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O clients, where art thou?

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Thursday, August 20, 2009
Brother Gerald Mathison (top) and the abbey’s bookbindery (bottom) are on a search for new customers.

Brother Gerald Mathison, the assistant manager of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey Bookbindery, thinks the Abbey bookbindery’s product has never been better.

Mathison proudly notes that many of the bookbindery’s customers — almost 30 college and university libraries in the Willamette Valley and San Francisco Bay Area — have regularly used the bookbindery for two or three decades. One of five industries generating income covering the Abbey’s operating costs and charitable giving, the bookbindery, he says, was the Abbey’s primary source of income.

But because of the recession and increasing digitalization of magazines, periodicals, and other print media, that’s no longer the case.

Five years ago, the Abbey’s bindery bound an average of 1,000 books each week. Mathison says the bindery now binds between 600 and 700 books a week and annually earns $250,000. “We’re holding our own, but the numbers are definitely down,” he says. And for the first time since its founding in 1955, the bookbindery is finding itself needing to develop new clients.

“We’re not anxious to put on a suit and go out and get new customers,” Mathison says, explaining that the monks live a cloistered life. “That’s a contradiction to our way of life. Nevertheless, we are in the business world.”

What might have been an uncomfortable marketing campaign was made easy by a suggestion made by a younger monk, to use the very thing causing the bookbindery to lose business — the Internet.

Six months ago, Mathison assigned two monks to use the Internet to seek out customers. Already specializing in thesis and dissertation binding, as well as binding for college and university libraries, the bookbindery is further specializing its niche by targeting smaller colleges.

“Sometimes a smaller school, when they have lighter numbers for binding, have difficulty getting a reasonable rate from large book binders,” Mathison says. He says a dozen schools have shown interest in doing business with the bookbindery.

If web searching does not make up for the loss in orders, the bookbindery may add on-demand printing in addition to binding services.

“There’s a huge amount of business out there for that,” Mathison says. “It’s one thing being considered.”

Mathison does not predict the bookbindery will close. He also thinks many clients will remain loyal. “The customers we have have been delighted in our product,” he says. “We put a lot of emphasis into customer service, and that’s been a big deal.”


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