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 user 2005-03-08 at 10:43:00 am Views: 50
  • #10726

    Simply divine
    ‘Real savings, real monks, supporting
    real people’, as the company motto goes.

    Father Bernard McCoy, the
    CEO of God’s favourite office products supplier, LaserMonks

    On the
    face of it,it would seem to be a rather unlikely story. But it is true, one of
    the fastest growing companies in the US is being run by a group of Cistercian
    From revenues of $2,000 when it was founded in 2002, to projected
    sales this year of $3 million,and rising, LaserMonks is a runaway success.

    But forget any preconceptions you might have of monks, for the
    Cistercian monks behind LaserMonks are unlikely to fit them. Especially the
    driving force behind the company – airplane flying, scuba diving Father Bernard
    McCoy, the 37-year old steward of temporal affairs at the Cistercian Abbey in
    Springbank, near Sparta, Wisconsin, who doubles up as the company’s CEO.

    Fr Bernard concedes that monks selling office supplies might not fit in
    with many people’s ideas of a monk, but he points to a 900-year tradition of
    innovation in the Cistercian order. “This is a typical misunderstanding,” he
    says, “but monasteries have always been at the forefront of innovation. We have
    always been the ones developing the technology. It has only been the modern era,
    from the late 1800s on when science and business took on their own fortes within

    “Before then it was always the monasteries that were the heads
    of the agricultural, the technical, the blacksmithing or whatever, because we
    had the resources and the dedicated time, the holy leisure, to come up with new
    ideas. So we are only really continuing with our tradition.”

    Fr Bernard
    does admit, however, that there were some raised eyebrows when his business idea
    was first presented. “Not so much from within our monastery,” he recalls,
    “because we are only small and all of us are young and we knew we couldn’t in
    any way do a traditional support mechanism that was largely agricultural based.

    “No one else was particularly tech savvy, but after the initial
    explanation we sat down and looked at the possibilities and everyone was very
    enthusiastic. But within the monastic world as a whole, I think it was a raised
    eyebrow attitude at first. ‘It’s Springbank, doing something unusual again!’,
    they would say. We have that reputation. We looked at developing a golf course,
    and that is really avant garde! So they’re coming to expect it of us now!

    “Because of this, I have a number of monasteries I am consulting with
    right now, looking for ways of supporting themselves, not necessarily attaching
    themselves to LaserMonks, but using other ways of looking at things. Most
    monasteries have an ageing population and inherited income projects that aren’t
    working. It’s hard for them to change gears.”

    Eyebrows are also
    beginning to be raised among competitors. Mild amusement is being replaced by
    the knowledge that LaserMonks is a serious concern. “In the beginning,” recalls
    Fr Bernard, “it was ‘isn’t that cute, the little monks are selling themselves
    inkjet cartridges’. Then as things
    progressed, folks started paying real attention. As we grow and expand into
    other products lines, they are going to see us as someone to contend with.”

    monks abroad

    It is clearly time to take the monks seriously. And
    who knows how big the company can get? To meet customer demand, it recently
    added a full line of office products to its range of imaging supplies, as well
    as a private label line. “We’re now beginning to see ourselves as more of an
    Amazon.com,” says Fr Bernard, “as in we will expand into different product lines
    at an appropriate pace.”

    And expansion isn’t restricted to product
    lines. Incredibly, there are even plans afoot for expanding the LaserMonks brand
    into Europe, and then a region where many a US venture has tried – and failed –
    central and South America.

    “In many ways, especially because of the
    catholic population, it probably makes it a little bit easier,” says Fr Bernard
    of South America, “although those regions are not as well organised from a
    business standpoint and it will take a different mindset for things to work down

    “We have also had a request from a monastery in the Czech
    Republic and following that, one or two other contacts have said they might be
    interested. So our general idea at this point is to partner with one monastery
    in each country.”

    Fr Bernard is clearly a very business-savvy monk,
    although his formal business studies training is restricted to a couple of
    correspondence courses during his undergraduate days. “I’ve not had formal
    university training in business studies as such, but from a young age I was
    always starting something, so I think it is something in my personality and I
    have always had a knack for business.”

    The extent to which LaserMonks
    has taken off, however, has clearly surprised even Fr Bernard, who says it is
    “probably 5-10 years” ahead of schedule. “I knew when we started there was a lot
    of potential,” he says, “but I didn’t expect it to grow at this rate at all, or
    for us to have the exposure on the national or international level that we

    Indeed, the media attention has undoubtedly fuelled the company’s
    growth and is something that other resellers just cannot compete with. “We have
    a commanding presence in the media because of who we are, and that is an
    enormous advantage that no one else can really touch,” he adds.

    that with discount prices, genuine care for the customer and the knowledge that
    after covering monastic living costs, all money goes to various charities, the
    LaserMonks proposition is a difficult one to argue with.

    “It sets us
    apart from everybody else,” says Fr Bernard. “There’re so many people providing
    office products that there’s nothing that really distinguishes them. Ours is a
    whole different picture because of who we are and what we do with the money. It
    really changes your perspective on buying things that you really need, rather
    than extravagant, luxury items that people try to force you to think you need.

    “These are things you’ve got to have. So if you’ve got to have them and
    we can save you some money and then we can use that money for good works, it’s
    just a win-win situation. Spend less with us and do more.”

    Monks are
    clearly good for (and at) business. Indeed, Fr Bernard says he wouldn’t be
    surprised if it encourages other companies to become more benevolent themselves.
    And he even goes as far to say that perhaps every company should have one.

    “I’m not fishing,”he says,“but it wouldn’t surprise me if I was asked
    to sit on some boards. Influencing corporations in positive ways could
    be good.It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a monk as their conscience
    on the board. It could give them some perspective that they wouldn’t
    have otherwise come up with.”