Monks Enter the World of E-Commerce
LaserMonks! It sounds like some kind of misguided George Lucas-Dan Brown production. In truth, it’s the title of a book by Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith detailing how a small group of Cistercian monks in Sparta, Wis. drew on their religious tradition to create an online business now worth millions of dollars.
There is nothing terribly exciting about what lasermonks.com does. Like myriad other Web sites, it sells ink and toner cartridges. What sets this particular business apart, however, is how it does it and why they do it. The business was created to sustain the monastery while also supporting a number of charitable organizations in line with the monks’ ideals. Their goals are lofty, but their business philosophy is heavenly, relying primarily on the Rule of St. Benedict.
Do Unto Others
The Rule of St. Benedict is a centuries-old guide to monastic life, detailing everything from the manner in which guests should be greeted to proper monastery design. In a crowded market, price is a difficult factor to compete on. So the monks opted to differentiate themselves by both appealing to the socially-conscience consumer and by providing outstanding customer service by applying the guidance of St. Benedict.
Just how outstanding is their customer service? When a customer called to complain that one of their products had ruined her printer, LaserMonks didn’t just replace it, they sent her an even nicer one. This despite the fact that their records indicated that the customer had not ordered from them in years, making it highly unlikely that their product had caused the problem. St. Benedict preached love and hospitality and LaserMonks upholds that ideal.
It’s not just customers that benefit from The Rule. Employees (or “monkhelpers”) are afforded generous flex time, receive unexpected and creative rewards for hard work and are encouraged to draw on their strengths. Vendors are also treated with the same beneficence. When troubles arise with supplies, rather than get cross, the LaserMonks take a “how can we help you help us” attitude.
Do Good and Do Well
According to the authors, this approach helps to generate word-of-mouth marketing and instill customer loyalty. But there’s another reason that customers choose LaserMonks. It’s the knowledge that their money is not going to line the pockets of some random CEO. Money raised by LaserMonks goes to help a variety of charities. In addition, they offer a selection of products created by other nuns and monks, helping to keep other religious communities self-sufficient.
Recycling is encouraged. Discounts are given to customers who commit acts of kindness and share them with the site. And a prominent button on their home page allows even non-customers to submit prayer requests. All these things help to define LaserMonks’ “corporate culture” and differentiate them from their competitors.
The authors would like to encourage other businesses to follow their example. The book, however, is not quite a how-to. Instead, it’s written as a narrative, chronicling the site’s inception and rise. A few specific business-related concerns, such as how to select a drop-shipping service, are explored, but not in much depth. And some advice, such as to forgo throwing parties for your employees and instead sign them up for a charity project, may not be easily applied by everyone. On the whole, however, the authors are content to tell their story and let readers decide for themselves what to take away from it.
Caniglia and Griffith, who assisted in the foundation of LaserMonks and now run Monkhelper Marketing Inc., are understandably enthusiastic about their subject. While the story they tell could use a bit of fleshing out in some places, it is interesting and unique enough to warrant both reading and reflection.