PROFILE

Brian Cluster

Director of Industry Strategy - CPG & Retail, Stibo Systems

Brian Cluster has over 20 years’ experience in consumer-packaged goods and the retail industry. He is the Director, Industry Strategy – CPG & Retail for Stibo Systems. In this role he supports the overall growth of MDM sales in CPG and Retail channel by understanding customer needs and by being the voice of the customer to product teams and throughout the organization.

Brian has a broad perspective across the consumer-packaged goods industry having worked for retailers, a food broker, a market research company and several manufacturers and now a software company. He has a strong track record of collaborating on strategy, building and delivering analytics to drive successful execution of category and marketing plans and business value.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Iowa, and an MBA in International Marketing & Finance from DePaul University.

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  • Posted on: 01/14/2021

    7-Elevens could be destined to undergo a konbinification

    With almost 10,000 stores in the U.S., there is an opportunity to offer several different formats relevant to the local consumer tastes, lifestyle, and needs. Convenience stores in my experience can be some of the most uninspiring retail environments and, depending on the community, there is room to offer a premium experience, improved meal solutions, and offer better service. Expanding the scope of the Evolution test stores will provide a more comprehensive set of insights across different markets/consumer groups and will help 7-Eleven make the right decisions in merchandising and visual presentation for these new konbini-style stores.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2021

    What leadership lessons have retailers learned during the pandemic?

    Undoubtedly the most common theme of leadership from the pandemic was that companies were able to adapt and to act through technology. The fortunate retailers with agile technology and strong business practices were able to lead and implement new customer-facing processes such as curbside pick up in record time. But perhaps the most undermentioned leadership success stories were the retailer's ability to support and motivate their retail associates to deliver better service under more stress and in a fast-changing environment. As Ms. Barry mentions, empathy is key in these challenging times as well as grace. Using empathy and grace, a good leader is supporting that employee during an off-day because there may be some other challenges in that employee's life. Despite all of the technological advances, my experience is that industry has become more human and that is a testament to improvements of leadership at retail.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Convenience retailers aren’t letting the pandemic get them down

    Convenience stores will come out stronger at the other end of the pandemic due to their ability to meet the immediate needs of consumers that don't want to venture out to the larger big box or supermarkets. I agree with Neil and Mark on a couple of their points on this channel. Convenience stores need to continue to improve and not become complacent on their food offerings. For many that do not offer quality meal solutions, it is time to test and learn what may be a better meal, whether it is a salad or a better sandwich offering or something else. By keeping a pulse on what their customers want, and testing out solutions, the better stores will evolve with the needs of the customer.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2021

    Do retailers need to jump on the e-gift card bandwagon?

    Yes! Consumers have become more digitally enabled and capable this past year and many may prefer an e-gift card vs. a physical copy. By having both types, you are serving your customers and staying relevant as they have also likely already used e-gift cards from Starbucks/Apple/Amazon. Coincidently I was on the Sephora page last night and they have built out this capability for e-gift cards with a nice feature to be able to buy now and send the email to the recipient with the gift card at a future date with a personalized message. By offering gift cards in-store and online with both digital and physical versions, retailers can generate more interest and revenue than your basic gift card program that has been in place for years.
  • Posted on: 12/15/2020

    Starbucks sees even more stores in its future

    Starbucks is almost a 50-year-old company but has an innovative culture, strong digital abilities and an appeal to Gen Z and Millennials. With a variety of formats including kiosks and drive-thrus, Starbucks has plenty of room for store location growth internationally and in North America. I agree that after the pandemic, consumer behavior will swing away from at-home activities to connection and social behavior which will definitely drive continued growth at Starbucks and other cafes.
  • Posted on: 12/10/2020

    What will it take to get shoppers back into stores in 2021?

    The use of successful tactics is dependent on how much the retailer has learned about its shoppers over the last nine months. Are they reluctant shoppers with still some remaining concerns, promotion-driven shoppers looking for new deals, or are they experience-driven shoppers who are anticipating some interesting and fun experiences when they return? Communications and targeting efforts should be aligned with who your customers are and what they need. Regardless of the type of customer, all customers have become more digitally driven in terms of how they interact with brands and retailers. So customers are now more likely to dig deeper into product details before they make a purchase and even visit a store-specific webpage before venturing back into the physical store. Malls, mass merchants, and grocery chains have built out location-specific detail about safety, pick-up options, special section or service offerings, and promotions on their store webpages to help close the information gap for consumers. By better managing location data and sharing it on your websites, I think that this is one way to help lay the groundwork for return visits and traffic in the future.
  • Posted on: 12/08/2020

    Will the pandemic finally bring marketing and IT teams together?

    Yes, companies that are more agile in how they work together cross-functionally have been able to move quickly to adapt to these changing business conditions during Covid. The distance between colleagues in IT and marketing and the fact that some are in different locations or working from home is becoming less of a friction point as cloud software solutions and collaboration software becomes adopted. Moving forward, it is important that the CMO, CIO and CDO, and their shared organizations are on the same page in terms of how technology, data, and processes will be built and used now and in the future. This is about being a data-driven company and each c-level leader has a role to play in breaking down data silos and minimizing friction through better data governance and collaborative workflows.
  • Posted on: 12/07/2020

    Can retailers avoid a late holiday delivery ‘apocalypse’?

    'Tis the time of year for data transparency. Retailers that have the ability to indicate timing to ship to home or another location vs. pickup should be communicating this to their customers. Additionally, if there is some flexibility in their data, it may also be helpful for an omnichannel retailer to show visibility of inventory on a high demand product that was available at another store location close by. Unfortunately, there will some shoppers waiting for the last minute and likely will be disappointed. Ultimately, if retailers communicate up front and meet those expectations then that is the best that they can do.
  • Posted on: 12/04/2020

    Meijer gives curbside pickup customers an early Christmas gift

    Yes, This is absolutely a great campaign for Meijer. It highlights the pickup service that they offer and the personalized touch that the e-commerce pureplay retailers can't emulate. While curbside may be a commonly offered service now, many consumers are still getting home delivery or buying in-store and have not used curbside. This promotion brings awareness to the service and further cements Meijer in the mind of consumers as a pickup option for the remainder of the holiday season.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2020

    Are CPG brands headed for a very merry Christmas?

    Many CPGs in essential categories and key baking and cooking categories will have banner holiday sales this year. With escalating COVID-19 rates happening across the country, consumers' options to eat out will be limited and more meals will be eaten at home. Retailers should create and enforce product limits in key categories, especially health-related, that had extreme demand in the spring to ensure that supplies are not overtaken by panic buying. With better data, improved supply chain transparency as well as perhaps a more diverse and deeper supplier base in key categories, retailers may be better equipped to manage the surge.
  • Posted on: 11/17/2020

    Oreo lovers gladly pay a higher price to customize their cookies

    Brands such as Oreo (which has been around for more than 100 years) need to continue to connect with the next generation to be relevant for the coming decades. The Oreo brand has innovated with new flavors and formats over the years may be maxing out what can be done at the grocery shelf but by offering customization they create new excitement for the more digitally focused customers. This may be a minor opportunity across the spectrum of their customers and sales overall but a major opportunity to target their newest customers, Gen Z on a digital channel and/or social channels. This newest venture will provide a sales opportunity but perhaps more importantly a source of Gen Z consumer insights and connection with this increasingly important customer group. Oreo ID literally puts the creativity in the hands of their consumers with limitless combinations and also creates an opportunity to make these unique cookies sharable on Instagram to drive awareness and buzz.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2020

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

    The news and reporting of the pandemic have rightfully focused on the terrible physical toll of the pandemic but what is less reported is the impact on mental health. Many children according to the CDC are facing significant increases in anxiety and depression. Hours of Zoom calls in an empty room with limited peer connections are unhealthy and many kids feel so isolated and lonely. Therefore, I think that this is a fitting time to introduce this concept to the market. Kids need a physical and creative outlet for play. Obviously, health measures need to not only be expressed but executed at a high level by the toy store. I also think that toy stores like this can potentially set up a scheduling system in a separate room to set appointments with other families and your kid's friends that are also following similar health precautions.
  • Posted on: 11/09/2020

    Should Trader Joe’s have gone public with COVID-19 rates?

    Trader Joe's made the right decision to share the COVID-19 infection reporting. They have done an outstanding job keeping carts clean, monitoring the number of people in the stores, and trying to configure the store to maintain social distancing. As one of the few chains without an e-commerce option, they need to be successful in keeping their stores safe. Their efforts have paid off and the public should be aware of it.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2020

    Stop & Shop goes back to the future with nostalgic brands

    This is not a new trend but a trend that gains popularity at times and then recedes again. According to Mintel, 71 percent of consumers enjoy food from their childhood. Certain categories can be successful with retro marketing and bigger shelf and online presence. In the past, I have seen the candy category drive interest by re-introducing classics such as Necco Wafers or Big League Chew. Additionally, I have seen retailers such as Raley's introduce a new four-foot section on specialty/retro sodas such as Nehi Orange or Barq's in a single bottle form that can generate excitement for older generations as well as introduce these classics to the younger generations. In an era where we are seeing high consumer anxiety, retro marketing and merchandising may be a way for retailers to surprise and delight consumers that need economical but fun ways to escape and even bridge the gap across generations. As other BrainTrust members mentioned, it may be good to test online then perhaps roll out an in-store merchandising strategy where it makes the most sense and has the most demand for the local community.
  • Posted on: 11/03/2020

    Do online grocers have a transparency problem?

    Yes, they do have a transparency problem. Many have failed to track and keep up with customers' expectations of what they want to see from a product image, attribution, sustainability, and sourcing information online. In 2020 and beyond, the digital shelf is becoming more of a point of truth for consumers researching and shopping for products. Retailers need to embrace this fact and audit their data, understand what customers want, and start building a plan to close the gap on product transparency for consumers. Fortunately for retailers, there are solutions available to start with the better acquisition of data from your manufacturer partners with a much fuller set of attributes as well as quality review. Then the data needs to be managed and enriched internally and with industry standards to ensure completeness and accuracy of nutritional labels and other key attributes. Lastly, then the retailer needs to be able to share this information across channels to reach the end consumer such as retailers, eCommerce as well as their own systems to have consistent information and branding in the market. Consumers' shopping behaviors cross retail channels, so, when the data improves in other categories such as apparel or electronics, then those same consumers will have higher expectations that will carry over to grocery. Fortunately, there are solutions out there. Retailers have opportunities to work with technology partners to build a more agile and transparent data model with better quality data along with better processes and a more effective data team going forward.

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