There’s so much written about instant gratification. We all want it – now. The millennial generation has really taken it on the chin with this concept. It’s really not them – it’s all of us. We’re more impatient – at the store, in the car, when we are Internet searching. If we can do things faster, we believe we can get more done each day.

It’s the same in business. If a company can get product manufactured and out the door, there’s time to take on more opportunities. Many times an engineer can invent a way to speed up a printing press or bottling machine to increase production. Not us.

For a company like Sunset Hill Stoneware, it’s not that simple. We don’t have machines that will go faster at the turn of a switch. We employ artisans who hand throw mugs on a pottery wheel – one at a time.

               

The Process
From start to finish, if everything goes well, our mug-making process for a single unit is 5-7 days. That means that nothing can go wrong during manufacturing.

What could happen? Breakage, wrong artwork or color applied, natural glazing minerals melt differently during final firing, kiln misfires, artwork cracks, etc. When that happens, we hold the order and redo what needs to be replaced (yes, another 5-7 days).

Merchandise on Display
Retailers rely on Sunset Hill Stoneware to have American-made products on their shelves. They say the faster, the better. Why the urgency? Many of them have seasonal shops. Think about Yellowstone National Park. They have 12 shops typically open from April through October. If we ship in November, they could end up with months of costly inventory. It’s the same for a bed and breakfast or gift store. Every business has a peak season and we coordinate our work within those seasonal demands.

                         

Manufacturing Secrets
We can’t make our potters throw faster, but we can improve their efficiency without sacrificing quality and consistency. It starts with our pottery wheels. Our wheels are custom designed and maintenance free. What does that mean?

A typical potter throwing 200 mugs a day will most likely need pottery wheel maintenance at least every six months. Our Sunset Hill Stoneware pottery wheels have no downtime and require no maintenance. And our computer-engineered wheels allow a potter to select how fast they want to start and stop, along with adjusting their throwing speeds. Why is this important? When a single potter is throwing 200 mugs a day, every second counts. During an 8-hour day, there is 480 minutes. Divide that by 200 and our potter’s are throwing a new mug in less than 2-1/2 minutes. (Watch us in action!)

                Sunset Hill Stoneware potters throw mugs individually on pottery wheels

And every production employee has the tools they need within reach of their work station. It’s this investment in duplication of work stations, cutting tools, sponges and water supply that makes us more efficient and speeds up our processes.

                Sunset Hill Stoneware has the tools needed within reach to make them more efficient and speed up their processes.

Speedy Drying Times
Wet clay contains a lot of water; in fact, it is at least 25% water. So after a mug is thrown, it needs to dry. As it dries, the water evaporates and the particles of the clay are drawn closer together resulting in shrinkage. We expect about 12.5% shrinkage and our potters plan for that. What becomes more challenging is controlling the drying time during the different stages of manufacturing. The clay pieces have to dry uniformly. If they dry too fast, the medallion artwork could fall off, handles won’t adhere, pieces could have cracked bottoms or the mug overall will appear warped.

                Find consistency and beauty with Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs

We control the drying process a few ways:

  • Using building automation to control our heat and humidity levels. This maintains 45% relative humidity in our facility during every Wisconsin season.
     
  • Designing proprietary mobile damp carts for each potter. These innovative damp carts slightly dry our pottery while maintaining optimal moisture content for the next manufacturing step of properly applying handles and medallions.
     
  • Engineering a specially-designed drying room. This aerated environment dries our pottery for the next manufacturing step in less than 30 minutes vs. the piece having to air dry overnight.

These expedited drying methods help us deliver the quantity of product needed at the right time with minimal waste.

Visibility Drives Efficiency
When a business can streamline their processes and gain visibility to their procedures, it will help them gain momentum. That’s what our newly implemented HawkPoint MRP II system does for us. It helps us plan our day, week and month more efficiently.

            Processes drive success at Sunset Hill Stoneware

We can enter our orders and visually communicate with our artisans what style, glaze and artwork is required for each piece, along with any details of special artwork placement and bottom stamps. After the final firing, the stoneware pieces are carted via traveling workstations into our shipping department. It is there where transport details are automatically imported into UPS, packing lists are auto generated and tracking numbers are auto emailed.

Speed and Strength Achieved by Process
Well-run organizations from small start-ups to larger players have a need for process. Structure and visibility helps a business evaluate their strength and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement and react quicker.

The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of our products and services; deliver consistently to our customers in the timeline needed while increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Leveraging our processes helps us deliver new products and services quickly and efficiently without reinventing the ‘wheel’ every time. For us, keeping our wheels spinning is vital for success.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Entrepreneurs make America tick; Gerard Aflague is one of them. Born on the island of Guam, Gerard cherished his childhood as he grew up in the Chamorro culture.

Guam is located 5,800 miles west of San Francisco and has been a US territory since 1898. The US acquired the territory from Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War. Despite invading conquerors, wars and changing governments, the Chamorro people were resilient. They found a way to preserve their heritage while expanding their culture into a modern way of life.

When Gerard relocated his family to Colorado, he wanted to continue to honor his heritage, while maintaining the memory of island life for his wife and children. Their memories of island living included waking up to the crow of early rising roosters, afternoon tropical rains and the smell of freshly cut wet grass – things you don’t necessarily find on the mainland.  

Gerard’s creative energy drove his desire to sell ​Guam and island-themed products and gifts online. That eventually led to him creating his own website so others could find beautiful, functional pieces that reflected his heritage and Pacific Island life.

        Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs  Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs          
        Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs  Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs

​The Chamorro culture is rich with thousands of islanders now living across the mainland. They seek island-related products that embody the essence of island life. Because island cooking is a staple of ​Gerard’s culture, many of his products reflect this. In the past, islanders ordered by phone or online and waited weeks for their orders to arrive, sometimes in torn and tattered packaging. Today people across the globe can find his unique cultural pieces online, and get them in a matter of days, not weeks.

          Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs
          Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs Gerard Aflague Collection featuring Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs

The Gerard Aflague Collection reflects Gerard’s upbringing while sharing the history of Guam and Chamorro culture story with others. Sunset Hill Stoneware is happy to be part of his collection, his story and the better things in life.

Keeping watch. Pat

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The Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute is home to the nation’s oldest major soft drink – Dr Pepper!  Located in Waco, Texas, the Museum celebrates Dr Pepper, the soft drink industry and the free enterprise economic system.  It seems fitting that America’s Cleanest Greenest Pottery would partner with the DPMFEI to make high-quality, handmade mugs featuring one of Dr Pepper’s most iconic logos! 

     Buy Dr Pepper Museum stoneware mug Buy Dr Pepper Museum stoneware mug

Early Beginnings
Working as a young pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store, Charles ‘Doc’ Alderton is credited with inventing the drink in 1885. While most of his work day was spent formulating medications for Waco residents, he enjoyed spending his free time serving carbonated drinks at the pharmacy soda fountain. Wanting to imitate the fruit smells that permeated the air within the business, he began mixing and testing different syrups together until he hit on a concoction that the store owner Wade Morrison and he enjoyed.  He called it 'The Waco’ and locals began requesting it by name.  Eventually a patent was gained and Dr Pepper became the legal name. In 1904 Dr Pepper was introduced to 20 million people attending the World’s Fair and the rest, as they say, is history.

Memorable Slogans
In the 1920s and ‘30s, scientists demonstrated that sugar provided energy and that the average human being experienced a slowdown at 10:30, 2:30 and 4:30. Picking up on that information, one of Dr Pepper’s early slogans was ‘Drink at bite to eat at 10, 2 and 4’. In the 1950s the slogan was updated to the friendly Pepper-Upper and the period after “Dr” was dropped forever. And in the 70s came the memorable ‘Be a Pepper’ campaign.

Dr. Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute
The museum is housed in the original 1906 Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company located in downtown Waco.  Formally opening to the public in 1991, the museum houses permanent exhibits on three floors, along with a soda fountain, gift store and much more. You can shop online and find your favorite ‘I’m a Pepper’ memorabilia, along with collectibles, edibles and apparel. 

                            Buy Dr Pepper Museum stoneware mug

There is also a club of Dr Pepper enthusiasts called the 10-2-4 Collectors Club that meets annually at the Museum.  This national organization is dedicated to preserving the history and collecting of Dr Pepper memorabilia.  For as little as $25, you can be a pepper (member) too!

                             Buy a I'm a Pepper stoneware mug

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Museum, as well as the opening of a large new exhibit wing, gift shop and soda fountain. The DPMFEI and Dr Pepper branded Sunset Hill Stoneware products are exciting additions to the expanded gift shop lineup.  We're happy to place the Dr Pepper and DPMFEI brands permanently in stone(ware).

Keeping watch.  Pat

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We wish to express our sincere gratitude for how much your business relationship means to us. 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year from Sunset Hill Stoneware

Our Sunset Hill Stoneware team sends you heartfelt wishes for an enjoyable holiday season. Thank you for your continued friendship.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Tom, Duane and our entire SHS gang

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Creating efficiencies within your company drives speed. Anytime you can do something faster, you can get more done, right? And if you put two people on the same task, it goes even faster. For the past few months, we’ve been working on a project to drive productivity, speed and most importantly, visibility to what we’re doing.

It’s All Relative
Long story short – we are becoming more environmentally friendly by implementing a MRP II system custom designed for Sunset Hill Stoneware. Called HawkPoint, this system is the brainchild of Troy Dunsirn. Troy is the son of Duane Dunsirn, the brother of Tom Dunsirn and the founder of HawkPoint Technologies, LLC. Duane has partnered with his two sons to support the next generation of family entrepreneurs.

                              Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

HawkPoint Technologies employs a staff of experts who install fully-engaged Shop Floor and MRP II systems, along with dashboard technology and IT services to support manufacturing environments. We can tell you, it’s nice to have them on our side. Known mostly in the paper industry for supporting converting and tag and label customers, the HawkPoint team has expanded their workflow expertise by adding hand-thrown mugs to their portfolio.

Less Rework, More Visibility
Prior to our HawkPoint implementation, we handwrote customer orders. In this digital age, we worked hard to find employees with great customer service skills – and great penmanship. Those days are over. Now when you call your favorite account specialist, they will begin to enter your order into our system as you are on the phone. Every detail of your order is entered with a few clicks. You want 96 Executive Slim mugs in Black Cherry. Done! You changed your mind and want Honeycomb instead? We don’t have to tear up your order, use white out or erase what we wrote. We simply change it online prior to your order being scheduled.

                     Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

Artwork Magic
The artwork that appears on your final mug medallion is crafted in many stages. It starts with our design team at the office where they digitally design your artwork to be hand pressed into clay. The design team loads your artwork into the HawkPoint system, so the account specialist can attach it to your order. Once your order digitally arrives at our manufacturing facility, our production staff begins to prepare your approved artwork into a clay medallion that will be pressed out and eventually appear on your selected stoneware piece.

                     Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

The Shop That Doesn’t Stop
After your order is received at the shop and your artwork medallion is in the process of being developed, Jason, our production manager, begins to schedule your order for production. He assigns orders based on in-hand dates and artisan capabilities as some 'big boy' styles take additional experience and physical strength to throw. Jason simply assigns work by electronically dragging/dropping orders to a potter.

                     Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

Equipped with personal computer screens, the potters view their orders at their work station and begin throwing. Vital details like the style, quantity of pieces and other details are visually in front of them on the computer as they are throwing. The HawkPoint system shows what the customer wants without the potter cleaning off their hands between mugs.

                    Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

The new technology helps every employee rearrange orders according to efficiency. This is especially true in our glazing area. Glazers can hand dip 400 Galaxy Night pieces without switching back and forth to mix new glazes. This saves time while giving the glazers improved visibility of the orders needed to complete.

               Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

From a management side, we now have visibility to employee production – how many pieces completed on a given day whether its mugs being thrown, handles applied or glazing completed. It also helps with inventory levels ensuring we don’t run out of clay, glaze colors or packaging boxes.

Shipping Made Easy
HawkPoint technology has made our shipping process easier. Our shipping department team can virtually pack boxes while physically packing your mugs and steins. This creates additional quality control to ensure all your items are accounted for and packed to perfection. Integrated with UPS, our shipping department easily exports your shipping information to UPS WorldShip as they place your last mug into its box.

         Sunset Hill Stoneware uses HawkPoint Technologies to drive efficiencies.

As America’s Greenest Cleanest Pottery, our new HawkPoint system is helping us save trees and time. Call our account specialists to place your first order or reorder your favorites in new glaze colors. We’re dedicated to helping you keep stock on your shelves.

Keeping watch. Pat

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We all know the story of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz – she was the young farm girl who got swept away in a tornado. She lands in an unfamiliar spot, is mentored by a good woman and networks with three new friends who throughout the story help each other face their fears. In the end, Dorothy arrives back home appreciating the things that were right in front of her the whole time.

The Wizard of Oz is a timeless story known by many. Whether you’ve cuddled up with the book, watched the movie or saw your cousin perform it in a high school play, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many adaptations has warmed hearts across the globe.

Oz Museum
Just west of Topeka, the story comes to life in the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas.

              Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at the OZ Museum

Built with the help of community members and the State of Kansas, the Oz Museum is the largest Wizard of Oz museum in the world. Visitors are encouraged to follow the yellow brick road while exploring over 2,000 artifacts. Although a majority of the artifacts are from the 1939 film, the museum includes memorabilia from OZ silent films to The Wiz starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Visitor’s favorite artifacts include original movie posters, the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the hand-painted munchkin masks used in the film.

                  Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at the OZ Museum

The Oz journey continues in the museum store. There you can find hundreds of your own Oz memorabilia to bring home. Select from a charm bracelet with the Wizard’s gifts, a personal copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or hand thrown Oz mugs. Can’t get there before the holidays? Try slowly clicking your red heels together three times. If that doesn’t work – shop online. The museum offers a variety of styles and glazes colors of our timeless stoneware that can be shipped in time for the holidays.

                   Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at the OZ Museum

This season, we hope if you find yourself in an unfamiliar spot, that you are surrounded by good friends to get you back on track. There is no place like home.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Coined in the early 1980’s, random acts of kindness help us humanize unacceptable actions. Earlier this year, country singer Tim McGraw released a song called "Humble and Kind" that resonated with fans. Amid the stress and struggles of daily life, opening a door for someone, saying thank you, saying please – simply being kind to someone can make a person feel better.

Last year, our local community suffered a tragic loss like no other. The tragedy ended in the death of three people: a young man named Adam, along with Jonathan and his young daughter Olivia. Sunset Hill Stoneware conducts random act of kindness

Today, December 7, Olivia would have turned 13. In her honor, we have partnered with the Fox Crossing Police Department to keep her memory alive.  

We ask that you conduct your own random act of kindness today. No act is too small or too big. It’s for little Olivia’s Heart today – and for us to remember and act on during this holiday season. And for the rest of our lives.

Keeping watch. Pat

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If you haven’t started your sales and marketing plan for next year, you may be in trouble. When I worked in the corporate world, our budget and plan was finalized about March or early April. Yikes. Four months into the year, it was hard to financially recover when there was the possibility that your sales numbers were already behind or your approved marketing budget was already spent.

                         Sales & Marketing Roadmap to Success

In order to grow your business, you need a plan. It’s even more vital if you are a small business.  A good sales and marketing plan will tell you where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s your roadmap to success – and your plan needs to be shared with your internal team.

Sales & Marketing Plan

  1. Overview
    Summarize your sales, historical performance and where you found past success. Putting the hard numbers in front of you in black/white helps you step back and see the peaks/valleys of growth
     
  2. Target Customers
    The 80/20 rule applies; meaning about 20% of your customers most likely produce 80% of your sales. Take time to understand your customer base and demographics – and why your product and/or service is vital to their business.
     
  3. Value Proposition
    Understand what makes your business unique and what positions you away from your competition. Having a strong unique selling position is of critical importance.
     
  4. Marketing Strategy
    Your messaging and supportive collateral is important to your success. Make sure you consider all marketing avenues – your online presence, advertising, tradeshows, press releases, social media, etc.  While most budgets are limited, take advantage of ‘free’ opportunities to promote your products and services.
     
  5. Partner and Referral Relationships
    Create lasting connections with customers, suppliers and local community members who can help you think differently and secure more business.

The first 5 steps to creating your plan are simply the groundwork for projecting financial success. The next step is getting realistic with your expectations. Consider the challenges to your success and then share your expectations with your internal team so they can rally around the initiatives. 

Creating your sales and marketing plan is a lot of work. If you’re a small business, it’s an easy process to skip because it entails much thought and effort. If you’re a museum buyer, a store manager or a coffee shop owner – you need to plan for success.

In the long term, you’ll be grateful for the time spent. As you go through Q1 of a given year, you can spot check your plan to see if you are where you want to be. If you’re not where you want to be, you have time to adapt and quickly adjust. If you wait until the fourth quarter, you may be too late to recover and reach your goals.

Create a sales and marketing plan for successCreate a sales and marketing plan for successCreate a sales and marketing plan for success

You wouldn’t think of traveling to a new place without a GPS or printed map; why would you consider ‘winging it’ with your business? Taking the time and knowing what you want to accomplish is the first step in making 2017 a business success.

Keeping watch.  Pat

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Jesse Chisholm was a trailblazer – literally. Born in the early 1800’s, his father was a Scottish immigrant and his mother was a Cherokee Indian living in Tennessee.

In the late 1820’s, Jesse moved to the Cherokee Nation settling in Oklahoma. As a teenager, Jesse worked as a trader, hunter, guide and scout. He was fluent in 14 Indian dialects and was highly successful as an interpreter and in trading goods with many tribes. In 1836 he married and established his first trading post in Hughes County, Oklahoma. By 1858, he was operating multiple trading posts in Oklahoma and Kansas. He made his living by hauling goods via wagon to Indian villages and US Army posts.

While not Jesse's original intent, the trails built for lumbering heavy freight wagons between his trading posts established a path for Texas cattlemen to drive their cattle north to Kansas. In 1867, with the establishment of a cattle depot in Abilene, Kansas, along with the Union Pacific Railway cattlemen were enticed to drive and market their herds northward. The cattlemen simply followed the Chisholm Trail. During the next 5 years, more than a million livestock traveled up the road, trampling down a path that was sometimes 200-400 yards wide.

150 Year Celebration
In 2017, the Chisholm Trail celebrates 150 years. Many events, stretching from Fort Worth, Texas to Abilene, Kansas, are planned through next year. As you travel the historic trail visiting museums and specialty shops, look for Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs and coasters in retail locations. We’ve worked with the Chisholm Trail Celebration committee to become an approved vendor. You will find Chisholm Trail branded mugs in retail outlets like The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Chisholm Trail Museum and more.

          Chisholm Trail celebrates 150 years with Sunset Hill Stoneware

The Chisholm Trail brand tells a story. Our Signature Stoneware™ conveys that message for years to come. Enjoy adding to your collection.

Keeping watch. Pat

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The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday; it was simply a three-day gathering of Plymouth colonists and Native Americans celebrating the harvest of 1621. The harvest was bountiful in crop – and in kindness.  The natives are credited with sharing their learnings with the Pilgrims while helping the immigrants survive their first year in America. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as an official holiday.

Come fast forward to 2016. Like Native Americans hundreds of years ago, the hope is that we bestow the same compassion and kindness once given to our ancestors. Thanksgiving Day is simply a good time to pause, be grateful and kind to family, friends and acquaintances.

Businesses have always been driven by data, metrics and profit. While every company needs to be profitable – as people, we want to reflect on purpose, along with interacting ethically and with thoughtfulness.

Below is a top ten list of what we are continually grateful for this holiday. We encourage you to read and reflect on what is important to you and your business this holiday season. 

SHS Top Ten List of Thankfulness

  1. Thankful for Customers
    We are forever grateful to our extended family of SHS champions who use our product in their daily lives. Whether retailing, gifting, fundraising or simply drinking your morning coffee – we appreciate your passion for our American craftsmanship.
    Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware Customers  Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware Customers  Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware Customers
  2. Thankful for Signature Stoneware™
    Every piece of our stoneware is hand thrown by artisan potters. We hand press custom artwork into permanent 3-dimensional clay medallions, hand apply it to pottery and then high-fire it to last a lifetime. The end result is attractive, functional and uniquely yours. It’s artsy, functional and safe. And made in America.
                  Thanksgiving gratefulness for Signature Stoneware
  3. Thankful for Employees
    Talented. Artistic. Dedicated. We employ local artisans who design, throw, create, apply, dip, package and ship, along with office staff who enjoy the gift of gab and work to meet your high standards. SHS employees are passionate – and priceless.
                  Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware employees
     
  4. Thankful for Coffee and Beer
    Let’s face it – coffee by day, beer by night keep us satisfied in more ways than one.
     
  5. Thankful for Entrepreneurship
    Passion, ingenuity and endless energy are Dunsirn family traits. Tom and Duane maintain a relentless drive to reach perfection and gallantly invest into facilities, systems, safety and processes that’s second to none. They know American retailers need high quality and quick turnaround on USA-made products for their store shelves.
                  Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware ownership
     
  6. Thankful for Technology
    Computer engagement helps us do more with less. Our technology and systems talk to us, so we can talk to you. Who would have thought that that Signature Stoneware™ could be smart and savvy?
                  Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware technology
     
  7. Thankful for America’s Cleanest Greenest Pottery
    Tom and Duane have redefined the pottery industry by placing worker safety and environmental responsibility at the forefront of our daily operations. Our business depends on the earth’s natural resources of clay, water and heat, so it’s natural that we would be protective of our environmental footprint — and our employees' long-term health.
                                 Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware America's Greenest Cleanest Pottery shop
     
  8. Thankful for Brand Recognition
    Smart marketers know that brand awareness plays a pivotal role in purchasing decisions. Connecting your brand with an American-made, handcrafted product speaks volumes to others about your company’s integrity and values. The more aware consumers are of your product and your brand, the more likely they are to buy from you.
                                Thanksgiving gratefulness for Signature Stoneware and placing brands in stone(ware)
     
  9. Thankful for Emotional Attachment
    Like a pair of your favorite jeans, customers become passionate about collecting and using SHS stoneware. Why not? It’s safe, easy to use and impressive to look at. It’s easy to develop a lasting loving relationship with SHS products. We require no prenuptial agreement and our divorce rate is extremely low.
                   Thanksgiving gratefulness for Sunset Hill Stoneware emotional attachment
     
  10. Thankful for America
    We are grateful to be living in the U.S.A. and working with organizations that reflect the American spirit. While our holiday may be full of parades, football, deer hunting and roasted turkey – we are thankful for the friends and business relationships that have supported SHS through the years.

                       Happy Thanksgiving from our SHS family
Keeping watch. Pat

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