Pursuing A Higher Calling
The first day of 2003 for Bernard McCoy started out early, at 3:30 a.m., with a quick check of his email. But before he could reply to messages about his growing online business, Father Bernard spent the next five hours singing Gregorian chants with his fellow monks at the Cistercian Abbey in Wisconsin. The monks run a Web site that sells printing and imaging supplies, LaserMonks.com, founded after Father Bernard negotiated discounts (from 30% to 60%) for items sold through the monastery. Laser Monks.com now does about $500,000 in annual sales and expects to triple that in 2004. Profits go straight to the Cistercians’ charitable missions around the world.
From Bernard’s original entry:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
Tucked away on 500 acres in the rolling hills of Wisconsin, the Cistercian Abbey is home to a small group of contemplative monks. In typical monk fashion, these gents spend their days in Gregorian chant, spiritual studies, private prayer and…..e-commerce? That’s right, these avant garde monks spend several hours a day running LaserMonks, a company that sells discounted printing and imaging supplies online at www.lasermonks.com. Most in America don’t realize that monasteries are required to be self-supporting. With their work, they put food on the table, cover operating expenses, and donate the rest to charity.
In the past, Father Bernard McCoy, Abbey Steward of Temporal Affairs, says the monks have supported the monastery and good works doing everything from selling cheese gift boxes, to farming, and real estate development, and even considered raising shitake mushrooms and building a four star golf course. So why not sell printing and imaging supplies? National office supply chains such as Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot are a popular source for printer cartridges and copier toner, but customers pay a significant markup when they buy retail. Many businesses, especially large corporations, don’t realize what a significant portion of their budgets is spent on these supplies.
What was your moment of truth?
Somehow the mix of contemplative prayer with modern office products boggles the imagination, yet to Father Bernard, the connection is perfectly logical. His monastery needed some toner cartridges. At the same time he was investigating new ways of supporting the Abbey. It struck him how expensive black dust and a few squirts of ink were. Yet every business and practically every home in America has printers. And they all need ink and toner. As he investigated the industry and discovered the incredible markup of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), he got excited thinking about the money they could save businesses, churches, schools, and non-profits–plus put food on their table and on the tables of many others through charity! What a wonderful idea. LaserMonks was born. Father Bernard negotiated incredible deals with several major manufacturers, who were all very enthusiastic about working with LaserMonks. After all, the monks’ image of quality, trustworthiness, and a 900-year tradition of excellence would go a long way in today’s business market. Additionally, LaserMonks would offer remanufactured products that are good for the environment, since good stewardship of natural resources has always been a priority for monks.
What were the results?
LaserMonks launched its e-commerce site, LaserMonks.com, selling high quality, 100% guaranteed products. The site went from selling $2,000 in its first year of operation to over half a million dollars for 2003. The monks hope to triple their revenue next year, as well as expand their offerings to other necessary consumables. Businesses, schools, churches, and non-profits now have a cost-effective alternative to national office supply retailers. And LaserMonks is already providing funding for charitable works including shelters for the poor, abused women and children, and even providing computer training to orphans in Vietnam. Monks who save you money on quality products, pray for the world, and help those in need–it’s a win-win-win situation any way you look at it! And better yet, the LaserMonks really do care about their customers, appreciating every individual that crosses their path (or IP portal). They not only offer customers great prices, and caring customer service that comes from a 900-year tradition of hospitality, but the benefit of knowing they are helping others through the monks’ charitable works. LaserMonks has turned impersonal e-commerce and the Internet into a truly “human” experience in the best sense of the word.