I’m not a coffee drinker, but 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day. As Americans, we’re drinking a lot of it – approx. 27 ounces/day and that’s great news if you own a coffee house. According to National Coffee Drinking Trends from the National Coffee Association in 2010, we spend an average of $1.38 for a brewed cup of coffee, while $2.45 is the going price for an expresso-based drink.

                Statista stats on USA coffee houses

Statista confirms that in 2002 there were 37,000 coffee and snack shops in USA; today there are more than 55,000.  The love-for-coffee trend started in the 1960’s when Peet’s Coffee opened in San Francisco. 

                                     Peet's Coffee stoneware mug

Since then, there’s been a slow and steady rise in artisan brews fueled by Starbucks, PJ’s of New Orleans and many more.  It’s common to find specialty coffee shops within blocks of each other. While a quality cup of coffee is an essential ingredient, customer service is what brings the consumer back. People want an inviting, clean environment, a quality product, to be recognized and treated well.

     PJ's Coffee of New Orleans artisan stoneware mug in red       PJ's Coffee of New Orleans artisan stoneware mug in moonberry glaze

We work with amazing coffee shops across America; some of those right here in Wisconsin. Here’s are four stoneware favorites

Founded in 1993, Door County Coffee & Tea is a family-owned business roasting coffee the old-fashioned way – in small batches to exacting specifications. Their mission is to produce the best-tasting, highest quality coffee and deliver it to our customers with an unsurpassed level of customer service. To accomplish that, they use only Specialty Class 1 Arabica coffee beans, which are the top 2% of what is grown in the world! They are located in beautiful Door County in the small town of Carlsville.

                   Door County Coffee & Tea stoneware mug

The heart of Eagle River Roasters reflects the fruit of God’s Earth and the work of human hands. The company was founded on a passionate appreciation for coffee and camellia sinensis used to produce tea. Their artisan coffees and teas are selected and hand blended to offer customers an extraordinary flavor. They are located in the northwoods of Wisconsin, a popular destination for vacation and retirement.

                                      Eagle River Roasters Specialty Coffee & Tea

The village of Stockbridge is known as the ‘Sturgeon Center of the World’ and for Mud Creek Coffee Café.  The inspiration of Julie Parsons, she created the business in 2006 with the desire to create a daytime place to gather in their small community. Today, her daughter Taylor manages the business. Stop for a quick lunch, to chat with the locals, enjoy a special dinner and shop their retail area for coffee, mugs, natural soaps, unique card, etc. Together the mother and daughter business make ‘hip rural’ cool.

                              Mud Creek Coffee in artisan-thrown stoneware mug

‘May the hand of a friend always be near you,’ is the Irish blessing that welcomes you to McCaffrey’s Coffee. Owners Tim and Connie opened the coffee shop after traveling to Ireland in 2010. In honor of Tim’s heritage, the shop reflects a very eclectic Irish theme.  Located alongside the Mississippi River, La Crosse is home to three local colleges – so many students and faculty members, along with neighboring residents account for many of the coffee shop’s customers. They take pride in knowing their customers by name – and beverage.

                     McCaffrey's Coffee in Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs

You’ll find our hand thrown artisan coffee mugs in many more coffee shops across Wisconsin and the USA. Enjoy the hunt.

Keeping watch.  Pat

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High-quality craftsmanship and employee safety are principles that drive Duane and Tom Dunsirn. What started as an abstract idea almost 20 years ago has turned into a powerhouse production pottery shop.

Sunset Hill Stoneware employees permanently hand press custom artwork into 3-dimensional clay medallions and place them on hand thrown mugs and steins. What sets the company apart from mass-produced pottery is the initiative to conscientiously do things the right way for the safety of their employees and the protection of the environment. They have made ‘clean and green’ an integral part of their daily operation.

                             High-Definition artwork

Supplier Relationships Matter
Clean green initiatives are the new norm. More companies are using products designed to preserve human health and the environment. And as organizations review their own sustainable measures – they include their supply chain partners. Leading businesses are careful to align their brand with partners who reflect their own mission and values.

Consider the councils who govern, direct and staff our national parks, monuments and forests. These representatives are committed to protect and preserve America’s natural resources. As millions of tourists visit these public lands, the common thread is to educate and leave the natural habitat as beautiful as or better than arrived for the next guest. It’s the same mission for conservation organizations like Duck’s Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. These groups actively partner with conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts and volunteers to conserve natural habitat and wetlands.

Businesses want to work with suppliers who incorporate safe employee practices and maintain environmental consideration. More companies are requiring vs. simply requesting vendors comply with high environmental standards. After all, it’s a reflection on them.

Changing the Industry
As we’ve gained a greater understanding of our customer’s ecological initiatives, we proactively invested in clean, green initiatives to match today’s efforts.

Producing pottery creates dust; and any type of dust is not lung friendly. What makes it more challenging; it’s not easy to get rid of dust. In fact, dusting, sweeping and vacuuming creates more dust – and not having adequate circulation units in place can jeopardize long-term health. If you look at pottery facility photos – you will see dust in the air, at workstations and in corners – it’s simply an endless job when you don’t have the right processes in place.

Of course, if you don’t routinely clean up the dust, you get dirt. Mix dirt with high humidity levels created from heavy water usage, along with summertime temperatures, and that can create a dark, damp environment ideal for mold growth. You can’t get around the summer heat or 2200° kiln temperatures by adding circulating fans. That simply stirs up and circulates more dust. It’s that ongoing dust issue. You know how hard it is to remove dust from your house; imagine the situation for pottery manufacturers.

    Dust, dirt, humidity in typical pottery shop Dust, dirt, humidity in typical pottery shop Dust, dirt, humidity in typical pottery shop

Creating Pottery Heaven
Tom and Duane wanted to do things right for their employees – and ultimately their customers. The goal was to attain optimal indoor air quality and comfort for employees, while gaining environmental excellence.

                                           Cleanest Greenest Pottery

Cleanest Greenest Initiatives

  • Control harmful airborne contaminates (a/k/a silica) generated from clay dust via powerful custom-engineered clean air filtration and circulation systems. These systems supply a continuous flow of circulating fresh air for employees, while eliminating the ejection of harmful dust into the outside world.
  • Monitor indoor/outdoor temperatures and humidity levels using smart technology that results in repeatable, precise year-round room temperature of 78° at 45% humidity – perfect for clay drying and employee comfort.
  • Mitigate dust exposure with HEPA-approved vacuum tables that meet clean air standards.
  • Intercept and separate water to prevent manufacturing by-products from affecting employees or local communities.
  • Bright, uplifting work environment with white reflective painted walls and high-performance LED lighting.

To confirm our actions were successful, an independent environmental consulting firm was employed to conduct on-site testing for air quality. The company tested for respirable dust and crystalline silica levels; and final findings found our indoor air quality to be well within OSHA standards!

A Potter’s Work is Never Done
It would be nice to think that incorporating clean green initiatives is enough. It’s not. It’s a never ending task. In addition to employing full-time cleaners, our production staff helps with the process by washing down their individual work areas daily.  

               Daily clean up duties at Sunset Hill Stoneware Daily clean up duties at Sunset Hill Stoneware  

Evening wash downs are made easier with stainless steel work tables, sinks and washing stations, along with strategically placed floor drains and epoxy coated flooring. Metal floor grating in strategic locations facilitates easy, continuous and fast clean up throughout the day. We simply want to keep ‘clean and green’ an integral part of our daily operation – which in turn, gives you a quality-made, hand thrown, lead-free memorable mug safe for your family.

               Daily clean up duties at Sunset Hill Stoneware Daily clean up duties at Sunset Hill Stoneware

True Inner Beauty
We continue to work with retailers who see the beauty of our stoneware as well as feel the artisan-made craftsmanship. Knowing our story, merchants are confident that our well-made products reflect their own values and environmental standards. Sunset Hill Stoneware products are food safe, independently tested to meet FDA and California Proposition 65 compliancy standards, along with being oven, microwave and dishwasher safe.

Cleanest, greenest pottery at Sunset Hill Stoneware

Our craftsmanship, employee safety and environmental initiatives make Sunset Hill Stoneware products attractive to resell, collect and use in our daily lives.  

Keeping watch. Pat

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It’s our 18th anniversary. Not a big deal, right? Hallmark doesn’t even recognize it on their gift idea list. It’s important to us though. Tom will tell you it’s been a good marriage; all 6,570 days, 157,680 hours or 9,460,800 minutes, which translates to 567 million seconds. The traditional gift for an 18th anniversary is porcelain; preferably in blue. And an idea from both the traditional and modern gift list includes mugs. How fitting!

                                               Happy 18th Anniversary to Sunset Hill Stoneware

The Early Days
Tom started the company after college with his love for hand thrown pottery. Originally named Fox Valley Stoneware, Tom and a friend turned clay slugs into mugs from a deserted firehouse located in Dale, a small township outside the Fox Valley. The first lease was handwritten in pencil on the back of a placemat and that pottery studio became the company’s location for the next 14 years.

Their first customer was Wally’s Still, the neighboring bar and restaurant to their pottery studio. With 3 kilns in place the two employees could fire up to 600 mugs at a time allowing them to put 200 pieces in the bisque stage of production, with another 80-100 pieces in the high fire stage. The team worked 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week throwing pottery trying to make a go of the company.

From a marketing side, the company name didn’t feel right. One night after a long day of work, Tom watched one of the most amazing sunsets he’s ever seen. He will tell you that “it was the brightest orange glow that covered the entire sky; it was beautifully stunning,” Coincidentally, the sun was setting behind rolling hills. Can see where this is going? Sunset Hill quickly came to mind and with the simple addition of ‘stoneware’, Sunset Hill Stoneware became the official name – and soon a new image and catalog was available!

Sunset Hill Stoneware
                                         Sunset Hill Stoneware Catalog

Digging In
From the beginning, Tom’s parents helped out. Duane, his father, loved the product, but wasn’t sure this was the right career path for his son. Duane would stop in the pottery shop, observe the activity and help out by engineering new tooling and processes to support the business.

When Tom opened a retail store down the road from their Dale studio, he depended on Mary, his mom and her creative skills to create eye-catching shelf displays. In one way or another, Tom and his parents became entrenched in the pottery-making business. Tom was producing a quality-made product, selling to retailers and managing a retail store. It was during this time period, that the now popular handmade SHS snowman mug was introduced.

                     Sunset Hill Stoneware Snowman Mugs  Sunset Hill Stoneware Snowman Mugs

In these early days, one of the most significant SHS hires was Jason. Fresh out of high school, he started as a potter and filled in where necessary. Jason had the same deep-seated work ethic as Tom – doing whatever it took to get quality-made product out of the firehouse facility. More on Jason in a little bit.

About 2003, the company evolved again. Tom updated their brand image, closed their retail location so the small team could focus 100% on producing stoneware. Their customer base for corporate businesses, well-recognized coffee shops and retailers across the country was growing.

                     Sunset Hill Stoneware

Snowball Effect
Business continued to magnify. Word was getting out and the demand for the quality-made mugs increased. A specialty coffee company requested 17,000 hand thrown mugs for Christmas – could we do? Absolutely! The team took it on and worked day, night and weekends to fulfill that one order and many more.

Like many small business owners, Tom was balancing the act of owning a small business while having the right people, product and promotion in place. He was responsible for growing sales with the ultimate end goal of delivering a well-made, hand-thrown product shipped out on time. With another new product catalog in place, the demand from corporations, eat and drinking establishments and national landmarks was mounting.

                                     Sunset Hill Stoneware Catalog

Making the Move
In 2010, Tom and Duane became official business partners. At that time, they made slight updates to their brand and began surrounding themselves with a team of talented people. Duane used his background of ingenuity around productivity and safety to implement leading-edge, environment-friendly technologies into the business.

                       Tom & Duane Dunsirn, owners of Sunset Hill Stoneware

History in the Making
By 2012, Tom and Duane had introduced a new interactive ecommerce site enabling customers to design their own mugs. As the company’s database of national landmarks, parks and coffee shops rose; the business needed to expand with them. That same year, Sunset Hill Stoneware left their original 2,500 sq. firehouse manufacturing site to relocate their production facility to Neenah. The new 10,500 sq. location housed 26 kilns and kept 7 pottery wheels spinning to meet customer demands.

                       Sunset Hill Stoneware Production Facility

In 2013, the company was recognized as a Master Craftsman by Discover Wisconsin, the nation’s longest running tourism television show. In addition, a new retail location was opened at The Hang Up Gallery of Fine Art in downtown Neenah. Many local community members started finding Sunset Hill Stoneware products for the first time – even though as a company we were then celebrating 15 years.

In 2014, Sunset Hill Stoneware began to align themselves with outside resources to offer customers additional made in America quality pieces. These carefully-chosen Trusted Partners provided exceptionally-made products that met our quality standards and turnaround at an affordable price points. Customers could now buy beautiful hand thrown stoneware mugs with highly absorbent, made in America UnderWare™ coasters.

In 2015, the two owners turned the industry upside down by putting the health and safety of their employees first. While continuously trying to protect their employees from circulating clay dust within the facility, it was a difficult task to control without major investment in clean-air systems. Their investment paid off when an independent environmental firm confirmed that their efforts and circulation systems maintained the continuous flow of fresh air desired – and beat stringent OSHA requirements.

                       Sunset Hill Stoneware Clean Air Initiatives

Our History of Craftsmanship
In our 18th year, at the core of everything we do is maintaining the craftsmanship of years past and combining that with modern-day standards. Our goal is to hand make functional pieces that can be used safely on a daily basis and shared with those you love.

We’re not going to get stagnant in our efforts. We understand that it’s not how long you are in business that counts – but how well you’ve managed your business, treated your employees, your customers and the world around you throughout the years.

Remember when I mentioned Jason earlier? Well, for a short time he left SHS while he went off to college and traveled some. After a few years Jason found himself back in Dale throwing clay mugs. Today, you’ll find him managing 30+ employees at our Neenah production facility. Jason is instrumental in developing new product styles and glaze colors, training new hires and continually educating the team on new processes and efficiencies.

                             Jason at Sunset Hill Stoneware

After 18 years, Tom and Duane remain active in the business. Oh, the physical work days and weeks are bit shorter than those in the early days but their minds are always on the business. Tom keeps everything going, while Duane tinkers in the background on new technologies that will make us better as people, as a company.

Currently we are implementing an integrated MRP system with touchscreen technology to manage our manufacturing processes. I’ll have more to say on that initiative soon.

Celebrating 18 Years
Finally, thank you. The support that you have showed Sunset Hill Stoneware throughout the years, simply wants us to earn your business over and over again. Your relationship is like an old friend that we never want to part ways with. Call us to set your image in stone(ware). Our team would be happy to hear from you.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Labor Day is celebrated annually on the first Monday in September. The holiday is intended to honor the American worker.

In 1894, Congress passed an act acknowledging that the contributions of individuals who work for the better good of a company, directly strengthens the well-being of our country and makes America flourish. Enacted more than a century ago, these adopting legislators clearly understood that people united as a workforce drove spirit, community and ultimately the economy. In unity, there was strength. In strength, there was prosperity for America.

One hundred and twenty-two years later, our nation observes Labor Day with street parades, speeches, picnics and family. With the extended weekend and festive activities, it’s easy to overlook the underlying message of the day. This holiday is about the American worker and the contributions that we make as individuals to better the places we work, improve our communities, contribute positively to society as a whole. It’s simply a day to honor the workforce of America.

                          Labor of Love

The Labor of Craftsmanship
A person’s individual spirit, motivation and ingenuity drives success. Today’s generation wants to take their personal creativity, apply it to their day-to-day life and share it with the world. Think Pinterest. The social media network allows a visual element for their creativity, along with a place to collect photos, ideas and inspiration.

Now think Sunset Hill Stoneware. Our employees take their individual talents and creativity and apply it to clay. Whether they are throwing at pottery wheel, pressing images into clay, applying mug handles, hand glazing – or on the phone helping you understand what style/color will retail best in your store, their individual inner drive and talent results in the artistry and quality workmanship you seek. There’s satisfaction in working for a company that produces a product that is sustainable, affordable, and in some ways, improves lives.

                                  Hand throwing Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs

Employee’s individual contributions keep companies strong – and keeps America rich in tradition, craftsmanship and growth. It’s a labor of love we never want to lose.

Enjoy your holiday. This one’s for you!

Keeping watch. Pat

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Most people have an ingrained responsibility to act within the best interests of our society and environment. It’s simply the right thing to do. We’ve been brought up to help others.

The business world acts in the same way. Publicly-traded global corporations typically create and maintain ‘green’ and corporate social responsibility policies. In fact, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) emphasizes that the relationship to society and the environment in which businesses function is a critical factor in a company’s ability to operate effectively. Social responsibility is increasingly used as a measurement of overall performance. In fact, you’ll see it mentioned in most annual reports.

While privately-held companies are not accountable to stockholders, they do make social responsibility an integral part of their business model. Delaware North is one of those companies. As a corporate citizen, they look to make the world a better place for those around them. They believe a socially responsible company is one that serves. It serves its customers by selling something of value, its workers by providing good jobs, its owners and clients by generating profits and the community at large by making the world a better place. 

                     

In 2011, a study done by Brigham Young University professors showed family-owned businesses are more socially responsible than larger companies. The study was based on data collected from 1991 to 2005 and was published in the Journal of Business Ethics. The study disclosed that family-owned businesses treat employees better, contribute to the community more and damage the environment less, all because of one thing — the family name is on the line.

In a family-run business, there typically is no accountability to stockholders or board of directors. There is a major responsibility to themselves, their families, employees and the community that surrounds them.

Duane and Tom Dunsirn, the owners of Sunset Hill Stoneware feel that sense of obligation. As a father and son team, they don’t always do things the easy way; they strive to do things the right way.

5 Ways We Incorporate Social Responsibility

  1. American-Made Product
    Our customers gain high-quality craftsmanship hand thrown by Wisconsin artisans. Everything we do, everything we use is made in America. From the earthy clay to our customized packaging – it’s all made in the good ol’ USA.

     

     

                

  2. Built-In Product Safety
    Customers select our stunning stoneware for our artistry, functionality – and safety. Our stoneware pieces are independently tested to be 100% lead free and food safe for you and your family. They meet stringent FDA and California Proposition 65 compliancy standards – and our standards. Oven, microwave and dishwasher safe.

     

     

                

  3. Capture and recirculate 100% of our kiln heat
    High firing at 2200° temperatures, our firehouse gets hot. We invested in a custom-engineered HVAC system that reclaims 100% of the kiln heat produced. That heat is then re-dispersed to dry our greenware, warm our water, heat our facility.

     

     

               

  4. Keep local area streams and lakes contaminate free
    We carefully capture and separate the water used in manufacturing to prevent by-products from entering local ground and surface water supplies. Our employees and local communities are protected.

     

     

               

  5. Airborne clay dust contaminates beat OSHA standards
    Our production facility has been independently tested by an outside environmental consulting firm for respirable dust and crystalline silica dust a staggering 95% lower. We are confident our powerful clean air filtration and circulation systems, located throughout our production facility, maintains a continuous circulation flow of internal fresh air to keep employees safe.

     

     

               

Simply put, no matter the size of a company, being social responsible in producing a well-made product, treating employees well, doing your part to protect the environment is the right thing to do. We’ll continue to do our part. We hope you do too.

Keeping watch. Pat

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It’s easy to take our national parks for granted; to us, they’ve always been there. These majestic landmarks are a part of our American landscape, so it’s natural to assume they will be available when we are ready to travel, listen and learn their stories. It’s hard to imagine that without the foresight of those who came before us; these lands may not be maintained and available to all.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant recognized Yellowstone as America’s first national park. At the time, Congressmen supported the bill as they felt the rugged and isolated area had minimal economic value. Through the years, more US Presidents and government officials recognized and named other national parks and monuments including Yosemite National Park, Mount Rainer, Sequoia National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Devils Tower, etc. All of this happened because a relatively small group of people had the vision and perseverance to protect America’s natural treasures.

          Yellowstone National ParkYellowstone National Park

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Organic Act that formally created the National Park Service (NPS). The law mandated that the NPS, managed by the Department of the Interior, was responsible for conserving and protecting the nation’s 35 current national parks and monuments, along those yet to be established, for the enjoyment of future generations. That’s the most important part: the law included those national landmarks that had yet to be named. With the Organic Act in place, today the NPS embraces 58 national parks, including nearly 400 sites encompassing over 84 million acres.

       National Park Service   National Park Service

In 1967, many years after the formation of the National Park Service, Congress made another bold move and created the National Park Foundation.  Its philanthropy mission was simple – to gain private support for the National Park Service in the times and ways it needed it most. Today, the National Park Foundation continues to carry on that tradition as the only national charitable nonprofit whose sole commitment is to support the NPS. The foundation does this by channeling the support of individuals and organizations to ensure the very best of America is preserved and protected as generations before us intended.

                                               National Park Foundation

This week, America celebrates the NPS’s centennial. The party started last year when the NPS launched a movement to spread the world about our country’s resources and heritage. Named ‘Find Your Park’, the program includes all parks – national, state and local. It’s about creating the connections and inspirational stories that our parks tell through history, culture and simply enjoying natural beauty of our country.

2016 NPS Centennial mug2016 NPS Centennial mug2016 NPS Centennial mug

One of the program’s goals is to get kids outside, to experience nature, to explore and have a personal connection with the outdoors. My Dad and Mom did that well. We took weekend trips to Kettle Moraine State Forest as a family. We hiked the trails, climbed trees, picked berries and enjoyed a picnic table for lunch. It was great to get out of the city and realize there was a lot of life to experience.

2016 NPS Centennial coaster  2016 NPS Centennial coaster 2016 NPS Centennial coaster

Part of the yearlong centennial festivity is sharing your story. The NPS has made it easy for you. Share your photo, song, poem, video – anything you want. Use hashtag #FindYourPark. The beauty of our country simply can’t be captured in a single word or photograph. We all need to share our story.

And the NPS asks for your support. Your financial gift, large or small, will help the National Park Foundation protect our treasured landscapes for generations to come. If you can’t give financially, give with your heart by sharing America’s priceless natural landscapes, rich history and vibrant culture with those you love. Or participate in these ways:

  • In recognition of the 100th birthday of the NPS, an IMAX® 3-D film National Parks Adventure was created to capture the nation’s story at theatres across America. The film offers a sweeping overview of the national parks’ history, along with adrenaline-pumping odyssey and soulful reflection on what the wilderness means to us.
  • The United States Mint is commemorating the NPS Centennial by issuing three limited-edition coins, including a five-dollar gold coin, a silver dollar, and a half dollar clad coin. Proceeds from coin sales go to the National Park Foundation to support projects that protect parks for future generations
  • While many National Parks are strained by lack of resources and staff, you could provide an invaluable service and help ensure that these special places will continue to be cherished for generations to come as a volunteer. From clearing trails to assisting archaeologists to providing visitor information, our national parks could use your help.

The NPS employs approximately 22,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal professionals. They depend on 221,000 volunteers. They expect more than 300,000,000 visitors. They offer free guides as a starting point of inspiration.

  Sequoia National Park steinSequoia National Park steinSequoia National Park stein

The diverse beauty of America’s majestic landmarks is like no other country. It’s our national legacy, our inheritance, our story to embrace, protect and care for future generations.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Ask any retailer what’s their largest expense and they’ll have a quick answer: inventory. It’s an ongoing struggle. Too much inventory results in an overloaded stock room, crowded shelves, reduced cash flow and profitability. Too little stock on hand appears that you have limited items to sell and cripples sales. If you’re a museum store buyer, even more pressure is added as they act as stewards of the organization’s funds and, in turn, must act responsibly and have more accountability.

A museum store plays a large part of the whole visitor experience. Typically located at the entrance and/or exit of the museum, the employees make best use of their product offering, retail display and messaging throughout the store. While the store’s financial outcome is vital to the retail operation, even more is customer experience.

Visiting Springfield
I remember a trip to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois. The building is massive taking up an entire city block. The museum interactively takes you on a journey through Lincoln’s boyhood years through his White House presidency. The galleries immerse you through the most dramatic moments in Lincoln’s life using the latest in technology to bring 19th century history to life. It’s engaging, educating and inspirational. You simply feel you are living part of Lincoln’s story. At the end, you are invited to walk into the museum store. The store is welcoming, impressive and genuinely reflects the museum exhibits you have walked through.

If you read my last blog, you know I’m a mug collector – so my goal was to purchase a Sunset Hill Stoneware mug from the museum store. The SHS mugs were not hard to find – the artisan-quality pieces were on display in many locations throughout the store. I found a mug to purchase, but noticed the displays were a bit in disarray – so I resourcefully spent some of my time straightening out the mugs so their brands all stood front and center, while my husband shook his head and acted like he didn’t know me. Soon one of the employees came over and I introduced myself. She was glad to meet me – and for the help in straightening the shelves.

    Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum  Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

On Display
The way stores display their goods never mattered much to me, until I began working for a mug company. Now I notice. Always.

Sometimes at our Neenah retail store, I’ll ask our team on-site for some display photos. They kindly send them to me and I sometimes shake my head at the current display. I know we can do better than what I see.  We all know that presentation is everything and you have one chance to make a good impression – even if you’re a mug on a shelf.

                    Sunset Hill Stoneware Retail Store       

                    Sunset Hill Stoneware Retail Store

Many of our customers share their displays – with us. We are so proud to be part of their story and of their ‘made in America’ offering.

                    Simply Natural Alpaca

                    The Apple Farm

                    Marine Mammal Center

                    Hermit Brand

           Texas Coffee Firehouse

Meet the Makers
We also work with The Local Store in Eau Clair, Wisconsin. They offer an authentic shopping experience with an impressive array of unique gifts, books, apparel, kids gear, decor, food, etc. I love what they do. All of their merchandize evokes a sense of place – whether it’s the Chippewa Valley or Wisconsin in general. To reinforce their brand messaging online and throughout their retail and online stores, they not only feature Wisconsin-made products – they tell the artisan stories of the item. They call it Meet the Makers. Want to buy a Wisconsin state-shaped skillet for your overnight guests? What about a wooden Chippewaddlers duck toy? Or is a sweet, ginger-infused root farmer's beverage called Switchel in honor of the haymakers who drank it during the 19th-century. The Local Store puts together beautiful store displays while educating visitors and building a sense of community.

The Local Store

Inventory Balance
Buyers know their stores can’t sell what they don’t have in inventory, so keeping stock on their shelf is important to their retail business. They also know that not turning inventory can be disastrous to their bottom line. It’s a constant balance of getting the right product on the shelf at the right time – and keeping those displays looking good.

Many retailers try to:

1.     Align their store principles with affordable American-made products
2.     Display their products with personality
3.     Keep displays visually appealing and tidy
4.     Educate staff so they can share their mission with visitors

The next time you visit a retail store, appreciate the thought and work put into keeping stock on the shelf. And for me – if you see a SHS mug out of place, please take time to straighten out those mugs a bit so the brand stands out front and center.

Keeping watch. Pat

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People love hand thrown stoneware and like to travel. Combining the two makes people happy – and that’s good for America and Sunset Hill Stoneware.

Since 1979, my tradition has been picking up a souvenir mug when my husband and I are on vacation. It started on our honeymoon in Hawaii. We were on Oahu and I picked up a mug at the International Marketplace. It rests in a prominent place in our home and brings back great memories. As we traveled through the years, I would stop at a  museum or park store and select a mug that I liked. If I forgot, my husband would gently remind me. It makes us happy to have a visual keepsake of the places we’ve been. 

The thing is – we have never considered ‘using’ the mugs. They’ve all been decorative additions. And I’m embarrassed to say, the mugs have all been made in China or a foreign land.

The week before I started at Sunset Hill Stoneware changed everything. We had traveled to Gettysburg to walk the battlefields and stopped at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. As habit would have it, I selected a mug. Prior to walking to the checkout, I wondered if Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs were available in the store. I walked around the corner and there they were – a top-to-bottom shelf display of beautiful, hand thrown, American-made mugs. I looked at the mug in my hand (from China) and put it down, while purchasing the artisan-thrown Sunset Hill Stoneware CM-8 style mug. The hand thrown Sunfire Red mug doesn’t decorate my home – it is used, daily.

Now when we travel, I’m selective about the mugs I purchase; only Sunset Hill Stoneware, only made in America. It’s a lesson I learned along the way. We need to support America, small businesses and support quality-made products.

Our customers enjoy collecting Sunset Hill Stoneware. They like the different styles, the different color options. When they visit America’s landmarks – whether it is a museum store or national park, they look to add to their pottery collection. And these aren’t decorative pieces, they use our stoneware in their daily life because they know it has been tested and safe to use in their homes. They look for our Sunset Hill Stoneware seal of approval located on the bottom of the mug.

          Hand Thrown Sunset Hill Stoneware Mug with Bottom Stamp

You’ll find Sunset Hill Stoneware at events too. There’s a convention that starts today in Oshkosh called EAA AirVenture. It attracts 500,000 people and 10,000 airplanes from across the globe. Imagine 10,000 airplanes flying into Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a city that maintains a population of just over 65,000. It certainly is a sight to be seen. The EAA AirVenture convention planners have been purchasing Sunset Hill Stoneware collectible mugs since 2011 and reselling them to attendees. Imagine our product on display before 500,000 attendees. It gives me chills just thinking about it!

    Hand Thrown Stoneware EAA AirVenture Mug Collection

David Williford attends AirVenture every year – and recently sent a photo of his collection. He also shared, “I have a collection of your mugs bought each year at AirVenture, in Oshkosh, WI. The first year they were offered was in 2012. I have enjoyed collecting them.” Our team never gets tired of seeing our customer’s personal collections.

     Hand Thrown Stoneware AirVenture Mug Collection

Beer fanatics are also excited about collecting beer steins – either for annual mug clubs or from different craft brewers across the country.

We’re privileged to work with Iron Hill Brewery in Pennsylvania and their fans for the past 5 years. Their King of the Hill Rewards Club offers exclusive perks including a free 24-oz beer mug. They won’t let you buy the exclusive mug; it’s for members only!

     Hand Thrown Stoneware Iron Hill Brewery Mug Club

Alyssa, from Buffalo, NY shares, “I love my new SHS mug! Please make more of these for breweries in Western New York and I will collect all of them! 

       Hand Thrown Stoneware Southern Tier Brewing Company

There are hundreds of these stories, thousands of places to find Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs. It’s a bit humbling. What personally started as a simple souvenir collection for myself, has evolved into a larger understanding that people are passionate about America, the places they’ve traveled and their collections.  We create mugs and memories. Duane likes to say we create Memory Mugs.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Ever put a dish in the microwave and need hot pads to remove it because the container was so hot?  You won’t have that issue with Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs. Our pottery artisans apply mug handles that won’t heat up as quickly as the mug.

                     Sunset Hill Stoneware is microwave safe

It’s one of the attributes of our stoneware that we don’t talk about much, but rings a bell with consumers. In 2011, Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI) conducted a survey with 2,000 consumers to find out how often they used their microwave and what they thought "microwave safe" means. Here’s how they responded:

  • 49% said "microwave safe" means that a product will not break, crack, shatter, or become damaged in some way when it's heated in the microwave oven.
  • 36% think that "microwave safe" means that a product is safe for use in the microwave but can't say what that specifically means.
  • 32% think "microwave safe" means a product won't leach harmful or toxic chemicals or substances into food.
  • Only 15% of you consider "microwave safe" to mean that a product won't get hot when heated in the microwave. "That you won't burn your hand getting it out!"

When you purchase a Sunset Hill Stoneware mug, you can be sure it is safe. Our mugs have been kiln-fired to 2200° Fahrenheit (yes, the same temp as volcanic lava); they will not break, crack or shatter in your microwave which typically heats less than 212°F. Our pieces have been independently tested to meet FDA and California Proposition 65 compliancy standards. We have done our homework so when you heat your morning coffee or tea for a few minutes in the microwave, you can easily grab the handle to remove it.   

Percy LeBaron Spencer is credited with inventing the microwave oven back in 1945. Named the Radarange, it was large – 6’ tall and 750 pounds and expensive – about $5,000. In the late 60’s, countertop microwave models for the home became affordable and gained popularity. Americans continue to like their microwaves – it is projected manufacturers will sell almost 12 million units this year and next.

               Microwave sales escalating

Now if every microwave sold came with a set of Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs; that would be hot!
Keeping watch. Pat

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