We Sell Music: ‘They said you can’t go in, Bono is inside buying a harmonica’

Eileen Madden has run Pro Musica since 1982 when she took over from McCullough Pigott.

We Sell Music: ‘They said you can’t go in, Bono is inside buying a harmonica’

Eileen Madden has run Pro Musica since 1982 when she took over from McCullough Pigott, after they decided to let their Cork operation go. There were 11 music shops in Cork when Madden started in the business. Most of them have since closed their doors. Despite floods and challenging trading conditions, Madden’s music emporium spread over three floors at the premises on Oliver Plunkett St continues to open its doors to musicians from all layers of Cork city’s diverse music scene.

No trip to Cork city is complete for music lovers without a peep into this cornucopia of music and Eileen’s cheery greeting when you step through the doors remains a reassuring constant in a changing retail landscape.

How did you get into the business?

I worked here part time while I was a student at the School of Music when it was McCullough Pigott. When I graduated in 1980, I started working here fulltime but I had my visas sorted to go to South Africa and I had two jobs lined up there. Boosey and Hawkes had their main publishing house in Johannesburg and I also had a position as cellist in the Radio Symphony Orchestra.

When the manager left , I was next in line so I stepped up to manage. At that time business was not good. This end of Oliver Plunkett St. was dead. There was a one arm bandit shop two doors up and it was a red light area. Then there was a flood. In the end, McCullough Pigott decided to pull out at the start of 1982. I approached them to rent me the ground floor. My rent was €12,000 a year. Two years later, I bought the premises outright.

How has the business changed?

It was tough at the start but it is much tougher now. Expenses are shooting up and profit margins have shrunk. We have to sell three times the amount of stock and have three times the amount of storage hence we had to go to the expense of taking on a big warehouse in Carrigaline. You have to have it in stock, you have to match the online price and you have to have the staff. We have an online shop on our website and we post a lot of books all over the world. Business in Cork is being killed by our city fathers in the way the city council has enforced the car ban. You have to be out now by three o clock. From the first week of January, I’ve noticed that at ten to three business literally stops.

What has helped you stay in business?

It is the customer service and the repeat business, that is what we hang on to. You might come in for a book and come back later and buy a cello. Then you might trade it in for a bigger or better cello.

That and the fact that we sell everything. We do repairs. If we were just selling guitars and keyboards-Forget it! Being in business for so long, I have built up a huge rapport with all the big name like Fender, Martin Taylor. They are not dealing with anybody new now. I go to a lot of teachers’ conferences. It is a big part of the business. They are the young blood and it does pay off to make those connections.

It helps that I own the premises. If I was paying rent of 40 or 50 grand, I wouldn’t be making the cut. I have a great staff of 13 people and my son Luke has followed me into the

business. Eileen Dennehy has been working with since I started in 1984.

Give us a tour

Downstairs we have our books and accessories. These are our big sellers. Upstairs on the first floor, we have our rock shop. We carry the high end guitar brands They tend to be weekend sales.

We also have our drums, keyboards and synths and amplifiers. On the top floor we have all our string instruments, brass and wind instruments. We are one of the largest stockists of brass and woodwind in Ireland.

Celebrity Customers?

I was coming in to work one day and my door was blocked by these heavy guys who looked like bodyguards. I thought there had been an accident or something.

They said ‘You can’t go in. Bono is in there buying a harmonica.’

Has it been rewarding?

I love it! I love the people. It is a great business and every day is a different day.

I meet a lot of stone mad people. A lot of musicians are eccentric and a lot of eccentrics are musicians. You get up in the morning ready to start all over again. There is no room for depression in this business.

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