The Ōnin Group was founded with a simple philosophy of greeting all applicants who came through our doors with a smile and treating them with respect. There was no way my partner, Keith Phillips, and I could have guessed it at the time, but these simple ideals became the foundation for one of the leading owner-operated employment services in the country’s light industrial space.

Keith and I shared a vision for a fiscally responsible company that was based on doing the right thing and forged with hard work. Our conservative financial strategy centered around re-investing more than 90% of our money back into the company. This put us in a position to continually invest in our contingent workers (or Teammates as we call them at Ōnin), clients and the Ōninites who serve them. 

In the early days, we threw everything we had into building client relationships by going beyond the norm and doing whatever it took to get the job done. We didn’t have the resources of the larger companies at the time, but no one was more committed to their clients and workers than we were. 

Many of our nights and weekends were spent providing transportation for our Teammates. This commitment led to expanding with our clients — primarily in the food processing, auto manufacturing and third-party logistics industries — across the Southeast and Southwest. 

At this point, we began seeing something much bigger than ourselves. As we expanded, it became obvious that regional managers were key to our growth. 

There is nothing more stimulating than being around talented people and hearing their own “whatever it takes” stories (or “Sōul Stories” as we call them). So many of these individuals have become leaders. In fact, we’ve seen people evolve from coming through our doors seeking a temporary assignment to overseeing entire areas and regions of Ōnin. One such Teammate — Jim Weaver — even became our Chief Operations Officer.

Frankly, there have been times when I’ve wondered if I have what it takes to swim in the waters we’ve found ourselves in as a much larger company. However, when I’m around the folks we’ve essentially raised in the business and those we’ve attracted from other companies, I know all we have to do is remain committed to what got us here — investing back into the development of our staff, Teammates and clients. 

Reflecting on this, I now know not many companies get to this level and, together, we made that happen. That’s why I’m confident we can go even higher.

Of course, things haven’t always been easy. Our business is very sensitive to recessions, and there was no darker time for us than The Great Recession of 2008. It was not fun being a business owner at that time, but unlike many less-conservative companies, we had dry powder. Most of our competitors abandoned whatever benefits programs they had for their contingent workers. That was the last thing on our mind. 

Not only did we refrain from cutting benefits, we actually added to the robust benefits package we had. We saw this as an opportunity to distance ourselves from competitors who had lost sight of their commitment to the very people responsible for their livelihood — the contingent workers. 

Never has there been a clearer path for this mindset than now with the benefits program we offer to our Teammates, where we are truly changing lives.

For only $17.8 a week, they can get $5 copays toward prescription drugs, a free teledoctor service, $5 copays toward doctor’s visits, and much more.

The expense of care has been a huge barrier for the contingent labor demographic. With our affordable plan, it’s no surprise that we are seeing a high rate of use from our Teammates — over 74%. In fact, through the third quarter of 2019, the plan filled over 12,000 prescriptions that cost our Teammates only a $5 copay. This is truly changing the lives of our Teammates who normally don’t have access to affordable healthcare. 

Word is spreading of our health insurance program, and we are attracting a health-conscious Teammate base which, in turn, is upping our game with quality candidates for our clients. We’ve had numerous companies call us after learning about our program from the Teammates themselves. This rarely, if ever, happens in a trade so crowded with competitors who are perceived to be a dime a dozen. 

Our enthusiasm and commitment to what we do have not diminished as we’ve grown. We still seek novel ways to resolve issues for our clients, as we’ve never entertained a cookie-cutter approach to providing service.

We’ve done some pretty nutty things to serve our clients and distinguish their job opportunities from their competitors. For example, we’ve filmed promotional videos of our client’s locations to help differentiate them from local competition. We have customized training programs so Teammates are accustomed to working in the client’s environment before they even enter the facility. We’ve even created a forklift training center to help fill those jobs most often requested by clients. 

We have gone so far as to build an apartment complex for a long-standing client when there were not workers locally available in their skilled trade. As a result, we worked together to relocate hundreds of workers for this new opportunity. 

Perhaps one of the more gratifying things Ōnin has been involved in is working with employers, educators and students to raise a High School Ready-To-Work program from non-existence to impacting the lives of close to 1,000 students in 3 years. These students are being placed with participating employers at over a 90% rate. When you hear these young students describe going from feeling lost without a plan for their lives to being gainfully employed with companies who want them and are willing to invest in their education, you can’t help but feel deeply moved. 

All of this is to say, a good staffing partner cannot have temporary solutions to today’s big challenges. Every aspect of Ōnin’s business, from our purpose, to our benefits, to our future recruiting efforts are big, long-term solutions.  

This long-term investment and long-term commitment to our clients and Teammates is made possible by rejecting short-term results and embracing long-term thinking. We are competing in a larger arena now, and we’ve come to realize that many of our larger competitors sacrifice value at the expense of showing Wall Street rising revenues. We find that unimaginable.

The past 23-plus years have been a fascinating and inspirational journey towards becoming the best in class in the staffing business. While we are technically in the temporary employment business, there certainly is –

Nothing Temporary About The Ōnin Group!

Hugh Thomas

The Ōnin Group

Hugh transformed The Ōnin Group from a startup operation into one of the largest privately-owned staffing companies in the U.S. As managing partner, Hugh leads Ōnin’s corporate management and account development, implementing his extensive advertising background and education.