Madison Women’s Health has patient loyalty in the bag

Promo bags are big business these days. Handy, seemingly ubiquitous, and emblazoned with your company’s logo, they can be an easy and inexpensive way to get a useful bit of swag into your customers’ hands while parading your brand in front of a nearly endless supply of eyeballs.

But while there’s certainly nothing wrong with these so-called “swag bags” – for the reasons cited above, if nothing else – you know that when you receive one, you’re not exactly getting a hand-crafted masterpiece.

That may be part of the reason why Madison Women’s Health has gone out of its way to put a personal touch back into the gifts it gives its patients. Through its Weave of Hope program, the OBGYN clinic, which recently won a Dane County Small Business Award – in part for its contributions to the community and its favorable workplace environment – provides hand-woven bags made by Guatemalan women to all its newly pregnant patients.

“The way this all started was that one of our partners, Beth Wiedel, and her partner adopted two boys from Guatemala and in the process of doing that got to become very familiar with one of the villages down there,” said Bill Dickmeyer, the clinic’s practice manager. “They got to know the women that live there and they learned about these women who do what they call backstrap loom weaving. And basically they make all kinds of different shawls and clothing, but the main thing that they are really good at is making these bags.”

“We’re giving our patients here something that’s very unique.” – Bill Dickmeyer

Call it serendipity, but Dr. Wiedel’s experiences in Guatemala got everyone at the clinic thinking that maybe women across the Americas could benefit from a modest and mutually beneficial trade agreement.

“Formula companies always give us these bags that we can give to our newly pregnant patients, and they’re nice bags, but they’re vinyl and aren’t terribly special,” said Dickmeyer. “But we thought, gee, wouldn’t it be really cool if we could give them these bags, and by purchasing them from these women, essentially what you’re doing is you’re helping support them financially in a very poor area of Guatemala. And what we see is it kind of works in a number of ways. Number one, we’re giving our patients here something that’s very unique. The bags are just beautiful. And we are also helping these women who are supporting themselves and their families down there, and so it’s just kind of one of those neat opportunities that we have to be able to help a number of different people in different ways.”

Of course, it seems like the most obvious of win-wins: The company is able to foster goodwill among its patients. (One of the comments Dickmeyer often hears is, “I have something here that no one else will ever have.”) At the same time, it is doing good in a part of the world where poverty is rampant. It seems like a philanthropic model any business would want to follow – but perhaps with a caveat.

“I always look at it in terms of you do what works for your business,” said Dickmeyer. “If it’s an effort like [giving out the bags] that fits what your business does, I think that absolutely should be something that you do. There are certain things that we have to look at when we do it. How do we effectively get the bags from Guatemala to here?

“Because we probably, on an annual basis, will go through 600 of these bags if we give one to every one of our pregnant patients. And so there are some logistics we have to plan for to be able to get all those bags here. Giving the money to them is not difficult, but getting the bags here obviously is, so you just have to determine how much of a priority it is to you and how much it touches your heart as an organization.”

A focus on women

Of course, while supporting women abroad is a laudable goal, the clinic’s focus is squarely on the health care needs of women in Dane County. The company’s services include comprehensive obstetric and gynecology care, prenatal and postpartum care, and women’s surgical options. The company’s partner physicians – Mary Stoffel, Karla Dickmeyer (Bill’s wife), Kate Sample, and Beth Wiedel – are all women. In fact, the clinic touts itself as Madison’s only all-female-owned medical group, something that likely gives some of its patients a level of comfort that might not otherwise exist.

“I won’t lie to you, there’s a segment of the population that does come to us because it is all women,” said Bill Dickmeyer. “And not just the fact that they’re all women, but the fact that they’re mothers, they’ve gone through some or all of the issues that our patients go through. So they have that perspective.”

While the clinic goes out of its way to create a comfort level for its patients, it’s also mindful of its employees’ needs. The staff numbers 15 full-time and five part-time workers (Dickmeyer is the only man – though he has found a few workers with whom he can talk Packers football). The company offers a personal trainer to employees and is also involved in employee-directed charitable giving, providing a stipend that goes to the charity of each employee’s choice.

“That’s been really well received by our employees,” said Dickmeyer. “It gives them a little bit of control over what they want to do with that, and they feel good about that.”

As for the Dane County Small Business Award, the clinic shows its gratitude to its employees for that honor as well.

“I give all the credit to our staff for doing the things necessary to get the award,” said Dickmeyer “This is such a relationship-focused type of business, and we rely so much on our patient referrals and people getting the word out about us, and the goodwill that we create there, and we don’t do that unless you have good employees who are doing their job well and treating their patients with professionalism and respect.

“So we spend a lot of time encouraging that and hiring employees we know will take care of that for us. So the award is a reflection of what they’re doing and how they’re handling our patients.”

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