Southern Tier-Based Startup Poplar Point Studio Primed for Continued Success in 2018
For Leigh McGonagle, the founder and CEO of Poplar Point Studio (PPS), an Ithaca-based landscape design & fine gardening company, growing a business has been a rewarding, if lengthy, process.
After graduating from Cornell in 2010 with a degree in Landscape Architecture, McGonagle began doing independent, part-time design work around the Southern Tier of New York state under the name Poplar Point Studio. At the beginning of 2016, McGonagle finally made the decision to become a full-time entrepreneur, growing PPS to offer an official slate of fine gardening and horticultural services.
“2016 was the first year I committed to doing the big kid version of this business,” she said. “I started being like, OK, we’re going to work really hard and see what could happen .”
McGonagle upgraded her bookkeeping software, hired an accountant and a lawyer, and began attending small business workshops in Watkins-Glen. It was there that she met Brad Treat, Entrepreneur in Residence at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. Treat connected her to the growing entrepreneurial scene in and around Ithaca, including the mentorship expertise available here at Rev.
“I had met and established a rapport with Brad, and now that I’m linked to Rev, I have access to the other mentors when I need information that’s their specialty,” she said. “I’ve met with Ken [Rother] about strategic things, I’ve talked to Tony [Frontera] about some branding and marketing strategies, and I’ll leverage Tom [Schryver] for more financial stuff. It’s nice to have access to such a broad range of skills.”
McGonagle’s persistence over the past two years has paid off. In February 2017, Poplar Point Studio officially transitioned from a “Doing Business As” company to a Limited Liability Corporation, (Farm Girl Gardens, LLC), and by October of last year she had more than doubled her 2016 revenues. The success allowed her to move the company out of her parents’ garage and into a new shop space, with room for the firm’s growing fleet of vehicles. Starting out with only two part-time employees, McGonagle plans to add additional full-time workers in the months ahead. And after PPS’s holiday & garden workshop offerings picked up steam to end the year, McGonagle noted that 2017 revenues greatly exceeded her expectations.
“We were way over what even my wildest guess was going to be,” she said.
In addition to taking advantage of Rev’s mentoring services, McGonagle has also attended several networking events, allowing her to make valuable connections that could lead to commercial partnerships or sources of financing down the road.
“My business is entirely built on relationships,” she said. “I don’t really do sales because it’s just conversations I have with people or word of mouth. For me, the more people I have real relationships with the better. I get information from mentors and fellow entrepreneurs, but it’s also about being able to give back. It’s about the sense of community.”
“Leigh is a valued member of the entrepreneurial community here,” added Treat. “She has great enthusiasm for her business, and she’s open to utilizing the services that we offer at Rev and STSA to help her company continue to grow.”
After a brief spell working for an established landscape contracting firm in Cape Cod a few years ago, McGonagle said she’s glad to be back in the Southern Tier, establishing a base for her young company. The combination of beautiful scenery, community, and access to the region’s key resources make Ithaca an attractive place to launch a new startup.
“I moved back because I wanted to be in Ithaca, and there’s so many people who have stories like that,” she said. “It helps that I have roots here. But I’ve been all over the country and many places in the world, and I still love this area.”
“I like the seasonality, and I like that I have access to higher education institutions nearby,” McGonagle continued. “There’s always smart people around, and it’s just gorgeous. I hate that that’s just what came out of my mouth, but it is. I have access to all the things I need to run the business I want to run.”
For more information about PPS: