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: 08/03/2020

    Is the future of malls outside?

    Are there any BrainTrust members from regions with the opposite problem? Do shoppers in Phoenix go for outdoor malls vs. enclosed malls during the brutally hot summers there? It's not by accident that the country's first fully enclosed regional mall (Southdale) was built outside Minneapolis, or that the Mall of America also chose Minnesota as its site.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2020

    Trader Joe’s says ‘never mind’ on private label name changes

    As I said when this issue first came up, I see a big difference between "Trader Jose's" and brand names like Uncle Ben's or Aunt Jemima -- with their echoes of antebellum house slaves. I don't think Trader Joe's is guilty of the same sort of conscious tone-deafness (unless I'm being tone-deaf myself). The company may get some pushback from the petitioners, but it seems to have the support of its own employees and customers.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2020

    Is the future of malls outside?

    Welcome to Wisconsin, where we typically enjoy four to five months of winter (if we're lucky). I see no mention in the discussion about northern climates where outdoor pedestrian-driven shopping is a challenge. The one "lifestyle center" in this area has not succeeded -- partly a function of the weather, partly because of the tenant mix as with many indoor malls. Power centers and off-price (outlet) malls are successful in this part of the country, but they often require driving from one end of a big parking lot to another -- not walking from store to store in the cold and snow. There is still a place for indoor malls, but their future depends on the health of the tenant mix as well as the relevance of the overall experience.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2020

    What didn’t Jeff Bezos know and when didn’t he know it?

    I have a problem with the sale of stolen and counterfeit goods on Amazon -- especially because it violates the bond of trust between company and customer. I take less issue with using data to develop private label goods. If you're Macy's, or Kohl's, or Target, you evaluate the sale of products from your own suppliers -- especially the national brands -- in order to uncover trends and opportunities in your own labels. (And sometimes those branded suppliers lose shelf space to private label goods, just as they do in grocery stores.) Is what Amazon doing all that different, or is the issue its sheer scale and ability to read and react to the data?
  • Posted on: 07/29/2020

    How can retailers differentiate curbside delivery?

    I'm seeing two evolving approaches to curbside pickup. First are the stores like Target and Kroger that are adapting to this "new normal" even as they see more traffic inside their stores. These stores have focused on ease of execution (if not always perfect fulfillment rates), and have developed a stronger omnichannel presence as a result. But a lot of retailers and restaurants were forced into curbside while in "survival mode," and viewed it as a temporary fix instead of a permanent strategy. These are the outlets whose execution was haphazard -- and in some cases they are taking their eye off the ball as they permit customers inside. In "hot zone" areas running the risk of a second shutdown, some of these retailers will need to take curbside more seriously as a sustainable strategy.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2020

    Has retail adaptation become more about survival than competitive edge?

    I agree with Dave Nixon on this one: Companies that show the greatest ability to adapt to unexpected change will help themselves ring the register in the short term, but they will also strengthen their reputation for good execution. Even "essential retailers" like Amazon and grocery chains got caught early in the pandemic because they didn't react to demand shifts quickly enough -- but they seem to have regained their footing to some degree. (With the mystifying exception of sanitizing products.) Survival mode doesn't just mean getting through 2020, but emerging from the other side of the pandemic with more brand equity built on trust.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2020

    Will COVID-19 bludgeon Halloween sales?

    It's naive to think that Halloween 2020 will look anything like previous years, given that every other aspect of normal life has been disrupted. I expect brick-and-mortar Halloween pop-up stores to be affected the most, unless they have a strong omnichannel footprint. (And they had better be ready for curbside pickup, too.) Halloween costuming has become a social occasion for adults, not just kids, and this could take a particular hit given social distancing, bar closings, etc. I think candy makers will find a way to come through this with less damage, because parents will make an extra effort to make Halloween trick-or-treating happen for their kids -- even if it's the drive-through variety. But there will be more reluctance than usual to handle candy packaging that might have been in the wrong hands, so to speak.
  • Posted on: 07/24/2020

    Has retail permanently downsized?

    "Permanently" is a long time, but the economic havoc caused by the pandemic will take some recovery time. It's clear that many of the stores closing locations or declaring bankruptcy were weakened even before the crisis -- too many locations, too much debt, no sustainable reason for growing market share. The shift to e-commerce, and the decline of the mall, didn't just start in mid-March. I'm cautiously optimistic about treatments and vaccines, but I'm not sure they mean the return to "normal" retail business. There will be opportunities to pick up real estate, to be sure, but I think many customers have discovered what they need and what they don't need over the past six months. They may be hungering for experiential spending more than "stuff."
  • Posted on: 07/23/2020

    How can retail advance more women to leadership supply chain roles?

    There may be a lingering misperception that women managers in retail are better suited to "soft skills" areas like merchandising, marketing and HR -- while men are better suited to fields like IT and supply chain management. This is nonsense, of course, but it has probably perpetuated the problem of gender imbalance. Fixing the problem starts with hiring; companies recruiting from schools with supply chain management programs ought to make an extra effort to hire more women. Promoting women up the logistics career ladder is another way to provide aspirational "models" for those new recruits. In any case, the entire field of supply chain management is too critical to the future of retail to allow old-school gender and other biases hold companies back.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    It is a different year. Walmart is closing on Thanksgiving.

    Walmart may be the first to announce closing on Thanksgiving, but it won't be the last. It's a gesture toward its store associates who have faced extraordinary challenges this year, and any store not following suit will look like the Grinch. From an economic standpoint, I've long argued that early openings on Black Friday -- now stretching to Thanksgiving itself -- have drained the urgency out of the event. This won't cause a revival of Friday morning "doorbuster" business, if shoppers are still avoiding physical stores and shopping online, but the earned goodwill may prove priceless.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2020

    Can Trader Joe’s shake off its racist branding tag?

    I'm personally sympathetic to matters of systemic racism and abusive policing, but making noise about an issue like this runs the risk of trivializing the important issues. These sub-brands don't trade in the same kinds of stereotypes as Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben's, unless I'm missing something. But if TJ's was already in the process of renaming these products, it's their prerogative.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2020

    Struggling retailers lay off workers and pay millions in executive bonuses

    A smart C-suite executive who is already well compensated would pause his or her bonus even if it was performance based or contractually driven. This would send a supportive message to the remaining workforce, even on a furlough, that "we're all in this together." And perhaps the money going toward executive bonuses could be redeployed toward an extra month of insurance coverage, etc. Retention bonuses make some sense in challenging situations like these, to make sure that capable executives keep the ship afloat. But most of the examples in this article really do look like bad optics or tone-deafness.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2020

    Should workers accept pay cuts in exchange for working remotely?

    I'm biased, (with adult children whose offices have enabled them to work from home since March), but I don't see the rationale for lower pay. Most people are still living in the same cities where they commuted to work before, so arguably the only cost savings are the transit costs themselves. But the workloads haven't changed and in some cases have become more challenging as managers work around others' furloughs. Many companies already employ large numbers of work-from-home phone agents in customer service and related areas. What has changed for these employees, in terms of cost of living? I think this is a tough argument for an HR department to support, even if it has more leverage during a period of high unemployment.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2020

    Starbucks becomes latest retailer to make masks mandatory

    It's not just confrontations between shoppers and store associates -- it's also confrontations between masked and unmasked shoppers that are becoming a problem. Costco, for one, has had few reported incidents because its policy is so straightforward. Starbucks is doing the right thing, in the absence of any consistent governmental approach to the issue even as the numbers of cases rise in many parts of the country. It looks like it's going to be up to private businesses to "flatten the curve" once and for all, if enough of them follow the lead of Starbucks, Apple and Costco.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2020

    Retailers need way more fulfillment space to keep up with booming online sales

    It's not a simple fix to convert today's distribution center -- designed to move store-ready shipments from receiving to outbound trailers without much storage or handling in between -- into an Amazon-style warehouse. But multiple national chains probably find themselves with too many DCs in their portfolios, and not enough e-commerce warehouses. The long-term trend toward e-commerce fulfillment seems irreversible, even without the extra incentive of a pandemic. It's going to be worth the investment, because the DCs built for store fulfillment won't be kept busy enough. At the same time, ship-from-store becomes an increasingly important tactic.

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