Me & My Money: Conrad Howard
Founder/owner, Market Lane Group, Cork marketlane.ie
Conrad Howard: “We grew the business through the recession, and that was by being very prudent.”
Are you a saver or a spender?
I suppose you could call me a saver, but I love to splash out and buy the nicer things in life too, particularly on travelling with the family. We have to save up for these luxuries and are happy to do so.
Do you shop around for better value?
Yes, I do a fair bit of searching when it comes to getting a good deal for household items and stuff for the kids. However, I absolutely shop around when it comes to buying for the business. You have to, really, in order to get the best. Once we have established a relationship with a particular supplier we tend to be pretty loyal.
What has been your most extravagant purchase ever and how much did it cost?
Not surprisingly, It was our house. We had moved back from the UK, and decided to settle in Cork. The house we set our heart on in Blackrock was a scary amount of money for us at the time, and when our bid on it went through successfully we couldn’t believe our luck. We’ve had 12 fantastic years there and lots of happy memories.
What purchase have you made that you consider the best value for money?
The decision to open Market Lane was the biggest financial decision I made. I had been working with another company in the hospitality industry at the time and the market wasn’t great. I found myself in a position where a premises I had been looking at for some time became vacant on Oliver Plunkett Street. I decided to go for it. Fortunately for us, it has been a great success and, while we have grown slowly, we now have four restaurants within the group.
How do you prefer to shop – online or local?
Both on a personal and professional level we buy local wherever we can. Our restaurants buy as much of their produce as possible from the English Market in Cork and other local producers around the county. We are very fortunate in Cork that the ‘buy local’ ethos is a strong as it is, because the produce is easily available.
Do you haggle over prices?
You have to be able to do a certain amount of haggling, even if it is just for form. Fortunately, for work I don’t have to do that much negotiating with suppliers anymore. My main responsibilities now are focused on staff and working with them so that each party benefits from the relationship to the full, and they make their careers with us.
Has the recession changed your spending habits?
Of course. Value became the watchword in all our lives and is now a given. We grew the business through the recession, and that was by being very prudent. Customers demand value for money now, and rightly so.
Do you invest in shares?
It may be boring but I consider investing in shares a bit like gambling on horses as I have no understanding of how the market works. So, no, I don’t, but never say never.
Cash or card?
Card – it’s just much easier and safer. That said, I hitched through rural France in my early 20s and literally starved for three days as I had no way of getting hold of cash – my plastic was no good to me then! Ever since, I’ve always had to have some cash in my pocket. I get a bit nervous if I don’t have a couple of coins jangling around in there, just in case!
What was the last thing you bought and was it good value for money?
The last significant purchase I made was for a new conditioning tank for our Brewery in Elbow Lane. It came from the Czech Republic. It was put into action immediately, and is now being used to create a special edition beer for our anniversary celebrations. So it’s well on the way to paying for itself.
Have you ever lost money?
Prior to opening Market Lane I put on a couple of music gigs locally. It wasn’t a huge success by any standards. I’ve not done it since, and am full of admiration for those that do it well or even at all.
Are you a gambler and if so have you ever had a big win?
The restaurant business is risky enough. I indulge in the odd lotto ticket, but I’ve never really understood the appeal of sports betting.
Is money important to you?
Not particularly. As long as the family is provided for and the businesses are on an even keel, we’re happy.
How much money do you have on you now?
€4.50, although I hear my daughter approaching so I may well be poorer shortly.