Refill a cartridge, recharge your spirit. This is the appeal to customers of Wisconsin-based LaserMonks, which offers cartridge refills for copiers, printers, and fax machines. When you patronize LaserMonks, you know your purchase will support the charitable works of the monastery.
Another appeal: a very low price, up to 75 percent below retail.
The monks are members of a 900-year-old Benedictine order known for hospitality. They spend most of their day doing what monks do: chanting and praying. They also run the cartridge-refill business, which helps pay for such projects as an emergency shelter in Mississippi for abused children and a computer-literacy center in Vietnam.
Before they hit upon their cartridge operation, the monks tried various other ventures: growing shiitake mushrooms, renting property, and raising Christmas trees. They even built a golf course. An enterprising spirit and able hands weren’t lacking among the monastery’s six monks, who included an ex-chef, agricultural specialist, pilot, and software engineer.
Then, in 2002, Fr. Bernard McCoy, steward of temporal affairs for the order, was shopping for a laser-cartridge refill when he had a revelation. “The mark-up on ink supplies is sinfully high, reaching in some instances 1,000 to 2,000 percent,” he says.
McCoy devised a plan: buy directly from ink manufacturers and cut out the middleman. This was the inspiration for LaserMonks. From a $2,000 gross receipt in its first year, the firm’s income is expected to reach $5 million this year.
Juggling suppliers and processing orders, however, cut into the monks’ quality time with God. Then, in 2003, two women from Colorado sold the monks their online ink-cartridge business and agreed to stay on and run the operation. The business has since been blessed with expansion, as the monks have moved into selling other products like roasted coffee and Trappistine caramels.
“When a customer walks into a big box store, the purchase they make is very nonemotional. But with LaserMonks, the buyer has an emotional and spiritual tie to the purchase, because each customer, by purchasing here, is helping our communities,” explains Sarah Caniglia, one of the two Colorado women who run marketing for the monks.