A group of monks who pray, work, and live at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey, in Wisconsin, began an online ink and toner business in 2002 as a way to stem dwindling income for the abbey. Today, the monks run a multimillion-dollar operation, with all profits after operating costs going to charity, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.
Bernard McCoy, a Cistercian monk and the company's founder, receives no compensation for his role as chief executive officer. He created LaserMonks.com to sell discounted (including off-brand and remanufactured) inkjet products.
The business model has been deemed "commerce with compassion" in a recent book by Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith, who now live at Our Lady of Spring Bank and manage operations for both LaserMonks.com and its two offshoots. The two women, who once ran their own marketing company, explain in their book how the monks' model changed their views on the corporate experience.
Ms. Caniglia estimates that LaserMonks sales in 2007 totaled $4.5-million; Father Bernard estimates the group's annual operating costs are $200,000. Beneficiaries of LaserMonks.com profits, according to the women's book, have included "formal charities like Faith in Action, as well as not-so-formal efforts, like sending a nurse from Wisconsin to Louisiana to treat victims of Hurricane Katrina."
As for skepticism about monks running a business, Father Bernard responds, "Enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit have always been a part of who we are."