Press "Enter" to skip to content

Tools of the Trade: 10 questions with Bridgetown Garden Tools founder and entrepreneur Brian Connelly

With the popularity of backyard gardening and growing your own vegetables on the rise, we sat down with the founder of Bridgetown Garden Tools, Brian Connelly, to hear how he built the business from the ground up.

Below are ten questions to help us learn about the brand, how he built the business and what the future holds.

How did you get the idea for your business?

In 2007, my wife and I inherited a community garden plot in Portland, Oregon that was completely neglected.  It was covered with weeds and invasive plants.  As we started clearing our new garden plot, I was so surprised by the lack of quality garden tools available in the market.  They were all plastic and cheap throw-away type tools.  I began using some really unique hand-forged tools I found at the Asian food market right near our house.  Other gardeners saw me using these tools and asked where I got them as they were so effective in the garden.  A lightbulb went off and I knew I could bring modify and modernize them a little bit and bring to mass market.

Did you start the business by yourself or with a partner(s)?

In 2015, I spoke to a colleague of mine about the idea of modifying one of the tools I used the most called a Ho-Mi. A Ho-Mi is an ancient tool used primarly in rice fields in Korea.  It’s also the one I used the most in my community garden.  He agreed to go in with me and start a business. One month later, we placed a 5,000 unit production order of our very first product I called the Handy Hoe.  To this day, it is still our best-seller.

How did you come up with the name of your company?

The name “Bridgetown” came from the nickname commonly used to describe Portland, Oregon as a city known to have many bridges.  Despite the short growing season, Oregon is a wonderful place to grow your own food and has beautiful plants and flowers.  I’m proud to work and live in this great city.  Sometime in 2021, I was able to trademark our name which was a big win.

How did you raise money?

The business was completely self-funded from our savings account and money I could pull together.  I was very cautious and careful and never borrowed any money.  All revenue was put right back into the business and it’s still very much that way today.

How do you decide on which products to offer?

I seek out the best factory partner who can deliver the best product at the best price.  We partner with premium factories all over the world to manufacture our products including Japan, China, Taiwan , Vietnam and Pakistan. Several tools are also made by a local blacksmith here in Oregon.

Where are your items sold and who is your customer?

I initially focused on the wholesale side of the business such as independent garden centers, nurseries and hardware stores.  In 2020, I launched our direct-to-consumer website and we’ve seen great success on that platform.  Today our garden tools are sold in garden centers and boutiques around the world.  Our customers tend to be backyard gardeners or farming professionals and master gardeners.

What are the biggest challenges today?

Finding a work life balance is the biggest hurdle.  It’s hard not to work on building your brand.  You live, sleep and dream about it.  I’ve gotten a lot better but it’s still hard to forget about the business and truly unplug sometimes.

Securing a warehouse space for all our inventory is also an on-going challenge, especially in a very expensive city such as Portland, Oregon.  We’ve had many different warehouse locations and have to balance proximity with very expensive Portland-area rents.  Our current warehouse is less than a mile away from my house in NE Portland which is great but we’ll outgrow it soon.

What is the biggest lesson learned and advice you can offer?

If you go into business with a friend or colleague, be sure to create a formalized exit plan.  Chances are good that someone will want to stop working on the business and seek a way out.  This is exactly what happened to me in 2019 and fortunately I was able to purchase their position in the business but I’m sure it’s not usually that easy.  It was an amicable split and I’ve owned the company since 2019.

You’ve made great strides in growing the business. What is current your annual revenue?

As a private business, I don’t share numbers but I will say we’ve doubled revenue almost every year.

What’s in store for the future?

We continue to provide high quality and affordable garden tools that you won’t find at your local big box store.  We’re also added some great gardening gifts to our line.  My hope is that my children have an interest in taking over the business as they get older.  That’s reason enough to keep pushing forward for me.