"Our core competency is building loyal relationships and having the shop is another way for us to build relationships with our communities, both with the opportunity for people in our community to have a place to donate things that they no longer need or want or have the ability to use. But it is also an opportunity for those in our community who may be less fortunate to have a place where they can shop reasonably."
Neiberg says the secret to the success of Gingham Tree is the volunteers. "There is a halo effect from the fact that it sits on the hospital campus," she says. "But I don't think its success is as much because it sits on the campus as it is about the volunteers who are so creative in reaching out to the community to make sure the donations are collected and to literally bring customers in."
"They market as well as any retail store. They will market to some of the senior residences in the area that might have buses where they can people around. They will create parties and events and reasons for people to come as a destination. They create fashion shows. They take the show on the road. They will bring items that have been recently donated to the shop and they may take them to some of our corporate buildings in the area that are owned by our parent company Advocate Health Care and they will set up tables and have an opportunity to show their wares. They create a trunk show and take it on the road."
Neiberg says the hospital provides an environment that keeps the 600 or so volunteers across the hospital operations engaged and which makes it clear to them that they are appreciated.
"It's not so much about the volunteer spirits as it is about the culture we create in the hospital," she says. "We view our volunteers as part of our workforce so we treat them in a similar manner to how we treat our paid workforce. When we are having some kind of a recognition ceremony for employees we make sure volunteers are included and invited. We want to create loyalty with volunteers the same way we are cognizant of creating loyalties with physicians and associates. People are volunteering. They could decide at any time that it's not worth it to them because they're not getting paid."