“A good monastic product must be an ambassador of monastic culture”

What actually makes a good monastic product? SKIVRE spoke to someone who needs to know: Martin Erdmann has been responsible for the catalogue “Gutes aus Klöstern” at the German company “Manufactum” for about 20 years – and thus for a very special niche market.

SKIVRE: Since 2000 you have been instrumental in building up a market for monastic products in Germany. How would you characterize this market today? What are its peculiarities?

Martin Erdmann: It is partly a special market. Most of the products were originally made for sale only in monasteries or a monastic domestic market. They therefore function better in terms of price and presentation. In the “normal” environment, however, there is friction, the products sometimes find it more difficult because they don’t come across as professional or are also more expensive. But there are also monastic products which are made specifically for marketing outside, like most wines. These are already professional wineries that have less to do with the convent and function like their own company. The market as a whole is quite colourful, but also restricted to certain product categories such as jams, sweets, liqueurs, creams, soaps, handicrafts. Impulses from outside are seldom taken up. And last but not least, products also disappear again because, for example, the nun or the monk retires, dies, leaves – it often depends on a few people and therefore this market is also fragile.

SKIVRE: You now have over 300 products from 65 European monasteries in your catalogue. Has this reached the limit or are you still finding exciting new products?

Martin Erdmann: The limit has been reached a long time ago, and it is almost impossible to find new products that are really worthwhile and add value to the range. We will also work through the range again in the near future and give it a new structure.

SKIVRE: Are monasteries so easily prepared to deal with the requirements of a professional marketing of their products? Which concessions do they make, which not?

Martin Erdmann: Concessions are possible within certain limits, but they are rare. In most cases, you have to buy as produced. Here and there, however, I have succeeded in exerting influence, e.g. on the Czech Trappists, who now have a little history and explanation on every product of how they came to the Czech Republic from Italy, and that is the reason why they manufacture Italian products in the Czech Republic. This was not to the detriment of the products as a whole.

SKIVRE: What exactly is a monastic product? Are there special criteria that you apply to your selection and that make it special?

Martin Erdmann: A monastic product, regardless of where it comes from, must be good, i.e. of high quality and manufactured according to the rules of art. It has to be useful and sustainable and not just to be bought out of compassion or because you want to do a good job. It must function independently of the monastery and at the same time be an ambassador of monastic culture and the genius loci. Because the question will be: What is that certain something that distinguishes it from secular, often cheaper products? It should be close to the monastery, which does not exclude the cooperation of employees.

SKIVRE: What kind of marketing support do you have to give to monasteries?

Martin Erdmann: As already mentioned above, that is mostly related to presentation, sometimes also to recipe or price. Sometimes you also have to build up the quantity control carefully, whereby the monasteries are also able to learn and adjust well to regular orders.

SKIVRE: Can you characterize your customers, i.e. people who are interested in monastic products and buy them? Can you give them a profile?

Martin Erdmann: Hard to say. Probably our “normal” customers who want to buy good, solid, reliable things of origin. They want to trust and buy something that is not faceless. That has a good background and tells something about itself. Surely the motivation to support monasteries is not the most important thing, at least for our customers. I suspect that the general cultural and quality-conscious impulse counts above all. One must bear in mind that, on the other hand, a decidedly Christian clientele is perhaps not so much looking for products as for spiritual things. It can be different in the monastery where you want to have a souvenir and prefer to buy it from the hands of the monks, which is why I always recommend that they also stand in the monastery shop or at least cooperate.

SKIVRE: The catalogue “Gutes aus Klöstern” has become an informative as well as inspiring cultural magazine, the reading of which conveys much more than just product information. On the one hand, it is a classic medium for product presentation, on the other hand it is clear that much more is to be conveyed than just product information. Why?

Martin Erdmann: The catalogue potentially reaches more than 100,000 addressees, the few of whom are probably occupied with monasteries. It is a good forum to create an “aha” effect and to talk about monastic culture. In addition, the background of the articles must become clear without advertising with God or religion. Finally, when you have hardly any new products, you can keep the catalogue interesting and fresh in this way.

SKIVRE: When it comes to reaching those interested in monastic products, Manufactum uses three methods: the sophisticated product magazine, the online presence and the shops. What role do social media play in this?

Martin Erdmann: A subordinate role.

SKIVRE: Monastic products and social media – does that go together at all?

Martin Erdmann: Surely, why not? You can also communicate there, the question is always: do you achieve an “aha” effect, or do you simply cliché with the general noise that prevails there? The chance of reaching new people and making the topic of monasteries visible, and thus surprising, is very big. But you have to avoid showmanship.

SKIVRE: Thank you very much!

SKIVRE project partners are happy and honoured that Martin Erdmann accepted to act as National Advisor to the SKIVRE project.

More on this topic can be found in the Manufactum catalogue “Gutes aus Klöstern” (“Good Things from Monasteries”, in German language only). Our blog picture shows an excerpt from the catalogue

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