Karen Rapier, Senior Merchant/Senior Buyer, Walmart

The July 13, 2020, issue of HOMEWORLD BUSINESS® features the 21st annual Impact Merchants special report. Housewares suppliers, representing the categories that HomeWorld covers, once again were asked to nominate buyers and merchandisers believed to have made a significant impact during the past year.

The selection of the Impact Merchant winners is not intended as a definitive list of the best merchants in housewares retailing. Votes went to several more merchandisers than those featured. This year’s honorees represent buyers in given categories that received the majority of votes by vendors polled.

Voters were asked to give added weight to merchandising creativity, trend and marketing astuteness, attention to detail, openness to risk, flexibility, relationship building and the ability to deliver a profitable program for both the vendors and retailer while providing value to consumers. One thing this year’s Impact Merchants share is a vote of respect by their vendors. In today’s unpredictable retail environment, that vote really counts.

Karen Rapier, Senior Merchant/Senior Buyer, Walmart

In less than two years, Karen Rapier has established herself as a force to be reckoned with within Walmart’s kitchen electrics category.

This versatile executive, who industry sources praise as intelligent and energetic, became senior merchant/senior buyer in October 2018, after serving as vp/financial planning and allocation at J.C. Penney for a year.

“She has been super involved, even though she is relatively new as a buyer,” said one kitchen appliance supplier. “She’s aggressive, she’s smart and she’s really going after the business.”

Rapier previously had been with Walmart for eight years, holding positions in home, outdoor living, consumer electronics and apparel, including senior director and director, merchandise planning; senior buyer; senior planning manager; and buyer. Her hard-charging approach may be the result of some non-traditional experience: She was associate head coach for University of Michigan women’s basketball for four years, and assistant coach for Missouri State University women’s basketball for eight years.

Rapier focuses on consumers. “At Walmart, we always keep the customer at the center of all decisions,” she said. “Identifying key trends within each business is critical to ensuring that we uphold our promise to the customer and exceed their expectations. Newness and innovation continue to drive the kitchen electrics category at Walmart, as well as the continued trust that we build with our customers through the high quality products we offer.”

Industry executives said one of Rapier’s strengths is working with suppliers on development— a skill that proved valuable during the COVID-19 crisis. “She’s very collaborative, in spite of the challenges of not being able to work face-to-face during the pandemic,” noted one supplier. “We’ve put together some very big programs during this time.”

Rapier pointed out, “Understanding the customer and adapting in a dynamically changing environment is key every day. That focus has been even more important during the COVID-19 crisis to identify our customers’ shifting priorities and respond quickly. It has also been important to listen and understand the challenges facing our suppliers, and to collaborate together on ways to overcome obstacles in order to deliver to our customers in a very critical time.” —Donna Boyle Schwartz

2020 HomeWorld Business Impact Merchants (click on name for profile):

Jay Cunningham, T.J. Maxx/Marshalls

Adam Gregory, Target

Karen Rapier, Walmart

Elena Weckerle, Ulta Beauty

Ryan Yarnell, Meijer

Deb Danielson, Target

Sarah Dipietro, Macy’s

Jeff Branz, Wayfair

Taylor Martinez, Costco

Rachel Tsupros, Wayfair

Korey Reed, Walmart

Susette Johnson, AAFES

Becky Blake, Walmart

Gretchen Dexter, Everything Kitchens

David LeClair, Staples