How Van Dinter Den Haag BV said thank-you to its staff and suppliers with “a box of Sicily”

by Maria Isolina Catanese - CEO of H2N
10 May 2018

What makes a company special? Of course, having a great product and a strong brand are essential and the way the company engages with its customers is critical for the success of its business. But it’s the relationship between the company and its employees that really defines its true nature. At H2N, we love helping companies celebrate and strengthen the unique bond they have with their staff. And nothing makes us happier than bringing humans back to nature – especially when those humans form part of a close, supportive company culture.

Last year, Dutch company Van Dinter, a certified and recognized SEMH supplier of prosthetics, orthoses and elastic stockings got in touch with us. The firm, which was taken over in 1997 by the current management, is based in The Hague. Van Dinter’s facility consists of several assembly rooms and equipment to treat patients in the best way possible. The workshop, where they make customized structures, is located at the rear of the building.

As a company, they are affiliated to an umbrella organization that includes other orthopaedic businesses across the Netherlands: together, they form a group of collaborating entrepreneurs that focuses on a personal approach in orthopaedics.

The company philosophy is founded on wellbeing and they put their employees first.

2017 was a significant year for Van Dinter BV. They were celebrating 20 years of being in business and the management knew that they had to do something significant to mark the occasion. Simply having a party wouldn’t be enough. They wanted to give a special thank-you to the people who have enabled the achievement of this great goal: their staff and families, as well as their network of suppliers.

I was intrigued when I received a phone call from Irma, CEO and Co-Founder of Van Dinter BV, about their plans to mark two decades of activity in a special way. We discussed the possibility of an exploratory visit to Sicily in order for the management to get an idea of the location for their unique birthday celebration and to check the feasibility of the services they required.

It was clear to me that it would not be a simple event to arrange, but the challenge was too good to resist. The Van Dinter management was very clear: "We want to make our employees and their families feel good. We ask so much from them and this is just a way to say thank you".

Menfi, where H2N is based, is not a typical seaside resort. Far from it, in fact. The area is fringed by an extended and uniquely untouched coastline, which for 22 years has proudly flown it blue flag as one of the cleanest beaches in Europe. Agrigento, the south-west corner of Sicily, is a ruggedly-beautiful, but largely unknown region. Kissed by round-the-year sun and covered by a patchwork of family-owned vineyards, the surrounding hills form a dramatic backdrop. It is a curious landscape. Endless rows of vines sit alongside fields teeming with olive trees and artichokes; scented lemon groves offer delicious shade from the intense sun and cactus-like prickly pears, palm trees and vivid pink bougainvillea line the roads. The wide, open landscape features not only welcoming whitewashed villas, but also the occasional abandoned farmhouse and even a tumbledown castle or two. One of the most curious features of the surrounding countryside is the number of stray dogs that can be seen padding around. My clients are often amazed by these wandering creatures, asking me, “But where do they all go?”.

Sicily is an island characterised by the steady and unvarying cycle of the seasons and continuous waves of invasion over the millennia: the Ancient Greeks (who left behind stunning temples that you can visit), the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish and even newer arrivals have all left their mark. Visitors can easily feel they have stepped back in time and experience an older, simpler way of living, one that is close to the land and in harmony with Nature.

In this part of the world, we welcome strangers, a legacy perhaps of our ability to survive and thrive from the conquests of the past. We open our doors and welcome visitors into our houses.  And of course, we feel both an obligation and delight to provide our guests with healthy and delicious food, grown locally and prepared at home. Often, we find ourselves unable to communicate in the strange tongues of our visitors, but we can make ourselves understood through the universal language of food, wine and a warm welcome.

This, then, is the world that the Van Dinter management encountered when they travelled from the calm and orderly surroundings of the Netherlands. The preparations progressed well. We established the location for our coaching and corporate team building events. The inspection by the management began – and they were thorough. They wanted to know exactly what would be involved. We took them on a bike ride along the cycle path that used to be a coastal train line. They enjoyed a gala dinner at the Planeta Foresteria and an aperitif at the magical beachside restaurant Da Vittorio, which serves locally caught fish and seafood. We took them for a walk in the countryside around Lake Arancio where the ruins of a submerged castle can be seen. And they spent a day in the kitchen with Mrs. Damiana at Fattoria Lombardo, a family-run organic farmhouse: everything was achieved with a few nods, gestures and occasional but precise instructions. The Van Dinter BV management surprised themselves with a talent they never knew they had: creating “Maccarruna”, a traditional Sicilian pasta, with their own hands.

The week flew by, the managers were convinced this would be a fitting way to mark their anniversary and we agreed on the exact combination of experiences and events that would make their employees’ time in Sicily a truly memorable occasion.

Six months later they returned as part of a group of 14 people, including their staff and family members. The trip featured yoga, sailing on a catamaran and harvesting seasonal crops, including olives, which would have a very special function. They enjoyed concerts and singing, slightly out of tune, under the stars, deep in the heart of the countryside around Menfi. There were moments of meditation, sharing and joy. Surprising and resonant group dynamics were discovered and enhanced. Insights and ideas about their work and lives arrived, sometimes intentionally, at other times purely by chance. It was, truly, a unique and magical experience that brought management and workers together on a human level in a way that is rarely possible in a busy workplace environment.

Guided by the coaches and experts of H2N, the people of Van Dinter were able to connect with each other and with themselves. The simplicity of Menfi and the richness of its culture provided the perfect setting for them to bond as a group.

There was one last thing to do: something that would really make their time in Sicily last – and which not only the employees could share, but also their suppliers who have collaborated with the company and enabled it to provide continuity over the years.

The concept is simple, but effective: a box containing the essence of their time in Sicily and the actual tastes and smells of the island where they had shared such intense experiences as a group.

So, we created a "Box of Sicily": these were personalized gift packages that would be distributed as Christmas gifts to suppliers.

We bottled the extra virgin olive oil pressed from the olives picked by the Van Dinter group and added a personalized seal. Beautiful ceramic jars from Sciacca, unique pieces designed exclusively for the company, were also placed in the boxes. And we also collected the most representative images of the team building events and activities and featured them on a postcard, along with the personalized wishes of each employee for their 300-plus suppliers throughout the Netherlands. The box itself was both beautiful and elegant, created especially for Van Dinter, with the lid proudly bearing the company logo.

Semolina biscuits, Nocella olives from the Belice valley, Sicilian Brut and olive oil were all placed in each box, accompanied by ceramics and examples of local artistry which complemented the know-how and personal dedication of the employees and management, who believe that the wellbeing of the business starts with the wellbeing of their staff.

The feedback from Van Dinter BV, its staff and suppliers has been excellent. They achieved their goal of marking their second decade in a way that was not only a unique experience, but one which also reflected their values as a company.

[Van Dinter Den Haag BV website: www.vandinterorthopedie.nl]

If you would like to build stronger cohesion in your team and tell the story of your company to your staff, suppliers and friends, please contact us. We will help you design a personalized experience in Sicily and create a unique souvenir to take back with you afterwards. Reconnect with nature, your team and the wider world.

H2N Human to Nature: Empowering human relations.

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