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Inside Self-Storage Magazine 09/2004: Clever Vicars and Other Victories

Jim Chiswell Comments

Clever Vicars and Other Victories

By Jim Chiswell

Most of you can probably empathize with my feelings of being ripped off every time you buy ink cartridges for your office printers. I know it is a cost of doing business, but it still upsets me to pay hundreds of dollars a year for some black or colored dust.

If you share my sentiments, I have found a source that may interest you: a company called LaserMonks. That’s right—real monks selling ink cartridges for printers! The Cistercian Abbey was founded more than 75 years ago on 500 acres in the rolling hills of Wisconsin and is home to a small group of contemplative clergymen. Let me share some of their story from their website:

Each monastery puts one monk in charge of the community’s temporal needs and activities. Among this person’s duties as “Steward of Temporal Affairs” is developing and managing ways to support the group and its charities. Contrary to popular understanding, monasteries are self-supporting. A part of their day is given to some sort of remunerative work from which they support their modest living needs in the monastery; then they use the rest for charitable work. This particular group looked into various income projects, from growing Shitake mushrooms and raising Christmas trees, to building a golf course and conference center.

An income source based on a necessary consumable item—like toner and ink cartridges—was exactly what the monastery needed: a solid, consistent, revenue stream that would not be affected by difficult economic times. Everyone has to have toner and ink to print, especially businesses. And everyone wants to save money. Add to this the fact the monks use their profits to support their efforts in serving God and Neighbor as well as for good works and you have the ultimate win-win situation.

The manufacturers the group approached were elated with the possibilities. They suggested the monks market to schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations in addition to businesses, saying, “Look, you’re monks. You have an image and long tradition of being trustworthy and providing top-quality products. You’re offering a great product at a great price. Once people hear about you, it’s an easy decision. Why would anyone pay more money, when they can have quality products for less, from monks who use the income to help others?”

LaserMonks launched its e-commerce website selling high-quality, guaranteed products. The site went from selling $2,000 worth of goods in its first year of operation to more than $500,000 in 2003. The group completely guarantees all of its products. If for any reason you are not satisfied with your purchase during the first six months, they will replace your item, credit your account or refund your money. LaserMonks does not yet sell cartridges for all printers, but it already has a huge selection. Next time you find yourself ready to buy printer supplies, jump over to and see if they can help. You will be saving money and contributing to a good cause.

SSA Appoints Chief Staff Executive

Congratulations go to Michael T. Scanlon Jr., who was elected as the new chief staff executive for the national Self Storage Association (SSA). In my opinion, Scanlon joins the organization at a critical time in the history of our industry. The skills he’s developed in his past positions in association management, lobbying and the private sector can all be applied to his new post, which started July 1.

Scanlon has already initiated a new strategic plan for the SSA, including a partnership with the Self Storage Council of state associations to develop new initiatives in the fields of advocacy, data generation and publishing. The need for a closer working relationship between the national and state associations has never been greater. Our industry continues to be under legislative and regulative microscopes, and it is only through coordinated group efforts we will remain strong.

I am happy to welcome Scanlon to this vital leadership position. The very best thing we can do to help him is make the commitment to get all of our industry colleagues into the associations. I have talked to some people who think membership fees are too high. Yet, if every current member got just one new person to join, we would double the size of our organizations. Remember, if your competitor is not a member, you are, in effect, carrying him. Wouldn’t it be better to see his name on the new-member list and know his check is already in the bank?

Coming to a Bookstore Near You

A book titled Self Storage is coming to a bookstore near you. This fictional story has been written by Gayle Brandeis, who won Barbara Kingsolver’s prestigious Bellwether Prize in 2002 for The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel. The new publication takes place in Riverside, Calif., and is “set in the world of self-storage auctions,” according to the book’s publicity. No exact publication date for the book has been released.

Anyone who believes our industry is still flying under the radar needs to change his thinking. Self-storage has been used as backdrops in several movies and television shows. One of the final episodes of the popular TV series Alias featured several scenes in which one of the principal characters visited another’s selfstorage unit and discovered a small arsenal of weapons. There is consistent newspaper and magazine coverage of our industry, and not all of it is favorable.

While Brandeis’ upcoming novel may not reach the No. 1 spot on the New York Times Best Seller List, I can only hope there are some positives in the book. We have a great story to tell. As an industry, we help millions of people and small businesses every day, making lives easier and better organized. I hope we can continue to stress these benefits every chance we get.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the selfstorage industry. In addition to being a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS Expos and various national and state association meetings. He introduced LockCheck, an inventory data-collection system, to the self-storage industry. He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit or

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