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: 02/07/2023

    2023 could be the year of the recession that never happened

    For all the talk of a recession -- which can create a negative mindset even if the facts don't back it up -- there is not much evidence in the data. GDP is growing modestly, inflation is subsiding, and employment is robust despite layoffs in the tech industry. There is some easing of mortgage rates, which will help the housing and related industries. All this being said, retailers shouldn't confuse healthy consumer spending with good sales in their stores. Soft Q4 results suggest that consumers are more focused on experiences (travel and dining) and less interested in "stuff" they can buy. I would plan conservatively -- but not in overly cautious "recession mode."
  • Posted on: 02/06/2023

    Stale Amazon grocery stores need a fresh approach

    If Amazon thinks that Just Walk Out provides enough differentiation, its expansion into grocery will not succeed. (The irony is that Amazon already owns a highly successful food retailer -- Whole Foods -- but has not leveraged its growth quickly enough.) This is not like Amazon's entry into other brick-and-mortar retail -- which has had limited success anyway -- because there is a vast array of formats and competitors already in place, from Walmart to Kroger to Aldi.
  • Posted on: 02/03/2023

    Will Kohl’s new CEO prove to be a good shepherd or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

    I left Kohl's in early 2006 before Mr. Kingsbury's previous tenure at the company, but a former colleague who was mentored by Mr. Kingsbury at May Company describes him as a top-notch manager. (His track record at Burlington backs this up.) I also believe the new CEO grew up in the Milwaukee area, steeped in the Kohl's culture that made it successful in the first place. That doesn't ensure victory, but it can't hurt. None of this forecasts the future for Kohl's, especially as it tries to leverage the Sephora strategy. (Other initiatives that were supposed to work, like Amazon returns, did not drive incremental sales.) If Mr. Kingsbury can refocus on Kohl's expense and assortment planning disciplines -- while getting some breathing room from activists via the standstill agreement -- he can add another success story to his resume.
  • Posted on: 01/27/2023

    Is it time for retailers to radically rethink their business models?

    Even before the pandemic caused sweeping changes in consumer behavior -- some long-lasting, others less sustainable -- every retailer should have had its business practices under a microscope. Changes in the workforce, the growth of omnichannel, and demographics are only a few areas that should trigger self-reflection by retailers. Any customer-facing business needs to be nimble, even if its current practices appear to be working.
  • Posted on: 01/26/2023

    Has it gotten harder to find a top notch retail CEO?

    The answer depends on the definition of "qualified." Companies are hiring executives from other industries (e.g. Marriott and Starbucks) with less regard to a traditional retail background. With the long-term consolidation of the retail industry, the pool of candidates who cut their teeth "in the business" gets smaller and smaller. While broad skill sets are portable from industry to industry -- for example, leadership and brand building -- there is still an argument for retail CEOs who have run stores or merchandising teams. That being said, companies like Bed Bath & Beyond have learned the hard way that there is no simple solution.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2023

    Nordstrom gets snagged by apparel markdown pressures

    Based on my own shopping trips to Nordstrom (in-store and online) I have to agree with Neil's tough assessment. I have never seen a full-line Nordstrom store so disjointed and overassorted in its men's and women's apparel areas, especially lacking in key items during gift-giving season. And for the upper-moderate shopper attracted by Nordstrom's depth of "opening price" product (by the store's standards), these choices are now sorely lacking. It's not a large sample size, but my wife and I have repeatedly left empty-handed -- making me believe that weak merchandise content is the root cause of the store's inventory issues.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2023

    Retailers should be prepping now for economic recovery

    Companies need to be prepared for both downturns and recovery, but it really depends on the individual retail segment. Given the rebound in travel and other experiential purchases, stores that cater to that lifestyle may be better positioned than those focused on home goods. inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic are still in the air, so it pays to be nimble.
  • Posted on: 01/17/2023

    Is culture the key to Target’s success?

    At the start of my retail career, I worked for Dayton's, the Minneapolis-based department store from which Target developed. Many of Target's early leaders came from Dayton's, and brought with them the parent company's culture of trend merchandising and customer-centric innovation. I believe those attributes have lasted for over 60 years despite changes in management and inevitable bumps in the road along the way. During my years at Kohl's, we hired managers from Target who referred to "guests," not customers. What sounded awkward to us at the time has turned out to be at the heart of Target's cultural mindset.
  • Posted on: 01/16/2023

    Macy’s gains control of its inventory and markdowns

    It's hard to interpret Macy's Q3 results -- especially on the EPS side -- without assuming that the company needed to work through its own inventory issues. To Macy's credit, it began 4th quarter in good shape and could focus on selling current-season goods instead of 2021 "packaway" merchandise. Macy's may be applying a different negotiating and data science model to its business, but it also has the ability to treat each location as a mini-warehouse for e-commerce orders. (Not unlike Kohl's and other competitors in this regard.) The Backstage strategy also gives Macy's a built-in pipeline to clear inventory.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2023

    Is nepotism all that bad for retail?

    I agree with Dave (and his mother-in-law) that there is no right answer to this question, especially as it pertains to privately held companies. It's easy to understand why founders want to pass the business along to their children -- if they're interested and have the right skill set -- because those relatives "grew up in the business" and hopefully absorbed what's best about the company culture. Those private businesses still need good governance and oversight (even more so with public companies, of course), so nobody's family member should feel entitled by DNA to run an operation into the ground.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2023

    Study says retail jobs are just the worst

    I'm guessing that a similar survey taken 40 years ago would find retail jobs at the bottom of the list. It speaks to the low-wage, tedious and often physically demanding frontline job in many retail stores. Retailers have not adequately leveraged new technology (robotics, for example) to take some of the monotony and physical stress out of the job. At least there are signs that some enlightened employers recognize the need for higher wages, better training, and more well-defined career paths.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2023

    Is Babies’R’Us ready to make a comeback or is it just a dream?

    The new list of store closures from Bed Bath & Beyond includes just a handful of Buybuy Baby locations. If Bed Bath & Beyond decides to throw in the towel on its business, the Baby stores (and maybe some of the Bed Bath sites) become an opportunity for Babies"R"Us. Otherwise I'm skeptical that one prototype store in a highly visible mall can be transformed quickly into a national footprint. A partnership with another retailer (along the lines of the Toys"R"Us-Macy's deal) might move the needle faster.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2023

    Rite Aid puts out ‘help wanted’ sign for a new CEO

    Between CVS and Walgreens, the combined store count is nearly 10 times the number of Rite Aid stores. This feels like an insurmountable competitive advantage, especially after Walgreens was able to scoop up a large number of Rite Aid stores in 2017. Both companies have expanded their reach into everything from health insurance to clinics, and CVS has built a partnership with Target. This leaves Rite Aid in a "no man's land" situation -- without the critical mass to grow the business in a significant way despite new small-format stores and so forth. And antitrust regulators would probably not approve either CVS or Walgreens acquiring the rest of its stores -- leaving a new CEO in a bind.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2023

    Is Bed Bath & Beyond nearing the end of the line?

    Other retailers (Macy's, for one) have survived Chapter 11, but I'm not sure about Bed Bath & Beyond. It's one thing to be debt-ridden (and to restructure that debt), it's another thing to have a meltdown in your sales volume. A bankruptcy filing may allow Bed Bath & Beyond to close more than its previously announced 150 stores, and it may allow critical supplies to start shipping goods again. Without getting branded inventory back on the shelves, the company's long-term prognosis is not good.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2023

    Bloomingdale’s looks to make more with less

    The Bloomie's format should travel well, allowing the brand to expand into markets which can't support a full-sized mall anchor. if Old Orchard (outside Chicago) found its full-sized Bloomingdale's store unsustainable after many years, it tells you how many "A" malls around the country can handle the new concept. That being said, there is a big difference between 20,000 and 50,000 square feet in terms of the need to curate. (And localization is just as critical.) A footprint that is too small simply won't provide enough breadth of offering to be true to the Bloomingdale's brand.

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