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: 11/29/2022

    Will Shoppable Shorts become a viral sensation for YouTube?

    Considering all the momentum and virality offered by the TikTok Bytedance platform, it will be very challenging for YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels to replicate that level of success. Livestreaming and shoppable commerce have gained significant momentum in the East. However it has not quite resonated at the same level in the West. Cultural hurdles aside, we should expect TikTok to dominate this space when shoppable commerce becomes the next big thing. Consumers have been trained to skip the YouTube ads that pop up before every video. Additionally, the authenticity, and storytelling offered by user-generated content on TikTok is precisely the right approach necessary to make livestreaming a viable commerce strategy for retailers and brands.
  • Posted on: 11/29/2022

    What does the promotional climate mean for off-pricers and resale?

    The global economic disruptions, heightened inflation, and price-conscious consumption, combined with the over-inventoried full price retail market, is precisely the climate in which off-price retailers and resellers will thrive. While full-price retailers are going through aggressive promotional cycles, their price points are still relatively higher than the off-price retail market, dominated by TJX and Ross Stores. The off-price retail operating model was built for this moment. They can extend significant value to consumers with an abundance of quality merchandise available at reduced costs. Their loyal customers will be able to take advantage of all the amazing offers to be had in the next few months while full-price retailers look for outlets for their out-of-season inventories. Additionally, the resale market is becoming increasingly prominent as consumers seek value and sustainability matters in the era of conscious consumerism.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2022

    Will a new shopping platform redefine the formula for AI-driven personalization?

    The Holy Trinity of the modern retail experience is centered around personalization, localization, and outstanding customer experiences. Many retailers and solution providers have attempted to solve all three, and it has been a challenge to leverage AI's power and innovation fully. The art of discovery typically begins in digital channels and, on the surface, Shoptrue appears to have built the capabilities to drive truly personalized experiences. A foundation of real-time and automated data and analytics operating models are key enablers to help ensure that this is a successful model for Shoptrue. The collaborative nature of their model, with customers helping to shape what that curated experience looks like, may be a game changer. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2022

    Black Friday is back as record number of Americans are expected to go shopping

    The Black Friday phenomenon has shifted fairly significantly as the holiday shopping season has extended from October to Christmas. With the return to a relative normal, in a post-pandemic world, we should expect consumers to be flocking to the malls and shopping centers to take advantage of the aggressive promotional strategies that retailers are leveraging to get out of the over-inventoried situation. Additionally, with the emergence and enhancements made to the digital shopping experience, online orders will also be on the rise. We should expect overall revenues to be up relative to the same timeframe last year and potentially comp increases across the board. However even with revenue increases, profitability will take a significant hit due to the rampant promotional cycles, markdowns, increased costs to serve, and supply chain challenges. Retailers must leverage the holiday season to mitigate the over-inventoried place they find themselves in due to all the contingency stock they built up earlier this year.
  • Posted on: 11/15/2022

    Will two digital-first concepts prove more successful than one for Panera Bread?

    Considering the clear conflicts and friction between customers who want to dine in and those who want to grab and go, Panera Bread is strategically establishing a digital-first operating model and a smaller format store. In a post-pandemic world, there are customer segments that enjoy eating in a Panera cafe and the experience that goes along with that. However some customer behaviors since the pandemic have stuck with the digital-first crew that wants a contactless and cafe-free experience. Other fast casual restaurants should notice what Panera has achieved, including Starbucks, where the grab-and-go segment is outpacing the cafe customer segment. We have seen restaurants that have a mixed model, with customers who only want a BOPIS transaction, struggle to serve the customers who wish to dine in. Separating the operating models and opening a digital-first dining free option is a logical evolution of the customer experience.
  • Posted on: 11/15/2022

    What does it take to build a positive corporate culture?

    In the high-stakes and high-pressure retail environment, establishing a positive corporate culture is more critical than ever. Positive corporate cultures are delicate to establish, and it will all come down to execution. The leadership team must set the standards by prioritizing a positive culture built on collaboration, partnership, empowerment, inclusivity, and equality. There has to be a parallel path to ensure a positive customer and retail associate experience. We have seen a greater emphasis on the retail workforce's health, wellness, and safety, which is a welcome development. Positive corporate cultures are also fueled by executive teams creating an environment of trust and transparency, along with enabling the teams to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.
  • Posted on: 11/14/2022

    Will retailers use facial recognition tech to reshape store layouts?

    Considering the fundamental challenges that retailers are experiencing in a disrupted and inflationary global economy, any investments in technology innovations have to be purpose-driven and add value to either the consumer or the associates in service of the consumer. Those who have attended NRF in the past five years have seen the whirlwind of innovations, including RFID capabilities, magic mirrors, robotics throughout the sales floor, and the onset of the AR/VR revolution. Facial recognition is another innovation that could potentially be a game changer, yet in this economic climate, we have to question the prioritization of these initiatives. There are also privacy concerns and discomfort in having our emotions and facial expressions analyzed and dissected by retailers. We are unfortunately getting closer to the relentless face and eye scanning highlighted in the movie Minority Report. Are we as a society ready for this?
  • Posted on: 11/14/2022

    Gap is now selling on Amazon. Desperation or genius move?

    On the surface, for any middle-of-the-road retailer, extending their sales channels to Amazon is a logical and sensible strategy to grow new revenue streams and capitalize on the e-commerce giant's distribution capabilities and scale. Unfortunately, for Gap to fully realize and take advantage of these benefits it must take an honest look at its fundamental business model, as the brand has completely lost all its relevance. Gap has to reexamine its purpose and competitive positioning in a highly congested 2022 retail marketplace. Simply extending its brand into the Amazon ecosystem is a move that will not drive or change consumer sentiment. There are weaknesses that Gap will need to address with its branding, brand purpose, merchandising strategies, and storytelling across social and digital channels to spark the turnaround the company will need.
  • Posted on: 11/09/2022

    Lowe’s sells its Canadian ops to focus on the U.S.

    We have seen companies invest and build a presence in the Canadian retail market and then, a few years later, depart and consolidate their store base. Lowe's strategic decision to divest the Canadian operations is not surprising, as they are facing challenges in simplifying and optimizing their business model. Simply opening up stores in Canada leveraging similar strategies to the stateside stores is a losing sum game. Optimizing, simplifying, and rationalizing store fleets will positively impact Lowe's goals of improving its operating margins, gaining market share and creating greater shareholder value. However there is a greater challenge in the U.S. market as Lowe's has underperformed relative to their main competitor Home Depot, and significant economic headwinds will significantly impact their sales performance.
  • Posted on: 11/09/2022

    What will happen to Kohl’s after Michelle Gass goes to Levi Strauss?

    Kohl's and the middle of the retail industry have experienced unprecedented disruptions and are under significant pressure to transform and evolve their business model. While the departure of Michelle Gass will lead to a reshuffling of Kohl's executive deck, their mission of transforming and turning around their business model remains the same. Considering the state of our economy, the declining sales heading into the holiday, and the concerning sales forecasts heading into 2023, Kohl's needs a strong and impactful leader to help the company ride through these unprecedented times. As Kohl's regroups, the company should employ a short-term tactical approach of driving customer-centric incremental value while, in parallel, building longer-term transformational strategic plans. As we enter 2023, are the prospects of Kohl's getting acquired a possibility? It will also be interesting to see how Michelle Gass performs in her new role at Levi's.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2022

    Dick’s Sporting Goods launches ventures fund

    Dick's Sporting Goods has economies of scale, reach, supply chain and distribution capabilities, customer base, and name recognition that comes with being one of the market leaders in the sporting goods space. What is required to stay ahead of the competition is a continual fresh injection of innovative ideas, concepts, product advancement capabilities, and tools to keep Dick's on the profitable growth trajectory. DSG Ventures is a brilliant investment strategy that will enable Dick's Sporting Goods to provide more personalized customer experiences, connect with the local communities, integrate innovations into its product development and customer experience models, and continue to grow and evolve its brand. The DSG Ventures is a clear win-win for Dick's Sporting Goods and the wide range of brands that will benefit from this investment and become a part of the greater ecosystem.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2022

    Is it time to shut down the free returns party?

    The changing consumer expectations around free returns will make it challenging to shift to a model that pushes the costs to customers. However, the rising operating costs, and razor-thin margins, have required retailers and brands to reevaluate their cost structure and change their free return policies strategically to one that is a shared cost model with the customer. Unlike traditional retailers, Amazon has a business model built around their annual prime offering to offset the "free returns" incremental costs. With the right sizing AR technological capability advancements offered by the True Fits of the world, retailers could provide the tools customers need to make the right sizing choices. The liberal free return policies have led to bracketing becoming a significant and costly phenomenon for retailers to deal with. Additionally, customers' overbuying has consequences from a carbon footprint and sustainability perspective. While it make take some adjustments, customers will eventually adjust to the new returns cost-driven model.
  • Posted on: 11/02/2022

    What would Shein stores do to the U.S. retail apparel market?

    Showroom-like stores and connected retail digital experiences are emerging models in the U.S. market. However sustainability matters and fast fashion, despite its affordability, has lost its luster in the U.S. Operating physical retail stores in the U.S. is challenging, with high operating costs, labor considerations, and all related supply chain disruptions. Shein's showroom experiences, integrated QR capabilities, and micro-fulfillment services are compelling. However a seamless entry into the U.S. market will be challenging and congested, with many established players such as Forever 21, Zara, and H&M dominating the fast fashion scene. These developments, coupled with a more conscious consumer willing to spend more on more sustainable products, have led to a downtrend in the fast fashion segment.
  • Posted on: 11/02/2022

    Greenpeace study trashes plastic recycling

    Until some federal regulations and mandates require retail and CPG firms to shift their packaging models from plastic to more compostable/reusable formats, then it will be a slow roll reducing our plastic usage. Unfortunately, the plastic recycling operating model is highly inefficient, considering that only 2.4 million tons of the total 51 million tons of plastic waste are recycled. As Greenpeace indicated, the plastic recycling program is inefficient and costly. We need to, as a society, assess and mitigate the root cause of the problem where businesses are relentlessly using plastic. The conscious consumer and the paradigm shift to evolving to a more sustainable-driven society will have some impacts on the packaging decisions companies make. Ultimately it will take swift Federal regulations to make the impacts we need to drive meaningful change. Until then, we should expect more of the same results.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2022

    Will Apple find more room to grow inside of Target?

    The Apple and Target collaboration model are a win-win for both companies. This business model has matured and is doing quite successfully between Best Buy and Apple, with their shop-within-a-shop concept. As long as the Apple product and customer-centric are consistent and on brand, the model will be as successful in Target as it has been within Best Buy stores. The success rate will be highly dependent on the training of the Target associates on Apple's ways of doing business. The companies are taking a conservative start to their partnership with only 150 stores of the total Target store footprint. This transition could be accelerated if Apple leverages its highly trained associates in these new shops within a shop model. The potential seems limitless for both Target and Apple. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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