Sue Welna, co-owner of Welna II Hardware, maintains a family tradition of hard-working businesswomen in a conventionally male-centered industry. The pioneer behind the Welna legacy was actually her grandmother-in-law, Anna Welna, who with her husband opened the original store on Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood back in 1954. The business was passed down to her husband’s parents, and then to his brother.
“The best advice I got was from watching my grandmother-in-law. People would come into the hardware store and always ask for a man … and my husband as a young man would say ‘Grandma, what’s this for?'” said Welna, reflecting on the early days.
About 50 percent of the store’s employees are female. “I have a women who is retired; one who operates a house renovating business; my daughter is a student; there is a young mother with children in grade school; and a young Ethiopian woman who is bilingual, working on the weekends,” she said. The rest of her employees are male college students. “The women have more life experience. For example, the retired woman is a former trucker. But everyone gets along and that’s great,” she added.
Welna also enjoys being part of a diverse neighborhood. “We have Milwaukee Avenue, which is kind of a gentrified area, then Seward Tower East and West where lots of East African immigrants live, and … Seward is a ‘green’ neighborhood, so we try hard to serve this aspect of the market,” she said.
“I like the fact that the products and services I sell are basic and essential to people. They are not discretionary, but are needs that keep people going from day to day,” Welna said. “I save them a long trip, I save them money and that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
The current economy is not an easy one for small businesses. According to Welna, the future of Welna II is all about sustainability. “Our goal right now is to maximize the space we’re in. I’m glad we didn’t expand before the market fell apart,” she said. The best thing about being in business for herself is the ability to make her own decisions, Welna said. “I worked for many years in government where making decisions takes a long time for approval. When you own your own business, you can change things on the spot. That’s what I really get a kick out of … direct consequences,” she said.
Welna II Hardware
2201 E. Franklin Ave.