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: 06/19/2018

    Best Buy makes health and wellness tech a strategic priority

    Best Buy is evolving into an "all things smart" retailer, even though its core business continues to be computers and TVs. Walk into any Best Buy today and you'll see a big display of smart home devices, from home security to thermostats. The company didn't just exit the CD/DVD and computer software businesses, but it redeployed the space in a forward-looking way. As health technology gets "smarter" (and as consumers continue to age), why not stake a claim to this opportunity too?
  • Posted on: 06/15/2018

    Merchants seek the right balance between classics and fad items

    Any store needs to hit the right balance between staple, fashion and fad merchandise. (The difference being that "fads" have a much shorter life span unless they evolve into fashion trends with more staying power.) The question of "the right balance" really depends on the nature of the retailer's brand image and target customer. Clearly Forever 21 needs to play in a completely different world than (say) Chico's -- which is not devoid of fashion but is more dependent on staple inventory. It's a key question because the product life cycle of each type of merchandise -- and the inventory management needed to get into and out of trends profitably -- may be totally different for fads, fashion and "basics." Retailers don't want to be stuck with too much of a fast-moving fad; on the other hand, they don't want to erode their in-stock levels on basics by fixating on chasing trends.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2018

    Will IHOP’s burger buzz translate into sales?

    Neil hit the nail on the head -- plenty of PR, plenty of raised awareness of IHOP's burger offerings, potentially some trial. The question is whether the goal of more dinner business is sustainable, given IHOP's brand equity and the crowded space it's trying to elbow into -- including its corporate cousin Applebee's.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2018

    Why did Bon-Ton fail while Macy’s did not? 

    All true, Jan. You studied these stores with the eyes of a potential buyer, and I looked at them as a competitor while working at Kohl's. They were slow to embrace change -- whether making the investment in e-commerce or making the tough call to go to one nameplate. They became "your mother's department store," which is not a good brand position to own.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2018

    Why did Bon-Ton fail while Macy’s did not? 

    One key lesson: The merger of two strong players will almost always work better than the combination of weaker stores. The Macy's-May deal included the market share leader in almost every major city in the country, even though Macy's was criticized at the time for changing the nameplates of chains like Marshall Field's and Famous-Barr. Meanwhile, Bon-Ton's acquisition of stores like Carson's and Younkers (and then choosing to maintain "local" identities) was saddled by debt and by the lack of national scale or brand equity. Milwaukee (where I live) is one of Bon-Ton's two "headquarters" cities, and the home of its Boston Store nameplate. As an observer, I find the CEO revolving door was an issue and the company's slow pace of e-commerce development (compared to Macy's and Kohl's) didn't help either. And as a shopper, Boston Store's content seemed overly focused on "career" Boomers who are retiring from the workforce, without a strategy to replace them with goods for younger customers.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2018

    Neiman Marcus results show the latest sign of department store life

    The total department store segment may not be growing, but winners and losers are becoming clear. The winners (including Kohl's, Macy's and N-M) are taking share from the losers, but it is probably too early to declare victory vs. faster-growing segments like off-price. What seems to be working for the winners right now are some differentiation strategies that their customers are drawn to -- and a robust approach to omnichannel. It's innovative, not the "same old, same old" that doomed a store like Bon-Ton.
  • Posted on: 06/06/2018

    Macy’s taps staff for their influencer clout

    Long before the days of social media, store associates were often among the best customers (and brand ambassadors) of most retailers. We live in a more distrustful world today ("How objective can this person be if she is on the payroll?"), but Macy's idea still has merit. The messaging needs to be carefully managed, however, in order to appear authentic instead of manipulated. Word of mouth, in whatever guise, continues to be a powerful marketing tool.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2018

    What will Starbucks do without Howard Schultz?

    The best thing that any entrepreneurial leader can do for a company with which s/he has been so closely identified is to assure a strong succession plan. This didn't work the first time for Mr. Schultz, but he seems to feel confident with the leadership team that he has put into place. While it's hard for CEOs with presumably strong egos to walk away, it's an essential part of the job. Beyond the debates about "best practices" in any consumer-facing company (Do we serve breakfast? How do we incorporate the Teavana brand?), the key is to ensure that the company's underlying culture and values are in good hands. Let's hope that Mr. Schultz has succeeded here, no matter what the future holds for him.
  • Posted on: 06/04/2018

    Can department stores be reinvented with a pop-up approach?

    Macy's has long experimented with the concept of pop-up space in its Herald Square flagship, because it has the space to be flexible. There is a constant stream of short-duration shops, especially on the main floor -- but this is a luxury that most department stores (including Macy's) can't or choose not to afford. Department stores' use of their square footage has long been dominated by the same businesses (starting with cosmetics and handbags on the main floor) or the same "prestige" apparel brands, supplemented by exclusive brands. It's hard to shake loose from this mentality when it's all about space allocation and vendor agreements instead of focusing on a shopper looking for newness. (And by "newness," I don't mean next month's new shipment of product from the same old vendors.) There was an article in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, with the scion of The Bon-Ton Stores (soon to close) regretting in hindsight his company's failure to be more innovative. This is the problem in a nutshell: The "we've always done it this way" syndrome.
  • Posted on: 05/31/2018

    Walmart looks to win talent war with new education benefit

    In our era of low unemployment, retailers are having well-documented problems recruiting hourly employees. This is a smart move because it offers a real incentive for "strivers" entering the workforce to pick Walmart instead of its competitors -- or to pick retailing over another career. There are more benefits to Walmart -- it fills a pipeline of potential future managers in its own thousands of stores, and it gains a well-deserved positive PR boost by offering the benefit in the first place.
  • Posted on: 05/30/2018

    Best Buy finds more inventory on hand drives sales

    Demand planning has become more complicated with the onset of omnichannel initiatives like buy online, pickup in-store and ship from store. It makes forecasting by location more difficult if physical stores are also being used as mini-warehouses. Retailers run the risk of alienating customers who have made the effort to shop at a physical store, if they can't find what they want in stock. Best Buy has long been a leader in helping customers use the website to identify in-stock levels at their nearest store. But the company obviously decided that this wasn't enough, and only a boost in stock levels would drive more sales. Retailers often get rewarded by Wall Street for driving down their comp-store inventories, but perhaps Best Buy's results will point in a smarter direction.
  • Posted on: 05/29/2018

    Kohl’s emphasizes cash in merging of rewards program

    To begin with my usual "full disclosure," I worked for Kohl's from 1982 to 2006. And our household continues to shop often at Kohl's -- what used to be called "MVC" level (most valuable customer) is now "elite" level. The complexity of the various Kohl's reward programs has long been a challenge for customers to untangle -- despite efforts to simplify in the past. The new version sounds easy to understand, especially since it's linked to the well-known "Kohl's Cash" promotion. And doubling the reward level to 10 percent of purchases sounds like an aggressive chance to gain market share.
  • Posted on: 05/22/2018

    Ellison leaves Penney, further fueling doubts

    J.C. Penney continues to have a sales problem; its comp store sales for 2017 and the first quarter of 2018 lagged its competitors and failed to take advantage of the continuing decline of Sears. Kohl's experienced similar weather issues in Q1 but managed to deliver a 3.6 percent store-for-store sales increase. It sounds like 20/20 hindsight, but Mr. Ellison operated in a comfort zone since joining J.C. Penney, based on his long background at Home Depot. (And now he is really moving back into that comfort zone.) The push toward home goods -- especially major appliances -- appears not to be the answer to J.C. Penney's lackluster sales. When J.C. Penney finds a suitable replacement, I expect the company to accelerate its store closure program -- unless there is opportunity to be found by heading in the opposite direction and picking up sites from Bon Ton, Sears and so forth. But Mr. Ellison's strategic retreat (while Kohl's pushed to maintain its store base as part of an omnichannel strategy) looks like a mistake from here.
  • Posted on: 05/21/2018

    Sexism is still alive and well

    No matter how much the #MeToo movement has raised awareness, and no matter how often HR departments conduct company-wide training on these issues -- the fact remains that there are a lot of MCPs out there whose behavior won't be affected by a corporate seminar. (Google it if you're too young to be familiar with the acronym.) So there isn't a simple solution to the problem unless the victims of sexism consistently report it -- and unless sympathetic witnesses call it out too. Easier said than done, I know, but the problem won't solve itself.
  • Posted on: 05/16/2018

    Will Target Restock undercut Amazon’s Prime Pantry?

    It's Amazon's world and Target is just living in it. Restock will be a win if Target executes well (and prices commodities competitively) but it feels like a defensive tactic to protect market share -- not necessarily a game-changer.

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