Professional Development

Bolts, Booze and Bullets

How entrepreneur Meg Thoreson balances being the boss and being bossed

By Sue Hawkes
10-26-2016

I first met Meg Thoreson through the Women’s Business Alliance, an initiative of the Entrepreneur Fund in northern Minnesota. We immediately hit it off — as we both help entrepreneurs and their leadership teams through our work. Meg is a dynamo, and one of the many things I admire about her is how well she manages it all.

In addition to leading the Women’s Business Alliance, Meg also co-owns Solon Springs Mercantile, a retail store in Wisconsin, with her husband Ken. She says her North Woods lifestyle store sells “bolts, booze and bullets,” just about everything you need for a perfect experience up north. Although being an owner of a family business while being employed at a nonprofit organization doesn’t logically make sense to me, Meg seems to relish it. She believes the roles actually balance and complement each other, feeding her drive to work and serve others.

Learning from problems, sharing the lessons

Meg has learned many lessons as a business owner, with “read what’s in your insurance policy” being number one. After purchasing Solon Springs Mercantile in 2002, their business was completely lost to a fire in 2004. Thankfully, Meg and Ken had a strong insurance policy, a bold business plan and supportive lending partners; this allowed them to rebuild their store three times larger than the original footprint. Meg learned many lessons from the fire and says, “I share those lessons with business owners every day in my role at the Entrepreneur Fund.” She found many of her vendors were partners who became friends while others couldn’t or wouldn’t weather the difficult times through the rebuilding. Meg says, “We realized which relationships were important, and which ones we needed to walk away from.”  As a leader of the Women’s Business Alliance, Meg helps entrepreneurial businesses in northern Minnesota achieve growth. “We assist the business owners and connect them to things to help grow their skills and secure resources,” says Meg.  “It’s very exciting for me because I have a passion for small business.” As an avid reader and learner, Meg also enjoys sharing new resources for personal and professional development. “That’s the fun part of going to work every day! I’m able to take the passion of being in a small town and a business owner and share that with other businesses across the region to help them grow and thrive.”

Managing two different roles

As much as her two careers complement each other, Meg admits juggling the two can be difficult. As a business owner myself, I often joke that I’m an entrepreneur because I’m unemployable. Meg echoes this statement, knowing she needs to remind herself to step back. “There are times when my supervisor’s business vision and values are not aligned with mine,” says Meg. “That’s when I have to remind myself, ‘This isn’t your ship to steer, you need to see where they’re coming from.’” Always humble, Meg reflects that working as an employee “has taught me to appreciate that I’m not always going to be right, and I need to remain open to other options and perspectives.” Giving 100% to two careers requires organization, structure and boundaries, and Meg is a master at all of them. She’s learned discipline and structure from her mother, who at 89, still begins each day with a brisk walk. Meg has inherited this daily practice and plans her day while on her walk. By the time she begins work each day, she has “already organized what needs to be done for each role, and when things can be done so that everything gets 100%.” When it comes to board work (a third role!), Meg is crystal clear about her passions so she knows what to say yes to. “I serve on boards that are focused on business growth and economic development,” says Meg, and in 2008 she was the first woman elected to the United Hardware Distributing Board of Directors. This has been a great place for her to learn and share strategic input. Meg also believes “there is no substitute for hard work,” and this philosophy — also inherited from her parents — is her biggest secret to getting it all done. “If you’re going to participate, you give 100%. When you show up, you show up with your best game,” says Meg.

Driven to work, driven to serve

Because Meg knows firsthand what it’s like to have a boss, she and Ken are committed to being great bosses. Although the store experiences seasonal shifts in business, they keep their employees working full-time year round. “It’s important to us, and it’s an expense we feel is necessary to be a good employer while retaining good employees,” shares Meg. She and Ken have maintained their staff’s full-time positions — including the entire year of rebuilding following the fire. It doesn’t stop there; to ensure their employees have balance and enjoy the nature surrounding them, Meg and Ken work the cash registers every Saturday morning so their staff can enjoy weekend time hunting, fishing and hiking. In regard to coaching business owners, Meg shares, “Small business owners inspire me because I recognize the hurdles they go through to be that smiling face inside of a small-time business. There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, and they often make it look extremely easy to the general public, so I gain a lot of inspiration from them.” Well said, Meg, I was thinking the same thing.

Bio

Sue Hawkes, CEO of YESS!, is a Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, bestselling author and award-winning entrepreneur. She has been helping entrepreneurs and leadership teams succeed for the past 20+ years.

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