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: 03/27/2017

    Will ‘ambitious store redesign’ lift Target to new heights?

    I'll start with some dumb questions: What if you want to enter the "quick trip" side of the store but all of the available parking is close to the "inspiration" side? Do all of the commodity businesses (food, HBA, cleaning supplies and so forth) end up on the "quick trip" side, and what is meant to draw traffic around and through the soft goods side of the store?I admire Target's effort to redesign elements of the store lacking excitement, such as women's apparel and home decor. But surely there is a way to design a store around both convenience and longer shopping trips without creating what sounds like a schizophrenic experience. We'll all have to see this redesign for ourselves before judging, and I hope Target continues to address its inventory management issues at the same time.
  • Posted on: 03/24/2017

    Will smaller stores and omnichannel pay off for Kohl’s?

    I'll start with my usual "full disclosure" that I worked for Kohl's (and with Kevin Mansell) from 1982 to 2006. Convenience has always been one of the legs of Kohl's strategy and its real estate portfolio was intentionally built apart from regional malls. (I think Mr. Mansell mentioned on CNBC that only 80 of Kohl's stores are located in regionals.) Maintaining this footprint is not only important as Macy's and J.C. Penney continue their strategic retreat -- not to mention whatever happens to Sears -- but also as a way to leverage the e-commerce business that represents 15 percent of Kohl's sales today.As to the smaller or downsized stores, the trick for Kohl's will be to keep narrowing its assortments to fit these formats. This is just as true in full-sized stores -- when Kohl's takes a position on a key brand like UnderArmour (or activewear in general), something has to give.
  • Posted on: 03/22/2017

    What do know-it-all shoppers want?

    Consumers have become empowered by the information at their fingertips and they should expect sales associates to be equally well informed in the case of complex purchases like cars and technology. (There are plenty of other less risky purchases where these shoppers are prepared to make their own decisions based on online reviews, specs and so forth.) Retailers (and I include car dealers in that category) have the responsibility to keep up with their customers' growing knowledge base.
  • Posted on: 03/21/2017

    Why is the U.S. so bad at airport retailing?

    I'd be happy if airports like LaGuardia focus on upgrading their cramped facilities, restrooms, overcrowded TSA checkpoints and even places to eat (hello, Auntie Anne's) before trying to recreate themselves in the image of Heathrow or the Mall of America. Many of our airports have enough infrastructure challenges on their plates without worrying about whether they are world-class shopping venues.I flew through Heathrow a few years ago, and the process of transferring from an arriving flight from Madrid to a U.S.-bound connecting flight took far longer than any similar experience in this country. Between the bus ride from the tarmac to the terminal and then going through two separate (and lengthy) security checkpoints (after doing the same thing in Madrid), most of our two-hour layover was wasted with very little time left to shop in the fancy new BA terminal. Maybe things have improved, but you get my point: First things first.
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Will Uniqlo beat Zara with speed and customer focus?

    Zara has a big head start over Uniqlo in the U.S. retail market although it has plenty of room to grow vs. other fast-fashion competitors like Forever 21 and H&M. More importantly, speed-to-market is in Zara's DNA. And they offer a modified "treasure hunt" approach to the merchandise, compared to Uniqlo's approach of key items in lots of colors. Unless Uniqlo is prepared to change its philosophy, Zara has the edge.It's understandable that Uniqlo would want to benefit from what Zara already knows about fast turnaround of product development -- supported by great logistics management -- but it may not be as easy to imitate. Think of how many e-commerce sites aspire to the level of Amazon's execution but can't quite get it done.
  • Posted on: 03/16/2017

    Does Neiman Marcus make sense for Hudson’s Bay?

    I'll give the question a qualified "yes" because an acquisition of Neiman Marcus makes more sense than buying Macy's. It's not only more financial feasible for Hudson's Bay but it's a brand in the company's sweet spot of luxury retail.That being said, it would take a lot of back-office economies of scale to make this work without disrupting the distinct brand positions of Neiman vs. Saks vs. Lord & Taylor. The Macy's-May merger isn't an exact parallel but the mashup of several separate brands turned the company into a homogeneous (and unmemorable) place to shop. An acquisition may allow each of these luxury stores to sharpen its own identity.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2017

    Does Macy’s incoming CEO have a plan to turn the business around?

    Given the overall need for capital investment (outside of Herald Square) and more concise assortments, most of the new initiatives feel like nibbling at the edges.I'm also confused by the parallel Backstage and Last Act strategies (I see both installations in some stores) and wonder whether shoppers will see the difference.
  • Posted on: 03/14/2017

    Will being more like Home Depot work for J.C. Penney?

    It may be an opportunity vs. Sears (and in Ellison's sweet spot) but I'm not convinced it addresses the ongoing challenges to J.C. Penney's soft line businesses.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Has the retail industry’s real estate bubble burst?

    The U.S. has for many years had far more retail square footage than any other country: 25 to 50 square feet per capita (depending on how you measure it) compared to 2.5 square feet per capita in Europe. It's apples and oranges but it still illustrates that the "overspace" problem in the U.S. existed long before e-commerce put additional pressure on all that space.The residential real estate market deleveraged after the Great Recession but retail real estate is unwinding at a slower pace. And all that footage in shopping centers is not going to be gobbled up by traditional department stores or mall-based retailers, who already have too much space. The challenge is how quickly the space can be redeployed for food, drug and discount retailers who might actually need the added locations.
  • Posted on: 03/09/2017

    Are free returns a good way to drive online sales?

    Free return shipping (along with a liberal return policy) is a way to reassure the e-commerce customer that it's worth the risk to shop at your website. Especially for categories like shoes, where the fit will vary from brand to brand, the e-commerce retailer will want consumers to try multiple sizes at the risk of returning one ... it helps close the sale on at least the right-fitting pair.Most importantly, in our "omnichannel" world brick-and-mortar stores don't generally charge consumers for returns, so why should their e-commerce counterparts? (At least that's what the customer expects.) Yes there is an expense associated with this policy but it needs to be considered a cost of doing business, just as a brick-and-mortar retailer has to pay rent and utilities.
  • Posted on: 03/07/2017

    Are chains cannibalizing their own in-store sales with e-commerce?

    "Cannibalization" may be the wrong term, because retailers with true omnichannel strategies need to think about how to grow the overall pie. Continuing to think about business silos (e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar) will stand in the way of a consistent overall approach to the business.But there's no doubt that brick-and-mortar is losing its relevance, as seen in the growing number of chains closing locations or throwing in the towel altogether. To go back to the question of how to grow the overall pie ... why isn't that happening? Why aren't strategies like BOPIS (intended to drive traffic to stores) driving incremental sales?These aren't easy questions to answer, but I continue to believe that the operating demands of turning a physical store into a mini-distribution center are eroding the service-centric reasons why consumers shop in those stores in the first place.
  • Posted on: 03/02/2017

    Has the retail industry upped its customer service game?

    It looks like individual brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart that make investments in customers service are being rewarded with higher satisfaction scores. But it's ironic that brick-and-mortar stores in general are outpaced by online competitors. Customers shop in stores to find a level of human interaction that they can't really get online -- whether it's a "high touch" retailer like Nordstrom or a self-service environment like Target. As these stores try to manage the demands of their "omnichannel" business, the visibility of sales associates (and execution of in-store merchandising strategies) seems to be on the decline.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2017

    Will Target’s $7 billion investment pay off in market share gains?

    Walmart was criticized a couple of years ago for investment spending on its stores because it was likely to put a dent into short-term results. But the long-term view for Walmart is brighter because of this decision, and Target is aiming for the same kind of outcome.But Target has some specific challenges ahead that a store revamp won't fix on its own:
    1. The longstanding conflict between "cheap" and "chic" -- Target needs to be more price competitive but has built its brand promise on more aspirational goods;
    2. The continuing lack of traction in the grocery business, especially to drive more frequent visits;
    3. The head start on e-commerce (and omnichannel) that its biggest competitors already have;
    4. The company's longstanding inability to keep its shelves and pegs filled.
    I can't overstate the importance of the last point. A trip to Target where a third of the shopping list can't be filled is a waste of time, no matter how compelling or competitive the merchandise might appear.
  • Posted on: 02/28/2017

    Has J.C. Penney pulled off ‘one of the greatest financial turnarounds in retail history’?

    It's admirable that J.C. Penney has stopped bleeding cash but its net earnings in 2016 were just over $1 million (not the EBITDA number, which was higher). So it's premature to declare a historic victory in light of store closings and soft sales. The slippage in gross margin in 2016 is another area of concern, because competition won't be any easier in 2017.With those reservations in mind, Mr. Ellison has had his eye on the ball ever since assuming the CEO chair and continues to focus on the right things -- data science, expense controls, driving sales opportunities and weeding out unproductive locations.
  • Posted on: 02/27/2017

    Did Walmart’s short films win Oscar night?

    If you watched each spot in a vacuum, you'd have trouble figuring out how it "sells" Walmart -- but as an overall effort to reach a more diverse and potentially upscale audience, the idea was solid. Of the three spots, I thought the "Bananas Town" ad did the best job making the point about the variety of goods Walmart carries, in a whimsical way ... and subtly making its point about the tape total, too.

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