The monks who made millions out of printer ink

Yesterday was another sticky day in western Wisconsin and Bernard McCoy rose early - 4am, in fact - to prepare for the day ahead as founder of his successful printer ink business.

The monks who made millions out of printer ink

There would be no shooting off in the company plane or taking the purebred horses, recently purchased on healthy revenues, out for a canter. As on every Friday, it was his turn to clean the lavatories at corporate headquarters.

If this seems like a rum sort of routine for a harried entrepreneur, consider a few other peculiarities. The room in which he awoke before dawn is a minuscule cell with a wood-hewn frame for a bed and, as on every day, at least eight hours would be set aside for chanting and prayer. To find the time actually to run a business must take a very particular kind of man.

A monk, in fact. To give him his full title (aside from chief executive officer), he is Father Bernard McCoy one of just five members of the tiny Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank, located in rolling farmland outside the modest town of Sparta. It is his blessing that the abbey nowadays doubles both as a place of prayer and a buzzing hub of seemingly incongruously mercantile activity.

It all started about 10 years ago, when the monks found themselves so strapped for cash their very survival was under threat. With rents from local farmers dwindling to nothing, they could barely mend the leaks in their moulding trailer home. One day, as he was searching on the web for ideas for a suitable business to raise new funds, Fr McCoy's printer ran out of ink. The cost of a new cartridge horrified him.

And so it was that he and the other brothers hit upon the idea of creating a company supplying discount printer ink, initially to other abbeys and local Catholic churches. They called it LaserMonks Inc and by fiscal year 2002, their annual revenue had hit $2,000 (£1,000).

Much more startling, however, is where they are today. Last year's revenues were $4m and they are expected to rise to nearly $7m in 2007. Encouraged by their success, the monks have hired two lay people to run the business day-to-day and expanded into other office supplies, including furniture. A recent addition is a range of coffee products that go under the brand name, Benevolent Blends.

The company is a charity and the monks take no salaries, but there is no doubt that their lives are dramatically improved. There is the plane, albeit a 1969 turbo-prop, to ferry Fr McCoy around the country delivering motivational speeches, the two Peruvian Paso horses and a new abbey replete with artists and woodworking studios. A book on them, LaserMonks, 900 Years in the Making is due out in October.

The title is a reference to the entrepreneurial endeavours of trappist orders over the centuries. Think beer. Indeed, think calligraphy, printing and, by extension, ink. "Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers were charged with making ink and creating the tools for illuminating manuscripts," Fr McCoy, 40, told the Los Angeles Times. "We figured, why can't we do the same thing now?"

The monks say that once roughly 80 per cent of the revenues are spent on running the company and the abbey itself, the remaining 20 per cent is distributed among a variety of charities. Indeed, that, says one of the lay company managers, Sarah Canitlia, is part of the reason for the company's success - customers are getting a bargain and doing good in the world too.

"What we all love about this is that we help other people. That is our big thrill out of it," Ms Canitlia explained. "For customers there is a special appeal also from buying from LaserMonks, because they know it is going to charity. If they went into a chain store there would be no emotional dimensions. It sounds like wonderful marketing, but it happens to be true."

So it was yesterday, when Ms Canitlia expected to commit money to these among other causes: giving two scholarships to local teenagers to attend a Baptist academy, donating office supplies to a nearby Indian reservation and funding development projects in Third World countries growing coffee.

Monks in business

* Trappist monks at St Sixtus monastery in Belgium have been producing a rich, dark-brown beer for more than 160 years. But the 26 Cistercians became reluctant celebrities in 2005 when their beer was named the best in the world. They were deluged with orders, and stocks ran out.

* The Benedictine monks of Devon's Buckfast Abbey began selling their tipple as a medicine when first produced in 1890. But it earned an unwelcome reputation after "Buckie", which has a 15 per cent alcohol content, began finding favour with under-age binge drinkers.

* With farming methods dating back to the 12th century, the monks of North Carolina's Belmont Abbey have tapped into the current trend for wholesome, home-grown produce, and are enjoying the rewards.


Last Mod: 11 Ağustos 2007, 14:23
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