Empowering Employees and a Great Company Culture Lead to Excellent Employee Retention

At Sonderen Packaging, we pride ourselves on following the simple philosophy of “do the right thing.” We live by this creed in how we operate for our customers and in how we treat our employees. We have a fantastic team, in all areas. The folks on the production floor, in our administrative offices and surrounding sales territories strive to exceed expectations. We do our best to cultivate a loyal workforce that plans to stay and grow with us in the long run. The more experience our employees have, the stronger our team grows, the more everyone enjoys coming to work, the better the experience is for our customers.

“We offer many things to our employees with the goal of retaining the people that have a great skill set, outstanding attitude and similar core values,” explains Terra Nicholson, in human resources. “We also offer a very competitive benefits package. People feel really respected here. We have built a skill-based pay program within all of our positions. Employees can take their career into their own hands and advance within their department where they are empowered to grow in both skill and pay if they choose. We also post all of our positions internally and always interview those candidates, so they have the opportunity to move around the plant and experience different departments.”

A prime example of that is Ciera, who worked in our finishing department for nearly two years and recently moved to the front desk and accounts payable.

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“I always wanted to work in an office environment, so when the position opened I applied for it,” says Ciera. “This is a really great company, they really care about everyone. It’s family-owned, and it feels like it.”

We interviewed several candidates for this position and felt that while Ciera had little experience in AP, she was smart and hungry to learn. Her warm and friendly personality are also reasons we felt she was perfect for the reception desk.

Our general manager, Steve Agen, started in the plant 29 years ago. “I started at the end of a printing press after college, working to get by, and later moved to sales, and it went on from there. So I have a soft spot for companies that promote from within,” says Steve. “We’re always looking to train people. An employee in the maintenance department was interested in taking a 2-year electrical program. We paid for his schooling and he excelled in the program and he’s excelling here. He is a huge asset to us.

“It’s a fun place to work. The ownership and management really care about the employees and it shows. Time and time again, when we give tours or have customers or suppliers come in, they comment that they can tell that our employees like working here, and that says a lot. When a customer notices that, they leave with a smile on their face, and it creates loyalty.”

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“Prior to working for Sonderen I worked for a Fortune 500 company, and there you were truly just a number,” says Terra from HR. “You don’t have that family, one-on-one feel. Sonderen really cares about their employees, you’re not a number here, that’s the difference. And that comes from the owners and the management team, all the way down. We’re very close-knit even though we’re at about 138 employees right now. Our people really care about each other and that makes it really fun to come to work.

“Working in HR, it’s my job to make sure that employees are getting what they need from a safety standpoint, that their benefits are correct, and that they have a positive work environment. I’m a very values-based person, and I need to work for a company whose values align with my own. I knew that was true of Sonderen before I applied for the job and that I would love being in an HR role here.”

We invest a lot in training our employees at Sonderen Packaging, to make sure that they are empowered to succeed. Our HR department keeps a precise training schedule so that everyone is on a path to improvement can safely operate on the plant floor. This contributes greatly to our stellar employee retention.

“We have a little turn over in the plant, of course,” says Steve. “In general, the administration stays pretty consistent, and we’ve got a great team now—the best we’ve ever had. The customer service and salespeople really care about their customers and doing a great job. Our managers out in the production plant have all been here a long time, at least ten years, some fifteen or twenty. Our oldest die maker has been here since 1974.”

We celebrate a lot of work anniversaries at Sonderen, many reaching high into double digits.

“What I like is that it doesn’t take long make a decision and affect change,” says Steve. “You feel like you can actually get something done in a matter of days or hours, without waiting a week or more for the decision to come down from the top. I feel blessed to work here. I think about that a lot. It really comes from the ownership. Mark and Valerie Sonderen did a hell of a job raising their kids. Being in my position, it could have been a lot different, with new owners coming in. Matt and Keva listen, they learn, and then they lead, and they’re doing a great job. I loved working with their father, and the next generation so far has been great. There’s not a person in this company who wouldn’t say the same thing.”

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We make a lot of excuses to have fun here at the plant, too. A common saying is, “if you don’t have fun with Mark (Sonderen), it’s not his fault.” We take this challenge very seriously and aim to have fun at every opportunity because we work too damn hard not to.

“Every year we have a company picnic for the employees and their families. There’s also an annual golf tournament; and there are lots of prizes, it’s a ton of fun. We also have a winter party that is themed, oftentimes with trivia, prizes and a DJ. The last couple of years people have really gotten into it with costumes and even a dance contest,” Steve recounts. “This year, managers cooked meals for different shifts as a thank you for the hard work and overtime everyone was putting in and we also did a huckleberry pancake breakfast. We have barbeques for people who are retiring. Employees get gifts on their anniversaries. It’s a great culture.”

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“It’s a very close-knit, family-like environment. A place that cares a lot about the safety of its employees,” says Terra. “It’s a fun place to work. The theme of our picnic this last year was ‘work hard, play hard’ and that really describes the group that we have here. We work hard but we have a lot of fun working together.”

Want to join the Sonderen Packaging team? View employment opportunities here.