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: 08/19/2019

    Will a new grocery private label spur more Target runs?

    Just another thought: Outside of the Super Targets, the grocery section never aspired to the breadth and scale of a Walmart store -- which may explain its lack of success. But Aldi might have been a good role model for Target, if Aldi weren't so busy expanding and grabbing market share on its own.
  • Posted on: 08/19/2019

    Will a new grocery private label spur more Target runs?

    Gregg Steinhafel (Brian Cornell's predecessor as CEO) invested heavily in the grocery business, but it never gained traction and Mr. Cornell was right to turn Target's attention back to its core businesses of apparel and home. Whether a new private label is a game-changer is hard to forecast -- Target is still not a top-of-mind grocery retailer and it's reflected in that 20 percent "penetration" number. But Target has had recent success revisiting (and in some cases replacing) its legacy private brands -- certainly grocery deserves the same scrutiny.
  • Posted on: 08/16/2019

    Can Jill Soltau rebuild J.C. Penney?

    Jill Soltau (a former Kohl's colleague) has the right ideas about applying fundamental ABCs of merchandising to Penney's problems -- product, promotional cadence, and so forth. And hopefully she has filled her team with like-minded, commonsense people. The question is whether she has time for a turnaround. The situation is akin to the post-Johnson era at J.C. Penney, when Mike Ullman took over the reins again as CEO and went into full survival mode. The company took some big steps backward under Marvin Ellison -- the deep dive into major appliances being the most costly -- and now Soltau and team have to scramble again. But do the company's financial stakeholders have the desire to save J.C. Penney again, at a point where the mall-based retail model looks more vulnerable than ever?
  • Posted on: 08/14/2019

    Will Kohl’s shoppers like the ‘emerging brands’ chosen by Facebook users?

    There is a predictability to Kohl's major brands -- whether private labels like Sonoma or national brands like Levi's and Under Armour -- that is part of its appeal. But this has its downside, too, and an array of "emerging brands" should draw younger shoppers. The element of surprise may attract more frequent visits, too. For this strategy to work, however, Kohl's needs to do a couple of things: First, make sure that the "emerging brands" aren't last year's news by the time they hit the selling floor. Second, make sure the new labels are highlighted visually instead of being shoehorned in the middle of those legacy brands. Kohl's has had issues in the past with trying to present too many brands in limited space, so execution is key.
  • Posted on: 08/12/2019

    Does North Face’s new concept point the chain in the right direction?

    A brand like The North Face with fairly broad distribution can become commoditized if it’s not careful. So “experiential retail” is a perfect fit. This has worked for REI for years — although with a more limited footprint — and should work for The North Face too, especially in flagship locations.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2019

    Can Victoria’s Secret recover from its founder’s past relationship with Jeffrey Epstein?

    Most consumers don’t know or care who Leslie Wexner is, but the “Epstein Connection” doesn’t help matters when VS is already dealing with cultural issues and worse. The company’s core problem is the loss of relevance when shoppers prefer more sport-inspired styles. But this round of bad PR makes the brand image of VS feel even more off-key.
  • Posted on: 08/07/2019

    Has Christmas arrived too early at Selfridges?

    Not many stores have the cachet to pull this off, but being first and unique is part of Selfridges’ brand. From a practical standpoint, the early break is also a way to test-market items that can potentially be identified and reordered as best sellers.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2019

    Will outsourcing jobs help Lowe’s associates better serve customers in stores?

    I don’t expect these cost cutting moves to enhance customer service at Lowe’s. At one point it was positioned as a more shoppable alternative to Home Depot but that’s no longer true. Mr. Ellison also needs to invest in omnichannel, which was a big miss during his JCP tenure.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2019

    Should Simon Property Group bail out (invest in) more retail tenants?

    Simon and other mall developers may want to use the Aeropostale blueprint to prop up other specialty retail tenants, but only if they have a sustainable model and brand position in the first place. Otherwise, it's throwing good money after bad -- and mall developers need to focus on redevelopment of empty mall anchors first. (One Simon mall here in Milwaukee has lost three of five anchors in the past two years.) Without this focus, trying to salvage other tenants may be a bad investment.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Who will seize the opportunity to turn stores into fulfillment centers?

    Stores like Walmart, Kohl's and Target are ahead of the curve in terms of using their physical stores as fulfillment centers, not just places to shop. This extends not only to BOPIS but also to "ship from store" initiatives, where stores' inventory can be used to fill online orders and to ship them at a lower potential cost than from a distribution center. There's a risk, however, that the dual-purpose inventory management causes stockouts for those customers making a traditional shopping trip. But there's no doubt that a big physical footprint has become a competitive advantage for the national chains willing to figure this out.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2019

    The clock is ticking for J.C. Penney

    I'm a former Kohl's colleague of Jill Soltau (likewise new J.C. Penney board member Paul Jones), and I applauded her hiring as a step in the direction of better merchandise content. The question is whether she and her company have enough time and resources to fix what needs fixing, from the product to the store experience. (There are also costs involved in correcting Marvin Ellison's mistakes such as major appliances.) A turnaround may require more urgency than simply testing some new concepts in a handful of stores. The collapse of the traditional mall model doesn't help matters: There is one local J.C. Penney store (here in Milwaukee) that has lost two other mall anchors in the past year -- Sears and Bon Ton -- and another regional mall that has lost three of five anchors in the same time frame. It's hard for J.C. Penney to fight the good fight when there is less reason than ever for shoppers to make the trip to the mall.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2019

    Is private equity ownership killing retail?

    Good point, Gene -- it's not the PE firms that usually end up as the losers in these deals, even if everybody else does. Otherwise they wouldn't be investors in these sometimes shaky enterprises.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2019

    Is private equity ownership killing retail?

    Not all private equity acquisitions are inherently bad, but many of the retailers with PE tie-ups were in a weakened state already. So does the debt load incurred by a private equity deal spell doom for the retailer, or is the retailer already doomed? (See: RadioShack.) Some of the brands in question would have struggled in public equity markets -- or they already did -- but in most cases the PE deals haven't worked to anyone's benefit.
  • Posted on: 07/24/2019

    Amazon has won. Now what?

    I see two threats -- one internal, the other external -- but these may not be the same as competitive weaknesses: First, as others mentioned, any antitrust action by the government runs the risk of making it so that Amazon is forced to divest from a business such as AWS. This is a profit center that helps offset the slim margins of the e-commerce business. Second, what I describe as the "Sears Syndrome" -- going back to the heyday of one-stop shopping for financial services, insurance, etc., not just merchandise. Does Amazon have its fingers in too many pies? So far the answer is, "Not yet" -- but it's something to keep an eye on.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2019

    Walmart shakes things up, further integrating online and physical store teams

    Walmart is taking some necessary steps to integrate its "back office" functions as part of its omnichannel initiative. But finance and supply chain are different from marketing (already integrated) and merchandising (not yet) because these are more visible to the customer. Kohl's went through a transition not long ago from separate silos for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar buying, and breaking down the barriers between the two makes more sense. The customer should see one merchandising point of view, even if e-commerce will always carry many more SKUs than physical stores. Walmart needs to take this step.

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