News Column

Online Catholic Store Seeks a Crowdfunding Boost

March 14, 2013

Ned B. Hunter, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Will the saints be praised?

Or will Ian Rutherford be forced to close his online Catholic store?

Rutherford, 38, is the owner of Aquinas & More Catholic Goods, a Colorado Springs-based online store that offers hard-to-find Catholic books from small publishers and other religious items. Over the past several years, Rutherford's business has struggled as an ill-fated retail store and other issues hit revenues.

Now, Rutherford is counting on the good will of his Catholic customers, church members and friends to remain open. He has joined the crowdfunding website to try to raise $250,000 to replenish inventory, redesign his website and meet other goals. As of mid-day Thursday, he had raised more than $46,000; the campaign ends Tuesday.

Those who donate are not purchasing a portion of Rutherford's company and the donations are not tax deductible. Rutherford said he will not accept anyone's money if the entire $250,000 is not raised. Instead, he will close or seek investors.

"I don't want to take that money from individuals if it is not going to be enough to fix the problem," he said.

Rutherford opened his first store in 2002 in the Black Forest area. A year later, he moved to 4749 N. Academy Blvd. While his online business thrived, the 1,200-foot-retail outlet constantly drained profits during the next decade. In December, Rutherford closed the physical location.

"The retail store was always subsidized by the website," he said. "We never turned a profit in that store."

And there were other problems, he said, ranging from a failure to rein in payroll costs to bookkeeping issues that he blames on an outside accounting firm and resulted in IRS penalties.

A father of 10, Rutherford has lived in the Springs since the third grade. He met his wife, Paula, when the two attended the University of Dallas. He was studying political philosophy and Paula was an art student. They were married in 1996.

The Rutherfords attend Immaculate Conception in Security. Rutherford said he started Aquinas & More to provide products that are "faithfully Catholic" to help people strengthen their faith.

Rutherford, acknowledging he has not been the best business owner, called the need to ask for crowdfunding "humbling." Still, the experience has not challenged his faith in God.

"Other things have," he said, "but not this."

If nothing else comes from his business troubles, Rutherford wants other business owners to learn from his mistakes, such as offering products on the website before they were in stock.

"The fallout was there was more time spent talking with customers to explain why something had not arrived and having them cancel orders," he said.

Also, he said, don't be so in love with an idea -- such as retail store -- that you stick with it when it is not working.

"Be willing to give up an idea sooner than you want if it is clear that you are putting too much effort into making it work," he said.

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Source: (c)2013 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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