infused game.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Will comics, movies and music take tween retailer Justice to new heights?

    Storytelling and entertainment are where it's at in retail, and the tween market is no exception. There is such a tight window of opportunity for specialty retailers such as Justice, to weave in their own entertainment enterprise. This is a risky proposition for the tween brand, as they will be competing against Disney, Marvel, and other entertainment and merchandising-focused brands. With that said, if Justice team could draw up an interesting enough of a story, then they might just draw some traffic back to their stores. The way for this strategy to really resonate is to weave together a merchandising and product plan that will enable tweens to leave the store with some products following their experiences.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2018

    Amazon pop-up gets the Good Housekeeping seal of approval

    This could prove to be a magical formula of curated assortments, experiential retail, and a forum to build customer relationships in the Mall of America for the Good Housekeeping team. In addition, the pop-up, inventory-less format and the online marketplace partnership with Amazon's vast ecosystem is a winning combination. Good Housekeeping is also providing a forum and testing ground for perhaps lesser-known but high quality and recommended lifestyle brands. Consumers have historically enjoyed the opportunity to try, test and experience things with the product before making any purchase decisions. The clear winners in this scenario is once again Amazon, but also Good Housekeeping, who with this physical presence ignites its relevance but also provides the scale and visibility for emerging brands.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2018

    Will Starbucks prosper or suffer under a hedge fund’s influence?

    It's full steam ahead for the coffee giant in an ever-evolving, changing and competitive landscape. Starbucks has already laid out their transformation plans, which include consolidating their non-profitable locations, changing the format of their stores, diversifying their product offerings and driving more of what they originally promised; an experiential coffee house setting. As long as the transformation plans keep the revenues, profitability and value flowing in, we shouldn't expect any consequential impacts from Bill Ackman and Pershing Capital. However, historically the firm doesn't have that much patience. The days of having a Starbucks at every corner doesn't equal instant success. Healthier choices are out there and if the company doesn't respond, the market will dictate how things go.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2018

    Can a new CEO revitalize J.C. Penney’s business?

    Jill Soltau's appointment as the CEO of J.C. Penney is a welcome development, yet the challenges remain and it will be an uphill battle for the once-dominant department store. For a generation of shoppers that shop with a purpose in mind, J.C. Penney has yet to articulate what exactly their "why " is, and what specifically differentiates the company from all the competition. What are the compelling reasons to shop with J.C. Penney other than the deep discounts and perhaps if you are a long-term loyal consumer? Perhaps Ms. Soltau's vast expertise and leadership in the apparel and fashion sectors will help lead J.C. Penney to better articulate what their merchandising strategies are, and just ignite a comeback of sorts. The road ahead will be a treacherous and challenging for J.C. Penney, yet with Jill Soltau, they might just have a shot at a comeback.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2018

    Toys ‘R’ Us to rise from the ashes of bankruptcy, but should it?

    While the sentimentalist and eternal Toys "R" Us kid in me would welcome this comeback, the practical business strategist side simply doesn't see the point of the company making a comeback. The tragedy of all of this is that the opportunity to streamline and reorganize the company has long passed, and the company laid off their 30,000-plus workforce. To simply reopen the stores with the same format and strategies is doomed to fail as the brand has long lost its luster, and the magic it once had in the hearts of minds of kids.
  • Posted on: 10/03/2018

    Are retailers deaf to radio advertising’s potential?

    Radio, specifically Satellite Sirius, as well as non-premium Pandora and Spotify subscriptions are such an underrated and often forgotten advertising medium. There are countless occasions when we are driving or in a middle of an activity, while on the run when an advertising jingle comes on. We may not be consciously aware of it at the time, but the tunes are so catchy that they simply stay in our heads. A great commercial jingle makes an ad memorable. While advertising is unavoidable on AM and FM platforms, consumers could certainly opt out on advertising on Spotify, etc. According to Scott Galloway, the hottest topic in the media business right now is the unexpected growth in paid subscriptions, where consumers could opt out of advertising. The challenge in this new subscription paradigm is for firms to offer personalized, non-creepy ads that will engage and not disrupt the consumer.
  • Posted on: 10/03/2018

    Trader Joe’s success is a matter of values

    Aside from these seven core corporate values, Trader Joe's is simply a fun place to shop. Does it have the vast organic assortments of Whole Foods, or the vastness of a Kroger? No -- but it offers an experience that is a bit different and its sales associates help to make the journey more interesting compared to other supermarkets. It's honestly the sum of the Trader Joe's core values that help to drive customers to come back for more.
  • Posted on: 10/02/2018

    Will Amazon’s new $15 an hour minimum wage mess up rivals’ seasonal hiring plans?

    This is certainly a commendable economic, and politically correct move by Jeff Bezos and the Amazon team, as the cost of living expenses have risen exponentially, while the minimum wage standards have failed to even keep up with the increases. I am in complete agreement with the panel that the majority of Amazon's workforce is predominantly in their fulfillment distribution centers, and not customer-facing in a more traditional retail storefront setting. If there are any positive downstream retail industry impacts, it would be on the supply chain distribution center side of the house. Yet it's the retail store where all the critical interactions are taking place between the customer and the retail brand. The store associates or brand ambassadors are your most valued employees, as they are representing the brand and driving that critical customer experience. Retailers should reexamine their compensation and bonus incentive plans for their front line workers.
  • Posted on: 10/02/2018

    Why do retailers practically ignore existing customers to go after new ones?

    Aside from the pure analytics and KPI measurements, it is the ongoing, sustainable, fulfilling relationship between the retail brand's store ambassadors (AKA "store associates") and the customer that will keep them coming back for more. Customers will come back for more when they are engaged, have a personalized experience and the friction is removed from whatever channel they choose to browse and ultimately shop with. Existing and repeat customers are the lifeblood to keep the ship afloat. Which will organically result in acquiring new customers, as the existing customers in our always-connected world become the retailer's micro-influencers on social channels, and with their friends and family. Bottom-line, keep your existing customers happy and grow your relationships with them, along with their connections and family.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2018

    Is traffic a flawed measure of engagement?

    The complexities of the modern shopping experiences require a new approach to tracking foot traffic. When we were dealing with the brick-and-mortar dominated retail scene of 20 years ago, there were clear-cut paths to tracking foot traffic, store volume, conversion rates, AOV, UPT, AUP etc. However, in our mobile-dominated and forever-connected lives, the old foot traffic and retail KPIs are not so linear. Traffic is still a meaningful measure to track, yet your potential customer may be engaging with your brand in so many formats, channels and social media channels, so the path to purchase is very complex. There are methods of tracking the customer journey between online and offline experiences. As long as the customer opts in, retailers have a perspective on what the customer has browsed, whats in their wish list, what they have bought online or in the store or even via the BOPIS method. This requires a significant investment in tracking tools and business intelligence solutions that can capture, understand, contextualize, then operationalize your retail strategies around this complexity.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2018

    Omnichannel retailing lands at the airport

    This could resonate, as the airport is one of the best potential areas where retailers and service providers have a captive audience, and if done right could lead to something meaningful. However, more often than not our airport experiences are far from optimal, and we are usually faced with delays, rushing from gate to gate, and long security lines. The more modern airports, in particular, one of the better layouts in at the new Delta terminal in LGA, are designed with the traveler experience in mind. There is an abundance of self-service food offerings, however, in the race against time, business travelers are faced with deadlines, rushing to get some work done, and getting on board.

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