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 user 2009-05-29 at 12:31:49 pm Views: 102
  • #22038
    From ink cartridges to dog biscuits, monks run thriving business
    ancient order that broke off from the Benedictines, they were the
    builders of the Middle Ages, harnessing water power for milling and
    metalwork – industries that sustained the monks’ simple lives of prayer
    and contemplation.If they’d only known Father Bernard McCoy, those
    businesses might still be humming today.McCoy, 42, is the marketing
    genius behind LaserMonks Inc., the multimillion-dollar Internet
    business that supports a small community of Cistercian monks on 500
    rolling acres in western Wisconsin.There, at the Abbey of Our Lady of
    Spring Bank, the six monks spend their days in ora et labora, or prayer
    and work.They pay the bills and support their charitable endeavors by
    selling (with the help of some equally enterprising women) printer inks
    and toners, and now a host of other specialty products from around the
    world.”We’re modern monks following an ancient tradition,” said McCoy,
    who holds a number of titles at the monastery, including prior, and
    chief executive officer of LaserMonks.McCoy started the company in 2001
    to generate income for the monastery, which had moved from Oconomowoc
    in the 1980s and had recently completed construction of a new
    17,000-square-foot abbey.

    The monks had tried or rejected a
    variety of other ventures over the years, including growing shiitake
    mushrooms, real estate development – one project got them sued – and
    developing a luxury golf course, before striking what has amounted to
    black gold.McCoy was in the midst of the golf course deal, he says,
    when, his printer ran out of toner. He started poking around for a
    replacement and divine inspiration struck.”I thought, gosh, if I can
    save this kind of money for the monastery, what could I do for other
    nonprofits?”Help with marketing Sales were slow initially, until Sarah
    Caniglia and Cindy Griffith stumbled onto the monks’ Web site. The
    women, who lived in Colorado at the time, had experience in the ink and
    toner business and approached the monks about collaborating.

    firm, now called Monk Helper Marketing, has been running the business
    ever since, from the ground floor of a three-story building on the
    monastery grounds where they live with their five dogs and two
    cats.Today, they manage a database of about 70,000 customers and sell a
    lot more than ink and toner. Products touted on their various Web sites
    include fair trade coffee, gourmet dog biscuits, decadent chocolates
    and an array of boutique products made by monasteries around the
    world.”We knew once we were out here that we’d never go back,” said
    Caniglia, who is drawn by the spiritual atmosphere of the monastery and
    the company’s emphasis on charitable giving.

    LaserMonks is
    projecting sales of up to $3.5 million this year. Of that, 10% goes to
    run the abbey, which gives $100,000 to $125,000 a year to charities
    around the world, according to McCoy.The monks receive no personal
    income, says McCoy, who touts himself as the lowest-paid CEO in
    America.”I ask for a raise every year, and every year they double it.
    But two times zero is still zero.”Very little of the work is actually
    done by the Sparta monks. The ink and toner cartridges are filled
    elsewhere and drop-shipped to customers from warehouses across the
    country. They bake the Benevolent Biscuits dog treats the company
    sells; they’re taste-tested by the monastery’s resident Doberman
    pinscher, Ludwig.McCoy travels the country talking up the LaserMonks
    story to business groups; his simple white and black robes have gotten
    him through more than one door that might otherwise have been
    closed.But the bulk of the work of LaserMonks is done by Caniglia,
    Griffith and their employee, Victoria Bench.”We run the operations,”
    says Caniglia, “so they can be monks, pray and be contemplative.”

    monks’ day begins at 4:15 a.m., when they gather in the chapel to pray
    in the spare and haunting Gregorian chant passed down through the
    monasteries of Europe for centuries. They’ll return again and again,
    spending in all about five hours a day in formal prayers. In the
    intervening hours, they take their meals and carry on the work of the
    monastery – cooking, cleaning, maintaining the grounds, spiritual
    counseling – all in an atmosphere of silence.

    In what remains of
    the day, the monks pursue their own interests, some of which are
    decidedly modern. Father Robert Keffer paints in a studio on the
    grounds; Brother David Klecker enjoys photography and video production;
    his day in the life of the monastery can be seen on YouTube. And
    Brother Stephen Treat writes a blog. They ride the abbey’s Peruvian
    Paso horses. McCoy used to fly the abbey’s plane, but he no longer has
    time, so they’re selling it. And in the kloisterkeller – a divine rec
    room – they watch movies and play pool.”It’s all ordered to allow for a
    life of otium sanctum, holy leisure,” said McCoy, who joined the
    monastery at the age of 22. “Time to reflect on the good, the true, the

    The success of LaserMonks has afforded a level of
    comfort, even luxury, some might see as inconsistent with monastic
    ideals.It’s not, said McCoy, who notes that Cistercian monks take a vow
    of stability, a lifetime commitment to their monastic community, but
    not a vow of poverty.”Because we have a vow of stability, we have
    property, tools, equipment, a library. Does it mean we live
    ostentatiously? No. Are we comfortable? Yes,” he said.”We’re not
    drinking out of Baccarat crystal every day – unless somebody donates
    it.”We have what we need and not more.”