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: 02/15/2019

    Will Amazon’s decision to bail cause a New York backlash?

    I'm not sure whether the backlash will affect Amazon or the politicians who opposed this move. While I think people have a right to be skeptical about huge taxpayer subsidies (hello, Foxconn), it sounds like this one was based on Amazon hitting hiring targets, etc. The ripple effect in terms of ancillary economic development is likely to be profound, especially in Queens.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    America has too many retail stores

    The issue of excess square footage has been well-known for years, long before physical stores began losing market share to e-commerce. The escalation in online shopping has only made matters worse. But let's face it: As a retailing professor put it to me over 40 years ago, "America isn't over-stored, it's under-retailed." (And this was long before e-commerce or the peak of suburban mall-building.) His point then is even more true today -- there are far too many retail chains, especially department stores and mass merchants, who have died a slow death because of their own missteps and failure to reinvent themselves. Those rosy NRF and other sales reports just don't align with the quarterly data as reported by retailers. It's clear that the gulf between winners and losers (and between online and brick-and-mortar) is getting wider in a hurry.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Will the new plan for Sears work any better than the previous ones?

    Lampert's history over the past 15 years suggests that he has no grand strategy to turn Sears Holdings into a viable retail business. On the contrary, he has dismantled the company's key assets (including its best brands) in order to monetize them. His purpose in maintaining a small -- and virtually meaningless -- portfolio of sites is probably more of the same. He's certainly entitled to do what he wants with his company, but anybody who thinks there is a turnaround strategy hasn't been paying attention. No wonder the creditors fought this "plan" tooth and nail.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2019

    Will Marie Kondo de-clutter retail?

    My thoughts exactly (as you'll see when my comment posts). If there is a positive impact of the "declutter" movement on retailers, it is the potential break from the "overassortment" mindset making many stores unshoppable. Case in point: JCP's decision last week to "declutter" its major appliance and furniture businesses.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2019

    Will Marie Kondo de-clutter retail?

    Without stereotyping Millennial or Gen Z shoppers, there has been evidence for awhile that many of them would rather spend their disposable income on experiences than "stuff." The Marie Kondo movement plays into the growing desire to simplify and declutter our lives, not just our closets. And the trend will spread as more Boomers decide to get rid of all that "stuff" via the downsizing process. The question is whether the KonMari movement impacts any retailer trying to sell discretionary vs. commodity goods. There may be an impact on fast fashion vs. thrift retailers, but there may be a bigger threat to department store and specialty apparel stores.
  • Posted on: 02/07/2019

    J.C. Penney dumps appliances

    Adding major appliances was a "comfort zone" move on Marvin Ellison's part that clearly didn't pay off. A low-margin and high-expense move that didn't recapture market share from Sears as intended. So kudos to Jill Soltau for acting decisively. JCP is a softlines store (apparel and "soft home," especially domestics) and ought to focus on its core strengths while addressing its overassortment and excess inventory issues.
  • Posted on: 02/06/2019

    What will Angela Ahrendts’ departure mean for Apple’s retail business?

    The "genius" of Ron Johnson was overstated (as his J.C. Penney experience showed), and the working of the Ahrendts announcement suggests some trouble in paradise. But in truth, Apple's retail business is only as strong as its product line. It's still an enjoyable environment and experience, but the company hasn't launched a breakthrough product since the iPad and its yearly tweaks to the iPhone aren't driving sales.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2019

    Are malls better off as fulfillment centers?

    There isn't a "one size fits all" solution to the challenges facing today's regional malls. There are "zombie malls" around the country that are either boarded up entirely or struggling with the loss of multiple anchors -- in these cases some sort of commercial repurposing (fulfillment centers, light industrial usage) makes more sense than trying to restart a pulse. But I don't see this as a widespread solution for the majority of malls around the country. Even secondary malls still serve a purpose for shoppers -- and still command rents that may be impractical for somebody looking for a distribution center site. It's up to the mall developers to find new tenants for empty spaces, and above all it's on the retailers to stay relevant to the mall shopper.
  • Posted on: 02/04/2019

    Which commercial won Super Bowl LIII?

    I did enjoy the Hyundai and Amazon ads in particular, but overall found the commercials (and halftime show) about on par with the game itself. (In other words, can I have four hours of my life back?) The prevalence of robots in this year's ads reminded me of the "voice activation" gags last year -- not much originality on display. And even though Budweiser products are "superfoods" (brewed with wind power and without corn syrup), I'm still not buying them ... or Pepsi products either.
  • Posted on: 01/30/2019

    Will Fanatics and Walmart deal be a grand slam for both retailers?

    Definitely a win for both retailers. (Disclosure: Jack Boyle, Fanatics' co-president for omnichannel, is a former Kohl's colleague.) It offers a huge volume platform for Fanatics' assortment of team sports apparel, and it provides Walmart with an expert in the field instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. Other online retailers will need to figure out how to supplement their branded activewear business with the kind of expertise in team sports that Fanatics now brings to Walmart.
  • Posted on: 01/28/2019

    What do shoppers really want? Do retailers have a clue?

    In a broad sense, brick-and-mortar shoppers would be well served by higher levels of customer service. But as the BrainTrust discussed last week, customer service means different things to different people. As Min-Jee points out, a mass merchant can exceed expectations by making merchandise easier to find and by speeding the checkout process. Meanwhile, a "high touch" store like Nordstrom needs a different kind of service standard. Either way, over-reliance on tech solutions instead of human ones isn't the answer.
  • Posted on: 01/24/2019

    Which retailers deliver the best customer service?

    Great customer service involves exceeding shoppers' expectations -- but this means different things to different people. And above all, it depends on the retail segment and format. A "high-touch" retailer like Nordstrom is in a different category from a mass merchant like Target. The shopper at Nordstrom is probably attracted by the personalized attention, but the Target customer is going to be happy with efficient checkout lanes and high in-stock rates on "shopping list" items. But for both stores (and other retailers and service providers) to turn a satisfied customer into a committed one, they need laser focus on executing their service strategies.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2019

    What will it take to dramatically reduce risk in the retail supply chains?

    This is a complicated issue, but one place to start would be bringing some clarity to tariff and "trade war" policies. These have disrupted country-of-origin decisions, especially on the part of general merchandisers who have built a sourcing ecosystem in one country that they are forced to uproot in order to keep prices low. This isn't always easy or practical: I recently spoke to a merchant who sources private-label handbags that have long been developed in Chinese factories. Tariffs have forced him to move production to Cambodia -- a duty-free country but perhaps lacking the same expertise, vendor relationships or freight infrastructure as China. There are stories like this throughout the retail industry, and the impact on consumers -- either higher-priced goods or less predictable quality -- is real.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2019

    For relevancy’s sake: a tale of two mall upgrades

    UTC (which I visited in mid-2017, during its renovation) is an object lesson to regional malls all over the country. You don't need to be a "zombie mall" (with two shuttered anchors and a J.C. Penney in the middle) to face the challenge and opportunity of reinvention. Props to Westfield for recognizing this. But it's important to get every tenant up to speed at the same time. When I visited UTC, the new Nordstrom location was under construction, but the Macy's anchor was badly in need of a remodel. (Even some fresh paint and new carpet would have helped.) Maybe its issues have been addressed in the past 18 months, but it points out how one tired department store can affect the best intentions of the mall developer.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2019

    Did regional constraints doom Shopko?

    It's hard to lay the blame for Shopko's bankruptcy on one explanation. (Disclosure: I'm a former Kohl's colleague and longtime friend of Shopko's former CEO Paul Jones.) Did the private equity debt load eventually became too much to bear? Was it the acquisition of hundreds of Pamida stores and the decision to place a big bet on small-town retailing? Or was it the slow pace of e-commerce development compared to its competitors? If I had to pick one reason, it would be the reach of stronger competitors in better locations. An example in my own backyard: Shopko's store in the Milwaukee suburb of Grafton, Wisconsin (in the "old" shopping district) probably lost share when a power center opened three miles closer to the freeway -- complete with Target, Meijer, Costco, Kohl's and other big box stores. It's hard to stay relevant and competitive under these kinds of circumstances.

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