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Combining Charity and Business the LaserMonks Way

Purchasing With a Purpose

By

Combining Charity and Business the LaserMonks Way

What started as a small business hobbled together by a group of Cistercian monks has turned into a $10 million ebusiness. How they did it is instructive for both nonprofits and businesses.

First, the monks enlisted the help of a two-woman marketing group (Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith) that studied the monks' culture and beliefs and then developed a business plan around them. (Caniglia and Griffith run MonkHelper Marketing, Inc., the company that manages LaserMonks.com on the monks' behalf.)

That business plan has as its core two principles: giving all of the profits generated from the business back to the community through various kinds of charity; and customer service based on the tradition of hospitality the Cistercians have provided to strangers for nine hundred years.

LaserMonks, which sells ink and toner cartridges, keeps expenses low by avoiding traditional marketing and advertising and using drop shippers for distributing the products it sells. This enables the business to provide, after expenses, all of its profits to charity, thus effectively differentiating itself from the competition

The marketing component is filled by letting customers know that they are helping the community through their purchases which results in wonderful word-of-mouth marketing and unusual customer loyalty over the long term.

Caniglia and Griffith, authors of the book about LaserMonks, explain how they sell a concept to their customers of "purchasing with a purpose." The website and all customer contact help involve customers in the process of giving. Adding this "emotional" appeal to the otherwise hard-edged business of printer supplies makes all the difference for a sizable group of consumers.

Here are the attributes that make LaserMonks successful:

  • A unique business model and message. No other ink and toner retailer donates its profits to people in need. Customers get the products they need and feel good about helping others,
  • Quality product. The good feelings would soon go away if LaserMonks did not provide the best quality product. They do, both in the brand name area and in remanufactured and refilled cartridges.
  • Superior customer service. LaserMonks goes way beyond the standards of good service. Their customers are often amazed at what the company will do from replacing products to refunds to enclosing freebies as a thank you in orders. They also train their workers, who also feel that they are a part of the LaserMonks ethos and participate actively in the charitable activities.
  • Competitive pricing. LaserMonks does not aim to be the lowest-cost provider but it does stay competitive within the industry. LaserMonks does not engage in pricing wars.
  • Change as the market changes. The organization takes planning and research very seriously. They are on top of new products, new web enhancements and new approaches to inventory management.
  • Creative approaches to marketing. From the beginning LaserMonks has engaged in grassroots marketing approaches and handle it all in house.
  • Honesty and integrity. By always acting in line with the Cistercian code of open dealings, customers, suppliers and partners not only know that they will be handled well but they also reciprocate in their own actions.

LaserMonks demonstrates that "business" can transcend our stereotypes of commercialism and still be successful. In fact, such transcendence actually aids profitability.

What a terrific example and case study for a nonprofit that runs subsidiary businesses; and for businesses that want to distinguish themselves through good works.

Sources:

LaserMonks: The Business Story Nine Hundred Years in the Making, Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith, McGraw Hill, 2008.
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