For entrepreneur Lyle Larson, the move from owning a sawmill in Littlefork to owning a venerable clothing store in downtown International Falls, just seemed like an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“I went from sawing logs to selling socks…go figure”, said Larson on his acquiring the store back in 2001. But recognizing opportunity and translating it into a successful venture is something that Larson has been doing most of his life. A 1981 graduate of Littlefork High School, Larson began his career logging until moving to the Twin Cities in 1985. He returned to Littlefork in 1987 and at the age of 24, started a sawmill there. A year later, he began buying properties, rehabbing them, as well as building new housing for tenants. He has continued that practice and currently has 53 renters in three communities.
In 2001, Larson purchased Ronnings, the long-time retail store in downtown International Falls that was first established in 1964 a block away under a different name (Falls Surplus, then Border Bargains when it moved to its current location). Although he didn’t have a lot of experience with retail, Larson felt it was a tremendous opportunity to take over the established store at a great location. Ronnings carries a wide variety of clothing and footwear for the entire family as well as custom Rainy Lake t-shirts, sweatshirts, and various souvenirs. In 2002 Larson bought a store front in downtown Baudette, Minnesota, 70 miles west of International Falls where he successfully duplicated his Ronnings store. And, he created a Ronnings location in Littlefork that he eventually closed and converted into apartments.
Larson expanded the International Falls store into the basement in 2005 to give the store 13,000 square feet of display space. During his tenure Larson continues to add national brands into his mix including Carhartt, Nike, Under Armor, Woolrich, Columbia, and Smartwool. Last year, he bought the building next door and added a Ronnings outlet store into a portion of the space. Keeping a presence at both locations has kept Larson on the road where he has logged over 45,000 miles in less than a year.
Summer and winter visitors to International Falls make Ronnings a must stop visit and Canadian shoppers are an important part of his business as well. Larson credits his employees, now numbering 25, for the success of his locations, “I’ve had great employees that have really made the difference.”
In looking to the future, Larson is looking to his son Garrett, who will be graduating from Minnesota State Moorehead with a degree in Business, to take over management of the Baudette store. Garrett is already following in his father’s steps by owning three rental properties on his own. Lyle and his wife Mary also have two daughters – Breann and Hannah. Mary takes care of all of the bookkeeping and Lyle is quick to point out she is a vital part of the enterprise, “She holds it all together.” When they find spare time, the Larson’s like to retreat to their cabin on Rainy Lake, fish, hunt and travel. In fact, Lyle and Mary plan to hike the Grand Canyon – from the North Rim to the South Rim – this month.
The next time you’re in International Falls, make sure to take the time to visit Ronnings on Main Street.