Brandon Rael

Director, Alvarez & Marsal

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
Brandon Rael is a Director with Alvarez & Marsal’s Consumer and Retail Group. He is a trusted advisor, with more than 20 years of strategy, operational improvement, profit optimization, organizational change, and technology experience in the retail, wholesale, and consumer space. Having worked for, and in partnership with Fortune 100 companies, Brandon has a deep understanding of the retail market landscape, the evolving consumer mindset, and he is a key 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. 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 * Opinions are my own
  • Posted on: 08/03/2020

    How is Tractor Supply acing the pandemic?

    Tractor Supply's success is directly attributable to having a laser focus on the customer experience and truly adapting their go-to-market strategies around the needs and wants of their audience. There are no shopping channels in today's retail universe, and the consumer remains the single and only channel that needs to be addressed. The company has fulfilled its brand promises and has pivoted its operating models to become more agile, flexible, and responsive to its target customer's needs. Without allowing legacy strategies or infrastructure to hinder their innovation, Tractor Supply's digital-first strategies have proven to be very successful and have helped to lay the foundation for future growth.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2020

    Is the future of malls outside?

    The trends and movement to open-air malls and shopping centers were already in motion before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Great Acceleration has made this strategy a necessity rather than a luxury. While open-air malls will absolutely help to draw traffic and give consumers a greater sense of comfort, this will only work for the foreseeable future -- especially with the fall and winter months ahead of us. Open-air malls are a solid contingency plan during the warmer months, however the mall owners will have to reconfigure the operating model for the enclosed structures, as they were built in another age and without the need for social distancing. There are far too many uncertainties regarding the long term impacts of the virus, and it will take plenty of short term innovation and creativity to draw consumers back and keep store associates safe.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2020

    How can retailers differentiate curbside delivery?

    Flexible micro-fulfillment options, such as BOPIS, curbside pickup, lockers, and ship from store have been emerging pre-COVID-19, yet have gained so much momentum since the pandemic has put us all into a quarantine-like state. Ultimately, curbside pickup is fundamentally about execution, efficient communication, coordination, and getting the customer in and out of the store parking lot safely, with the right products, in a timely manner. There is, however, little to no room to "surprise and delight" consumers when retailers have to shift their entire store operations operating model to enable speed, efficiency, and accuracy around the curbside pickup process. It's all about getting the fundamentals right before thinking of any differentiation strategies.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2020

    Will Amazon become the go-to place to buy face masks?

    If there is a retail segment that has yet to reach Amazon, then it's a matter of time until it becomes part of the vast online marketplace. The next step of that evolution is when Amazon produces its private label offerings to provide value and quality at lower prices. Masks are no exception, as they have become part of our everyday life. It is, however, very admirable that local and indie apparel manufacturers have adapted their operating models to produce masks. A Cape Cod kids clothing DTC manufacturer is one of those brands that has evolved and is taking the socially responsible steps to donate masks to the front line workers. Mask production has become a lifeline of sorts for the indie clothing manufacturers, and consumers should support them in their time of need.
  • Posted on: 07/24/2020

    Retail shrink rose to all-time high in 2019

    Unfortunately retail shrink and employee-led schemes are going to continue to be one of the main loss areas for retail companies. Technology, especially AI can help identify, predict, and help prevent employee theft, yet the problem has to be mitigated during the hiring and training processes. Employees with bad intentions will steal without fear of consequences regardless of any advanced preventative technologies. While shrink could never truly be eliminated, establishing the right culture of trust, transparency, and accountability will help to mitigate shrink. The preventative measures are only as good as the execution and dedication to this initiative.
  • Posted on: 07/24/2020

    Has retail permanently downsized?

    The over-expansion strategies of the 90s and mid-00s led to the overwhelming amount of retail space. As consumer behaviors shifted to a blend of digital and physical commerce, it isn't a critical imperative to have the mall as the center of the shopping experience. We just heard that Neiman Marcus's showcase department store of the future at Hudson Yards will be closed. Before COVID-19, we were witnessing the compression of retail spaces, as companies have been rationalizing their store footprints, consolidating in certain markets, and closing unprofitable stores to preserve liquidity, save cash and drive revenues in the profitable stores. This is not a new development. The Great Acceleration caused by the pandemic has had catastrophic impacts on the retail industry and has led to mass store closures and bankruptcies. As our normal shifts on a daily basis, it's clear that in our pandemic/post-pandemic world that less is more.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2020

    Is there a path to profitable grocery delivery?

    The grocery operating model has to undergo a transformation to respond to the increasingly changing consumer behaviors to digital commerce, as well as the competitive forces which require agility, flexibility, scalability and most importantly, data sharing. Eliminating data silos is a key part of the equation. By having one view of the customer in a convergence model, grocery retailers along with their wholesale distribution partners could collectively come up with an agile digital-first operating model, that will eliminate silos, reduce process redundancies, and leverage a data and analytics first strategy to drive delivery operational efficiencies. To compete in the disruptive day and age of Walmart and Amazon, independent grocers and their wholesale distribution partners not only have to focus on assortment optimization, but also on strategies to drive experiences that enable consumers to choose seamlessly to have their grocery delivered or picked up in-store.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    Will Walmart, Target, Kroger and other chains fix America’s plastic bag problem?

    Prior to COVID-19, retailers were incentivizing consumers to use their reusable bags, vs plastic or paper bags. In fact, New York went so far earlier this year to officially ban plastic bag usage across the entire state, and the surrounding states have followed suit. While it will be a socially responsible move for major retailers to reduce plastic bag usage, unless it is a state or federal government mandated movement, it will be challenging to consistently regulate the plastic bag usage. The reusable bags are a good alternative, and also provide retailers an opportunity to monetize and capitalize on marketing their brand and create some goodwill in the process.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    It is a different year. Walmart is closing on Thanksgiving.

    To say that we live in extraordinary times is an understatement. Collectively, we could all agree that the holidays should always be about the family, spending quality time together, and making new memories, instead of spending Thanksgiving evening shopping. This was a recent phenomenon and started to diminish how important this family holiday is. The pandemic, if anything, has changed our perspective, and companies such as Walmart are taking these types of courageous steps of allowing their hard-working front-line associate to take a well-deserved break with their families. It's high time that we examine our shopping behaviors and question the importance of Black Friday when we live in a world where its commerce 24/7 via digital and social channels. The goodwill and care Walmart and other major retailers show their store associates will go a long way to help drive customer loyalty.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2020

    How will digital transform trade shows?

    Trade shows, including the annual NRF Big Show in NYC, were already reaching their capacity, and with ticket prices skyrocketing, were becoming unaffordable or accessible for non-retailers. If anything, the amount of digital content, webinars, podcasts as well as trade show presentations have been on the rise since the pandemic emerged. With the increased accessibility and affordability of digital-first trade shows, the major event leaders will now have a platform to extend their reach beyond the physical confines of the Javits Center and other popular event locations. The most significant impacts of not having in-person trade shows are economic, especially with the travel, hotel, and hospitality impacts of canceled events. What is also lost are the spontaneous meetups with old friends and colleagues on the expo floor, the after-parties and other networking events. Yet, we must be adaptive and embrace this new normal until it is safe for all of us to reunite.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2020

    Why does it take a crisis for retailers to get innovative?

    There is a relentless need for continuous innovation and creativity to adapt business operating models to changing consumer behaviors. The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially served as the great acceleration for emerging trends and technological innovations. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes an unprecedented epidemic to drive the innovation imperative. However, legacy brick and mortar retailers, in particular, are challenged to be far more flexible, agile, and adaptive to changing consumer behaviors. The pandemic has also exposed companies that were not well-positioned or adapted their operating model to a digital-first strategy. Innovation is not a switch that could be turned on to evolve into a digital-first company, There has to be the executive sponsorship, change management, and the culture to drive this transformation.
  • Posted on: 07/16/2020

    How murky has COVID-19 made retail data?

    The only thing predictable about consumer behavior during the pandemic is the unpredictable nature of it. However, harnessing the power of consumer shopping behavior, coupled with third-party market insights remains a valuable part of merchandising, assortment planning, pricing, promotion strategies, and execution. The normal forecasting and buying models have to take into account the blips of unpredictability we are experiencing. What may have been perceived as an outlier has become the norm for the moment, with consumers leveraging digital commerce channels, spending less time in-store, and making very value-driven shopping decisions. It has become increasingly critical for retailers to have a holistic view of their consumers across all shopping channels. Agility, flexibility and adaptability, powered by valuable consumer insights, will help win in today's environment.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2020

    Did Amazon just put its Go technology in a shopping cart?

    This is brilliant, especially as one of the most friction-filled parts of the grocery experience is the checkout process. The checkout experience up until recently had remained unchanged for well over 30 years -- there have been no big changes since the scanning technology was introduced. One of the most inefficient and costly components of the grocery operating model in 2020 is the checkout process. The Amazon Dash shopping cart technology is just the kind of disruption the grocery industry needs. Consumers have adapted over the past few years, and especially since the pandemic struck and moved things to a more digital-first and automated model. With an increasing number of grocers offering self-checkouts, BOPIS, and curbside pickup capabilities, the consumers are ready and willing to share their data in order to gain efficiencies. Amazon is pushing ahead with the technology in their stores, however the real challenge is if and when they offer it as a service, and it is scaled out to the traditional grocery stores. There is no question that the consumer adoption rate will be high with the Amazon Dash Cart. However, what will the impact be to grocery operating models, and how can store associates by aligned to these new requirements?
  • Posted on: 07/14/2020

    What will retail’s back-to-school season look like this year?

    Everything we considered as normal for back to school planning and the shopping season has been disrupted. The anxiety levels are at an all-time high for students, parents, and educators, as the education system scrambles to shift their operating model to one that is either a hybrid approach of in-person classes and online learning, or strictly online. If COVID-19 cases continue to rise, we may have yet another series of exclusive e-learning classes until things stabilize. What we can say with a degree of confidence is that the home will continue to be the center of learning, working, exercising, and entertaining. Parents will be investing in laptops, improved Wi-Fi capabilities, office furniture, and other smart devices. Without the certainty of the upcoming school year, the traditional back to school shopping for the latest fashions, shoes, and school supplies will happen, yet at far diminished levels. The situation is changing by the day.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2020

    Retailers need way more fulfillment space to keep up with booming online sales

    Solution-driven fulfillment strategies and an innovation imperative will be key to success for retailers as they attempt to keep up with the increased digital commerce demands. Investing in additional warehouse space is a costly investment so the hybrid fulfillment option, where the physical stores could be leveraged for same-day shipping, BOPIS, curbside pickup, etc. will help retailers drive transformational vs. incremental growth. It will be key for retailers to leverage all of their assets, including their physical stores, data and analytical insights, supply chain, logistics, digital, and their current organizational and operational processes in order to pivot their operations. We are dealing with a consumer who is extremely comfortable shopping via digital channels and is not 100 percent dependent on the physical stores for all their needs.

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