Brandon Rael

Strategy and Operations Executive

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 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: 12/03/2020

    Are endless aisles more trouble than they’re worth for retailers?

    Endless aisle capabilities are, on the surface, what companies believe consumers need; however with the paradox of choice, there are diminishing marginal returns on carrying every feasible product. For retailers outside of the "big three," Amazon, Walmart, and Target, they do not have the digital marketplace's advantage where they have established partnerships with third-party sellers. Those retailers outside of the digital marketplace giants do not have the advantage of offering a vast assortment. Less-is-more assortment optimization strategies are crucial for most retailers to mitigate the inventory ownership, markdown liabilities and, most importantly, margin and EBITDA erosion. By culling their assortments, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, PVH Corp., Coach, and others, are reaping the benefits of having the product that will turn, drive revenues and keep consumers coming back for more.
  • Posted on: 12/03/2020

    Have women permanently broken through retail’s glass ceiling?

    In an industry where many of the key decision-makers and power players are women, we should expect a good proportion of the retail CEOs to be women. While the latest retail developments are encouraging, there is plenty of work to be done in all industries. Diversity is a key initiative for all industries, and we are starting to see non-retail segments hiring women CEOs. While its encouraging to see Mary Barra lead the General Motors team, Carol Tomé lead the United Parcel Service, Safra Catz lead the Oracle organization, retail is leading the way with Corie Barry, Heyward Donigan, Michelle Gass, Sonia Syngal, and many others who are breaking the glass ceiling.
  • Posted on: 12/02/2020

    Were record Cyber Monday/Week sales enough to help retailers salvage 2020?

    As the pandemic fueled great digital acceleration, we have already seen e-commerce rates rise between 16-20% of the total retail numbers. We are dealing with a very dynamic situation, and the rules of engagement are being rewritten by the week. Essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacy retailers, home goods, health, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle companies, have thrived during the pandemic, especially those who have taken a digital-first strategy. Retailers and all businesses have had to pivot their operating models to accelerate their digital and customer-first strategies. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday/Week may not make up for the 30-40% consumer traffic shortfalls, the story is not as bad as we may have feared. Hopefully, this year is an aberration, and we turn to 2021 for a semblance of normalcy and economic recovery.
  • Posted on: 12/02/2020

    Sephora to set up shops in 850 Kohl’s stores

    The clear winner in this collaboration is Kohl's, who will benefit significantly from the increased interest and store/digital traffic with the Sephora store-within-a-store concept. While this conceptually is far from a new strategy, Kohl's is in deep competition with Target and other retailers to increase their share of the consumers' wallets. The health, wellness, and beauty sectors are thriving, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an unsustainable alliance with J.C. Penney, Sephora also gains an advantage over Ulta by increasing their physical presence, without the associated significant store capital investments and long-term leases. From Kohl's perspective, adding ancillary services and new product offerings will help drive their one-stop-shop initiatives. It will be interesting to see how this partnership plays out.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2020

    How will Tony Hsieh’s legacy live on at Zappos?

    Rarely do you ever see a corporate culture that truly comes to fruition. What Tony Hsieh achieved at Zappos was to drive a genuine corporate culture that was not built around driving innovation. Rather it is built on the service model, where the associates are at the forefront of any corporate success. Corporate mission statements, logos, and brand purposes are essential and will drive interest in your brand. However, under Hsieh's leadership, Zappos embodied what a modern-day, relationship and community-first company could be. While Steve Jobs may have inspired success through relentless innovation at Apple, Hsieh's leadership style at Zappos was simply different, unique, and what the world needs to drive real and impactful change. RIP Tony Hsieh, you will be missed.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2020

    Was Black Friday a bust?

    With so many disruptions in our daily lives, there was no question that the Black Friday single day phenomenon would be no exception to the rule and perceived at the surface as a disappointment. The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially become the great acceleration of digital commerce, as both retailers and consumers are reimagining, pivoting, and adjusting to the new rules of engagement in our pandemic society. We have seen that the holiday promotional strategies are no longer completely dependent upon Black Friday and store traffic. Although Black Friday store traffic fell by 52.1% compared with last year, according to preliminary data from Sensormatic Solutions, there was plenty of digital commerce activity. Online shopping surged 21.6% to hit a new record, according to data from Adobe Analytics. For the last 15 years, digital transactions grew 1% per year to 16% of retail sales in January 2020. Since then, digital transactions are now at 32%, which is essentially 15 years worth of growth in only 8 months.
  • Posted on: 11/25/2020

    Are the best Christmas commercials made outside the U.S.A.?

    There's no question about it, with Woodie's taking the win. What a magical mix of sentimentality, emotions, community, and empathy, which is reflective of the types of Christmas commercials made outside the U.S. The European market, especially the John Lewis annual holiday advertisement, just capture magic in a bottle that resonates well beyond the products or shopping experiences. Myer may have gone for the shock value with their ad, however if you are looking to tug at the heartstrings and represent what the holidays truly mean, then Woodie's is going to be the one you remember.
  • Posted on: 11/24/2020

    What will an ex Crate & Barrel CEO bring to her new job leading CVS Pharmacy?

    Just as Rite Aid and other retail pharmacy chains are pivoting to a health and wellness strategy, CVS requires a similar customer-first business transformation. CVS's expansionary and vast assortment model worked for decades; however today's consumer focuses on health, safety, security and, most importantly, their family's wellness needs. Neela Montgomery and her new leadership team have an outstanding opportunity to take a customer and digital-first approach to pharmacy retailing. The CVS stores are long overdue to be reimagined, the assortments need to be optimized and localized, and the focus should be on more natural and holistic product offerings. While the pharmacy represents a large portion of the company's business, Neela Montgomery and the team have a unique opportunity to transform the retail space for today's value- and health-conscious consumers.
  • Posted on: 11/24/2020

    Target CEO points to one-stop shopping as key to chain’s success

    Well before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Target was already well on its evolutionary path to becoming a one-stop-shop for all consumer needs. Consumers were already accustomed to consolidating their shopping trips, especially with everyone balancing work and life needs. Since COVID-19 impacted our lives, there are health and safety concerns that help position Target as the retailer of choice to get all of our essentials. While Target's digital-first operating model may seem revolutionary, their strategy is very similar to what Sears, Kmart, and other legacy retailers did to enable consumers to find all their needs in one store. The differentiators are the efficiency, value via Target's private-label offerings, digital-first approach, and loyalty integration. Target has proven to be extremely resilient and adaptive with its flexible and scalable digital-first model. This sustainable approach will resonate with consumers well beyond the pandemic period.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2020

    Will home furnishings soon be a ‘digital-first business’?

    Before the pandemic struck, digital and virtual shopping were emerging forces as part of the end-to-end customer journey. While the narrative has changed with the great digital COVID-19 acceleration, Home furnishings is far from a digital-first business operating model. Most customers still want to touch, feel, and experience the products in person. We should expect digital home furnishings commerce to gain prominence, especially with e-commerce representing 16 percent of the overall retail commerce pie. However in a post COVID-19 pandemic world, we should expect a hybrid physical and digital model. Most pre-shopping and research are completed online; however most conversions will still occur in a physical space for the foreseeable future.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2020

    Big chains are raising pay and more retailers are likely to follow

    One of the key competitive differentiators has been the frontline store associates, who are a critical part of driving outstanding customer experiences. While the federal $15 minimum wage increase is a very welcome development, retail store associates have been significantly underpaid in relation to the revenues they help to drive for the companies they serve. Unfortunately, it has taken a worldwide pandemic to recognize the importance of the frontline store associates. Customers are taking notice of this, and have recognized the positive moves that Home Depot, Best Buy, Target, Starbucks, and others have done in increasing store associates' hourly rates. This good will not only is a very positive public relations development but also provides a more livable wage for those seeking retail store based jobs as a feasible career route. We should expect many other companies to follow suit.
  • Posted on: 11/17/2020

    Are retailers cutting their way to profitability or slowly bleeding to death?

    As part of any business transformation and restructuring, retailers have to right-size their store fleets. The over expansionary strategies of the '90s and '00s and the emergence of digital commerce has significantly impacted the number of retail stores a company needs. Store consolidation strategies to free up liquidity and mitigate long-term debts are major components of a business restructuring. However, without a parallel strategy to drive improved assortments, a better customer experience across channels, and a way to reimagine the retail brand, mass store closures may buy you time, but ultimately are a losing sum game. Brand equity matters and the optics of mass store closures without an accompanied transformation plan only leads the retail brand to irrelevance in today's customer's mind.
  • Posted on: 11/17/2020

    Will Amazon’s new online pharmacy disrupt the U.S. drugstore business?

    This was inevitable, and Amazon has made their intentions known about expanding their presence in the health, beauty, wellness, and now prescription medicine space. What this now offers the consumer is another choice, and if they can somehow offer a better experience, pricing structure, and efficient way of receiving medicines, Amazon may just cause some disruption in an industry dominated by retail pharmacies. This is yet another value-added customer experience that Amazon can offer their Prime customers. The prospects of lower-cost prescriptions are appealing, and if Amazon can offer greater value to cash strapped consumers, then the Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS pharmacies should take notice. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise of value-driven shopping and this move by Amazon comes at the right time.
  • Posted on: 11/13/2020

    Chipotle’s expansion plans include adding ‘digital-only’ restaurants to its menu

    It's been impressive to see how quickly Chipotle and the QSR segment has pivoted their operating models. A digital-first approach, along with plenty of automation and data science is absolutely a big part of how the segment is transforming during the COVID-19 pandemic. With our society moving to remote work, education, fitness, and wellness from home, most of our meals will be takeaway or delivery. The QSR segment, especially the areas in the big metropolitan areas is dealing with a 30 percent to 50 percent traffic shortfall. By being able to adapt their operating models, the QSR segment can respond with safe and secure environments that are built around customer-first strategies.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2020

    Is it the right time to open an experiential, socially-distanced toy store?

    If this were a year ago, my kids and I would be running to check out an experiential toy store such as Toyish Lab. Unfortunately in life timing is everything and, with the COVID-19 pandemic not going away any time soon, even socially-distant, safe and sanitized toy stores are simply not going to work. Especially in a world where we are concerned with the safety and security of our kids, and with NYC as a hot spot once again, this endeavor is doomed to fail. While we applauded the return of FAO Schwarz in Rockefeller Center two years ago, the timing couldn't be worse for an experiential toy store.

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