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: 06/05/2020

    The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores

    To reinforce what Michael Terpkosh said, it's premature to relax safety policies. At its current pace, we may lose another 100,000 Americans to the virus by Labor Day, and there is evidence that some states' infection rates are rising. (Texas, for example.) Whether this is due to civic unrest or to relaxation of standards, it doesn't really matter; Americans shouldn't become numb to this reality. There is chest-thumping in some circles about the May jobs report -- and the numbers are certainly better than expected -- but the recovery will be stalled if a second wave of infections causes a second phase of shutdowns. There is already plenty of collateral jobs damage still to come (major summer events canceled around the country) and carelessness won't help matters.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2020

    Should Amazon, Walmart, others be held liable for workers sickened by COVID-19?

    The key question: Did the employee contract COVID-19 while on the job, due to the employer's faulty safety practices? Or did the employee actually bring the virus from elsewhere and spread it among other associates? Unless a court is able to answer that question one way or the other, it's going to be hard to hold big employers like Amazon and Walmart liable. Those companies would do well to keep meticulous records of everything from temperature checks to sanitizing schedules -- not only for their own liability, but also to reassure their employees that they are adhering to best practices.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2020

    Can outdoor dining save restaurants?

    Outdoor dining might provide a bridge to full recovery, but it's not a long-term solution until restaurants can reopen at full capacity indoors. Many restaurants don't have the physical space to permit outdoor dining, and many others operate in cold climates. Hopefully many restaurants who learned to build a delivery and pickup business for the first time will continue to supplement their dine-in business rather than looking for patio dining as a long-term answer.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2020

    Nordstrom crushes inventory optimization

    Retailers faced extreme inventory management challenges in the past few months, but there are some lessons to be learned from Nordstrom's success worth applying in the "new normal."
    1. First, the oldest cliche in the retail book is still true -- the first markdown is the best markdown. Don't take a 20 percent markdown and let your inventory die a slow death when conditions call for 50 percent.
    2. Second, leverage your physical locations as mini-warehouses. Nordstrom's website fulfillment rose to 50 percent from its stores, and I don't expect that number to fall back to its previous average of 20 percent.
    3. Finally, Nordstrom was very aggressive about canceling orders, especially to avoid getting hung with seasonal inventory that it can't sell. There is no substitute for a sense of urgency in the retail business.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

    These are two very difficult and different questions. I believe most Americans sympathize with the protests, and the killing of George Floyd seems to have resonated across the country in unprecedented ways. (Thanks in part to the smartphone.) The same people who support the right to protest peacefully are probably appalled at the accompanying violence and destruction as it threatens to swamp the real issues. If you're a retailer or other national brand, it's important to speak up instead of staying silent. But it's tough for Target and other retailers large and small to watch the wanton destruction of their property. They need to protect their assets and their associates' safety, without compromising their messaging of support. It's a tricky balancing act without any easy answers.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Retailers focus on making safe spaces for customers and associates

    Bob, I agree that people want to resume normal activity -- but nobody knows if "the vast majority...had limited exposure to the virus" or may be exposing themselves to it now. Wisconsin may turn out to be a case where the court-ordered reopening, and a complete mishmash of guidance from county to county (and even within counties) seems to be leading to an uptick of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. In the absence of clear guidance, it's not too much to ask each customer-facing business to put some common-sense protocols into effect. Those safeguards may in fact be just what "the vast majority" is looking for.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Do retailers need ‘trickle up economics’ to beat COVID-19?

    Maybe the large numbers of unemployed could be used not only for contact tracing but also to clear the massive backlogs in many states' unemployment insurance applications, along with the backlogs at the IRS. This would put real, and sustainable, money into people's pockets -- the original $1200 check is a Band-Aid that might represent one or two weeks of income in a typical middle-class household.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Retailers focus on making safe spaces for customers and associates

    There are three issues that jump out for any kind of business or organization: Social distancing, masks (if a policy can be enforced) and sanitization. While a lot of the discussion about social distancing focus on capacity control, there should be an effort to reduce the numbers of fixtures on the selling floor just as restaurants in most regions are operating at less than full capacity. I haven't been in a Kohl's store since they reopened here in Wisconsin, but apparently they have removed a lot of fixtures -- a big change for Kohl's. (What this means for "treasure hunt" retailers like TJX remains to be seen.) Stores forced to carry less merchandise and narrower assortments might just find that the customer likes it when she is ready to return.
  • Posted on: 05/27/2020

    Are store brands set for a big growth spurt?

    This is anecdotal, not data-driven evidence, but I think it's too early to tell whether consumers are shifting to or from private brands. A lot of it is driven by the supply chain issues of the past three months and what stores have on their shelves at any given time. If our local Kroger store substitutes its own branded coffee creamer for the national brand, when we place an online order, we don't really care. The search for value, and the elevated quality of many store-branded products, is not a new phenomenon -- but I expect a tug-of-war between branded and private-label goods for quite some time.
  • Posted on: 05/26/2020

    Should Apple and other stores require shopper temperature checks?

    Temperature checks would be an ideal protocol, but this assumes that retailers can manage the process if they have a steady influx of customers. (I don't see how a heavily trafficked grocer or a store like Costco can manage it.) Since many "carriers" are asymptomatic, that temperature check may not tell retailers what they need to know. I applaud Apple for trying to make it work. Clearly the priority needs to be insuring that everybody walking into a store or other establishment wears a mask. I know this is politically unpopular in some quarters, but masking both customers and store associates (and maintaining social distancing) continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 without forcing all of us back into quarantine. At my neighborhood Kroger yesterday (where I use curbside pickup), I was happy to see at least 90 percent of customers walking into and out of the store wearing masks.
  • Posted on: 05/22/2020

    Can influencers connect during a pandemic?

    Influencers who continue to post about high-end travel, fashion and dining will look tone-deaf for awhile, and they would do well to reconsider their audience in the short term. In the meanwhile, there is a "democratization" of online influence happening now, driven in large part by what Axios calls "Zoom Moms." The true influencers, for the duration of this crisis and recovery, will be those who offer practical solutions in their own lives and outreach about the larger community.
  • Posted on: 05/21/2020

    Is Kohl’s a stronger retailer as it reopens stores?

    This story just broke in the Milwaukee paper, since Kohl's is about to reopen in its own backyard (hopefully no paywall). The most interesting angle to me is the apparent effort to "open up" the stores with more spacing between fewer fixtures. Kohl's has not always had enough breathing room on its selling floor, so it will be interesting to see how customers respond over the long run. If it works, Kohl's takes another lesson learned from this experience.
  • Posted on: 05/21/2020

    Is Kohl’s a stronger retailer as it reopens stores?

    Starting with my usual "full disclosure" (I worked there from 1982 to 2006), Kohl's went into the COVID-19 crisis with a couple of key advantages. First, it has a very strong e-commerce business as a percentage of its total sales. Second, its balance sheet was stronger at the outset than many of its competitors -- such as J.C. Penney, to state the obvious. But having to shutter 1,100 stores -- without a faster response on curbside pickup -- put Kohl's at a disadvantage vs. Target over the past two months. Target's earnings call reported strength in apparel -- not just food and consumables, as you might expect -- because they became the only game in town for many "soft goods" categories. Kohl's is likely to have lost market share to Target, even if they maintained it vs. their department store competitors who were in the same boat. Kohl's will recover, but it won't be easy: Apparel and soft home may feel especially discretionary in the face of job losses, food shortages and an overall public health crisis.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2020

    Is Amazon about to buy J.C. Penney?

    Agreed. I could see a collection of Amazon businesses and "solutions" under one roof, from Amazon Go to books to food, and maybe apparel and home too -- but not with the J.C. Penney nameplate when their own brand equity is so much stronger.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2020

    Is Amazon about to buy J.C. Penney?

    Mark, see my comment: Buy it for the locations, not for the brand equity.

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