PROFILE

Dick Seesel

Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Retailing In Focus, LLC. is an independent consulting firm founded in 2006 by Richard Seesel. Its goal is to provide marketing-based, pragmatic strategies for retail and supplier clients interested in driving more profitable sales.

Dick Seesel was most recently a Senior Vice President and Divisional Merchandise Manager at Kohl’s Department Stores. During his 24 years at Kohl’s, Dick managed the Women’s Accessory, Jewelry, Cosmetics and Intimate Apparel businesses. Prior to Kohl’s, Dick worked at Dayton’s Department Stores (Minneapolis, MN) and for his family’s retail business.

Dick’s education includes an undergraduate degree from Harvard College (AB 1976, magna cum laude) and a Master’s degree from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University (MM 1978, marketing major). During his years at Kohl’s, Dick enjoyed “continuing education” through several management training courses, with an emphasis on retail negotiation.

As a lifelong “student of retail,” Dick enjoys passing along his knowledge and experience. He was certified to conduct negotiation classes to incoming associates at Kohl’s. Recently he has spoken to business students at the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has led a class in Retailing Management at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the past several years.

Dick is proud to have helped Kohl’s grow from 18 stores to a national retail powerhouse, during an era of change and consolidation throughout the retail industry. He is also proud of his reputation for integrity, fairness, “win-win” negotiation style and getting results. Dick also serves as a consultant with McMillan Doolittle Consulting and as a partner with Roulston Research.

Dick, his wife and children have lived in the Milwaukee area since 1982. He is an active volunteer at the University School of Milwaukee (where he is a Trustee), and has also volunteered his time to College Possible, Congregation Sinai, the Harvard Club of Wisconsin and other local organizations. In his spare time, Dick is passionate about movies, baseball, travel and – yes – shopping.

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  • Posted on: 01/23/2017

    Can retail compete for data scientists?

    As the father of a data scientist (who did not follow me into retail), this is close to my heart. More and more undergraduate and graduate business schools are creating data science majors (as opposed to a mashup of math, computer science and business) because of the demand for this kind of expertise. But competition is fierce and prices are high for the talent pool. Are retailers willing to dig into their pockets to compete on salary and benefits against tech companies? The evidence so far is thin.
  • Posted on: 01/20/2017

    Will online sales redeem struggling brick and mortar retailers?

    "Omnichannel" retailers like Macy's, J.C. Penney and Target are still heavily dependent on their physical footprint. Each store reported rapid e-commerce growth (from 17 percent in Penney's case to 30 percent at Target), yet each of them also reported total comparable-sales declines in the low single digits. So it's clear that the combination of brick-and-mortar and omnichannel isn't driving sales yet.All of these stores and others have opportunities to improve their assortments, customer service and overall store experience. Omnichannel initiatives like BOPIS and ship-from-store have put even more strain on retailers' ability to execute these "Retail 101" issues better. But until they do, their overall sales will continue to be stuck in neutral.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2017

    Why does Gen Z like brick-and-mortar stores but not malls?

    The appeal of malls (to Boomers, Generation Y or Generation Z) starts and ends with its tenant mix -- in particular its anchors. The phenomenon of "zombie malls" is growing at a fast pace, as Sears, Macy's and others announce store closures; many of the remaining stores lack compelling product or an exciting store experience.Beyond the regional malls with key tenants like Apple, H&M or Forever 21, it's hard to get excited about Chico's or Ann Taylor when you're a teenager. And it's obvious that most teen-oriented stores (Aeropostale, Abercrombie) have failed to attract a new generation of younger shoppers. So teenagers may not be spending online but they are likely shopping somewhere ... and off-pricers may be the first place to look.
  • Posted on: 01/17/2017

    Sir Richard Branson at NRF: Are retailers looking outside the box?

    Branson makes an excellent point. Amazon is of course the prime example of a retailer that has constantly looked for ways to expand its reach outside of its original business. (This continues with its web services and its movement into brick-and-mortar retail.) Costco is another great example of how to generate ancillary revenue outside of the products that it sells in its stores.Just to brainstorm a bit, why hasn't Macy's figured out ways to generate revenue streams beyond simply buying competitors, expanding Bloomingdale's and (now) developing an off-price strategy? Without getting entangled in too many unrelated ventures (like Sears did in the 1970s), Macy's could easily leverage its brand equity by developing "experiential" businesses. (If Macy's was ever in the travel business, for example, it licensed the category a long time ago.) Given that both Millennials and their parents are less interested in buying stuff, why not?
  • Posted on: 01/13/2017

    Penney CEO says stores critical to omnichannel push

    Macy's is taking one approach to omnichannel (closing stores) and Kohl's is taking the opposite approach (keeping stores open). J.C. Penney seems to be taking the second path, and Mr. Ellison is correct that a convenience-based model trying to compete against Amazon needs as many productive brick-and-mortar distribution points as possible.None of this means that J.C. Penney or Kohl's should avoid regular review of locations, in order to identify potential closings and even openings. And -- most of all -- every brick-and-mortar retailer (J.C. Penney included) needs to take a hard look at its merchandise assortments and store experience outside of the operating demands of an omnichannel model.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2017

    Will 2017 be the year retailers start making their stores relevant again?

    There are two key "relevance" issues, especially pertaining to traditional department stores: First, are retailers using all of the technological tools at their disposal to enhance their brands? Are they leveraging today's tools (mobile payment, RFID and so forth) to improve customer service or simply to cut costs? And how has omnichannel (especially BOPIS) actually eroded the shopping experience? There is very little difference between shopping at Macy's or Dillard's today compared to 30 years ago other than UPC scanning and more sophisticated POS terminals.Second -- and it always comes down to this -- is merchandise content. I've shopped a lot of traditional department stores over the last few weeks, and I'm struck by how much inventory and square footage continues to be devoted to dressy career apparel for men and women. This may be the retailers' sweet spot (as they see it), but the lack of adaptation to change is concerning. Do these stores not recognize that Boomers are retiring -- and leaving the workforce -- in droves? Do they not see that most Millennials are working in more casual environments and are shopping elsewhere for their wardrobe needs? (Add to this the slow reaction to the movement toward activewear-as-sportswear.)Sometimes achieving "relevance" costs money -- whether through new tech tools, more payroll or a fresh coat of paint. But mostly it's about the products, brands and trends that stores choose to put forward.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2017

    What will more job cuts mean for Walmart?

    The corporate layoffs are unfortunate for those affected but it's not wrong for Walmart (or any retailer) to identify ways to prune headquarters expenses. The question is whether the cost savings exist for their own sake or will somehow be transformed into additional customer service at store locations.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2017

    What will the sale of Craftsman mean for Sears and Stanley Black & Decker?

    The cash raised by the sale is another Band-Aid applied to a gaping wound. Frankly, I don't understand why Eddie Lampert continues to pour his own money into Sears, but I'm sure there are smarter financial brains out there who can explain it to me.As to Stanley Black & Decker ... big win for them. They now have a portfolio of market-leading brands that will be hard to beat, especially if they do smart product segmentation with an effective retail distribution strategy.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2017

    Will store closings and layoffs end Macy’s woes?

    I saw with a particular shudder that one of the Macy's stores on the list is the "flagship" location in downtown Minneapolis -- the old Dayton's headquarters, where my wife and I both worked and eventually met. It's hard to imagine that a store with an appropriately-sized footprint can't thrive in downtown Minneapolis -- full of office workers and residents -- unless there is something fundamentally wrong with how Macy's is running its business. I've shopped their stores from California to Florida to Nevada to Illinois over the past couple of years, and continue to be disappointed by the merchandise content, the physical condition of the stores and the service experience. Until Macy's addresses these "Retail 101" issues, it doesn't matter how many stores they close.
  • Posted on: 12/30/2016

    Amazon considers floating warehouses

    Amazon floats plenty of ideas (so to speak) -- some more speculative than others but all of them meant to keep people talking about the company. The recent stories about the Amazon Go concept point to a tangible reinvention of the c-store in particular and retail technology in general.But blimp warehouses? Doesn't physical inventory weigh a lot, and wouldn't it knock the wind out of this trial balloon? This feels like a buzz generator instead of a real idea, although you should never say "never" about Amazon.
  • Posted on: 12/28/2016

    What does Alexa’s holiday win mean?

    I'm not an early adopter of smart home technology, but I'm intrigued by Amazon's new devices and I'm sure plenty of other consumers are, too. I see it as another win for Amazon despite competition from Google -- because Alexa is wired into the Amazon ecosystem, not just the Internet of Things at home. It's hard for Google or anybody else to compete against that.
  • Posted on: 12/22/2016

    Should department stores talk less about Millennials and more about ‘heavy spenders’?

    Millennials should not be treated as a monolithic group of customers but department stores do need to reach them. That being said, any worthwhile customer relationship program should know how to identify and cater to a store's most loyal shoppers first -- whatever demographic bucket they belong to.
  • Posted on: 12/21/2016

    Will fast beauty be the new fast fashion?

    Speed to market has helped fast fashion apparel retailers take market share away from their slower competitors, but "fast beauty" is a harder concept to define. Mainstream vendors have the challenge of speeding up their trend forecasting, product development and manufacturing if the goal is to get more fashion-forward color stories into retailers' hands more quickly. But the "raw materials" issue is not the same as in apparel, since cosmetics (at least among department store vendors) tends to be rigorously tested, FDA-approved and so forth ... no matter what color or fragrance it contains.
  • Posted on: 12/20/2016

    If not creative directors or data, what can make Gap’s fashions sell?

    To blame soft sales on "lack of a trend" fails to recognize the retailer's responsibility to help create those trends. Back in the Drexler-led heyday of The Gap, the company helped create the khaki phenomenon by getting behind the item in a huge way and by marketing it on TV as a must-have wardrobe item. The same principle applied to many other items in the store -- from my days merchandising handbags, I remember a canvas tote in a bunch of colors that the industry dubbed "the Gap Bag."It sounds like Gap is suffering from the suffocating influence of both its creative direction and its data science, making it hard for entrepreneurial spirit to thrive among its merchants. (And it also looks like Gap has been slower to embrace the short-cycle, high-turnover model of its fast fashion competitors.) Gut feeling can still work wonders to drive sales, if a retailer has the courage to react quickly to big ideas.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2016

    Did retailers doom their holidays with deep discounts?

    First, I'm skeptical of the studies showing anywhere from a 79 percent to 100 percent gain in promotional activity on sales receipts year-over-year. Surely we all remember that 2015 was also a highly promotional year. I do believe, however, that the extension of Black Friday deals (starting in some cases two weeks before Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday specials (now usually lasting over a week) has added to the promotional frenzy.The irony is that several large national retailers started Q4 with deliberately lean inventories, but their promotional plans (probably put to bed months ago) ignored their own attempts at self-discipline. I still think we are likely to see improved margins this quarter if inventories are lower, even with over-promotion. It's cheaper to sell something at 50 percent off instead of 70 percent off, after all.

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