Since giving up his corporate job in 2016, Paul Conroy has added animal nutrition, delivery, bakery, tour and sheep enterprises to the beef operation on his family farm in Woodford – and still managed to improve his work/life balance
It was a combination of drive, ambition and a conversation with his supportive mother that led Galway man Paul Conroy to leave the corporate world behind and take the plunge into a number of farm businesses in 2016*.
In eight years, Paul and his family have established six different but complementary businesses on their farm in Woodford in east Galway.
Between the shores of Lough Derg and the Slieve Aughty mountains, the family have built their combined holdings to more than 400ac over the past three generations.
Ambition and a desire for progress have always been key traits in the family. Paul’s father, Paul Snr, has been farming and breeding cattle for more than 50 years.
Paul himself founded Man and Beast, an animal nutrition company, with a friend in 2010, while still working a demanding full-time job in the steel industry and managing the farm in the mornings and evenings.
It was Paul’s late mother Josephine who convinced him to take the plunge and found his agri-supplies company Delivering For Farmers in 2015.
“Myself and my mother set it up together,” says Paul. “She gave me the encouragement and the inspiration to go out on my own. I remember her saying to me ‘we will make it work’, and we did.
“I had the start of a customer base already there (from Man and Beast), so we set out to develop that. We started selling products and we quickly realised, because we are so rural, that a delivery service was the only thing that would make is unique.
“So that’s when we set up Conroy’s Delivering For Farmers.
“My mother was a real driving force on the farm, from as far back as I can remember. She liked progress and she never saw any boundaries. She was able to do things that a lot of men would never have taken on.
“She was an elegant woman, but she was also a huge driving force for the business and great support. She was actually our first delivery driver when we got up and going.”
But this was just the beginning for the Conroy clan. Shortly after founding Conroy’s Delivering For Farmers, Paul took sole control of Man and Beast and expanded the company. It now supplies agri-stores across Ireland and the UK.
“I always had a flair for nutrition for livestock,” he says. “It started as a hobby really and grew from there. I set up Man and Beast and it was working away in the background for years but I always felt it could be something more.
“I was constantly trialling different formulations on the farm or with neighbours — it was an ongoing thing. We have about a dozen products in the range and they are all going very well.
“Probably our best-selling product is our colostrum for calves and lambs which contains 50pc protein plus beta-carotin, which is a natural anti-oxidant.”
Five years ago, the Conroys expanded their business even further, adding a flock of 180 pedigree Zwartbles.
“They are a lovely looking animal. They are docile and have great maternal traits. I’ve always liked sheep and our kids were small at the time and we liked the idea of sheep being around the place,” says Paul.
“We couldn’t get up and going properly because of Covid, but last year we did seven national shows and we won the All Ireland (at the Clonmel Show last year). My kids showed the sheep themselves. We won an Interbreed Champion and the lads got on well in the young handler class.”
More recently, the Conroy farm has become home to two new enterprises: Konfect Artisan Bakery operated by Paul’s sister Fiona and a farm tour business ran by Paul’s wife Lorraine.
“Baking was always Fiona’s forte, she is an incredible baker and she is in her happy place when she is cooking and baking. We realised as a family that there might be an opportunity for Fiona to go baking full time,” says Paul.
“The idea was that she would supply to the public and also that she would supply to the trade. The company is about a year and a half old now and it is going very well.
“Even though we are in a remote spot we get a decent amount of footfall from the agri-shop. We have people who travel to the shop to get their agri-supplies and a lot of them call in to the bakery.
“She also bakes bread on a daily basis and has her regular customers for bread.”
The tours enabled Lorraine, an ag science teacher, to balance her career with spending time at home with her three young children.
“Because we are so rural and so busy, it was a real challenge to have the kids looked after on a daily basis,” says Paul.
“So we saw the opportunity for Lorraine to take a career break and start giving farm tours part-time.
“It is mainly secondary schools at the moment, with a focus on ag-science students. We get fifth and sixth years mainly, but we’re getting more and more transition year students.
“We’re geting LCVP students as well, because of all the businesses on-site, and we also get some from third level, nationally and internationally.
“They do the tour and get a treat from the bakery, so it all links together. These are all people who may be farming themselves in a few years’ time, and might become customers of the other businesses.”
Having established so many businesses in such a shorttime, you’d imagine that the Conroy’s would have received a lot of agency support and mentoring, but the reality was different.
“We did get some supports along the way,” says Paul. “Fiona got some help from Galway Rural Development when she was setting up the bakery, both in terms of advice and financial support.
“Lorraine got great support from Ruth Mulhern, the Tourism Officer with Galway County Council.
“I looked into some of the supports that were available but we didn’t end up using any off them. The problem for us is that we were moving too fast. We would have had to slow down the pace of development if we wanted to take advantage of the supports that are there.
“Building a connection with our suppliers has been very beneficial to us. Getting support from suppliers, from the local community has been brilliant. For me it is all about building relationships. That’s the most important thing. We also have great staff.”
The Conroys now employ 20 people, including five family members, across their various farm businesses, making them one of the largest employers in the area.
Having stretched himself thin for a number of years, Paul Conroy was looking for a new way of life, as well as a new career, when he set up his agri-store business in 2015.
He was running full speed just to keep up, and having less and less time to spend with his family and friends. But somehow, setting up a host of new businesses over the past five years has allowed him to achieve a work-life balance that wasn’t possible before.
“I had a young family and it was getting to the stage where something had to give,” he says. “I was getting up really early in the morning to go farming.
“Then I moved into a corporate world for the day and had to do a lot of travelling before I came home in the evening and I was back into the farming clothes.
“It got to the point where I felt I had to make a change. So we decided that it was time to take the leap and go out on our own.
“The pace of everything was the biggest challenge. The speed that everything started to roll at was phenomenal, it was very difficult trying to keep up with that. As time went on, things started to fit into place better.”
There is nothing easy about starting one successful business, never mind setting up several all at once. Even though the demands are still great, the family spend more time together now than ever before.
“It was a balance at the beginning,” says Paul. “My quality of life did get better but there was always that worry about trying to make it work. My focus was on the business so much at the beginning.
“The pace has been incredible. Everything has happened so fast and so much has happened that I haven’t had a lot of time to focus on me. I am a big family person. I’m heavily involved with sport and everything that the family do.
“We try to make time to do the things we need to do as a family. Mam’s passing really help me to realise the importance of taking time with your family.
“There are big demands, it’s very busy, but I am happy with the quality of life. The family is here all the time. Everybody is all around us, which is huge for me.”
*This article was updated on February 13, 2023.