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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It’s here. The week you’ve been waiting for. The companionship you been thriving. It’s American Craft Beer Week!

The week-long national event was the inspiration of the Brewers Association in 2006. It allows craft brewers to unite with craft beer fans across America. Jointly they celebrate being part of a greater community who share passion for the beverage they love.

     American Craft Beer Week

What’s so special about a craft brewer?  The industry defines them as "small, independent and traditional." That’s true, but they are more than that.  In fact, when you think about it; they’re a lot like Sunset Hill Stoneware

A craft brewer’s beer-making style is based on old world traditions and personal values. They pour their heart, soul and life savings into product development in hope that the passion they feel will be felt and enjoyed with others. They’re artisans, driven by passion, learning their craft to meet their level of perfection prior to sharing it with the community around them.  Fundamental to the code of craftsmanship is the desire to do something right, no matter the cost – or the time taken to do it.

Doing Things the Right Way
A craft brewer has the drive to do things right. And when they can connect with another craftsman who can convey their message in a creative, sustainable way – it builds their personal legacy. Doing business this way isn’t the least expensive or easiest way to conduct business – but for a craftsman, it is the right way.

                    American Craft Beer Week

Check out the American Craft Beer Week event calendar; all 50 states are participating.  Exclusive brewery tours, special releases, food and beer pairing. Did you know that the average American lives within 10 miles of a brewery?  We’ve got 5 great spots locally!

American Craft Beer Week with Red Branch Sunset Hill Stoneware SteinAmerican Craft Beer Week with Reformation Brewery Sunset Hill Stoneware SteinAmerican Craft Beer Week with Founders Sunset Hill Stoneware Stein

As Reformation Brewery promotes, they set beer free! And freedom is as American as you can get. Contact us to learn about our new brewery style offerings.

Keeping watch. Pat

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The coffee industry uses a colorful flavor wheel. Created by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) in 1995, it helped to define what specialty coffee was and at the same time helped position it away from commercial coffee. The flavor wheel describes some of coffee’s unique fragrances and aromas, along with helping cuppers to identify characteristics that could be ‘off’ in coffee flavor.

How does the wheel work?
After 21 years, the SCAA released an updated Flavor Wheel earlier this year. The wheel maintains its beautiful kaleidoscopic appearance of comprehensive data that makes an outsider marvel at the complexity of a simple cup of coffee. Starting at the center of the wheel, a taster can determine if it tastes fruity, nutty, green, etc, work outwardly from there to hone in on other flavors. This is the basic function of the flavor wheel.

To dig deeper, you need to grab the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon. This tool is used as the universal language of coffee’s sensory qualities and measurements. It’s a step in understanding what causes coffee to taste, smell and maintain its texture. Created by sensory experts and coffee industry leaders, the lexicon uses sensory science to understand a coffee’s primary quality with a way to replicate those measurements.

Coffee is one of the most chemically complex things we consume and it all starts with the bean. Inside that coffee bean is a complex molecular and genetic code determined by the seed. That seed’s genes are affected by how and where the coffee was grown, and by everything it has experienced since leaving the tree, including the processing, drying, milling, storage, transport, roasting, brewing and so on.


Coffee Drinking Quick Stats

  • Total percentage of Americans over the age of 18 that drink coffee everyday          54%
  • Total amount of cups of coffee (9 ounces) a coffee drinker consumes daily              3.1

Read more about how Hugh Jackman is changing lives one cup of coffee at time while you fill your Sunset Hill Stoneware, American made coffee mug with your favorite coffee house brew. Browse our gallery today.

Until next time. Pat

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A child’s best friend can be their first two-wheeled bicycle. It becomes their most trusted transportation and many a child finds their pursuit of happiness while riding their bike. It gets them away from home and chores; it gives them an escape from life.

A child can hop on a bike and gain instant confidence and elation as the wind blows through their hair. For a short time, they have complete control. Biking where they want and pretending to be the fastest vehicle on wheels as they pass cars while cruising the neighborhood sidewalks. While on that bike, a child can fantasize about being their favorite superhero and rescuing good from evil. They can escape dogs, jump sidewalk bumps and speed as fast as their legs will take them.  It’s that feeling of escape and lack of responsibility that we yearn for as we grow older.

In 2012, Ole Kassow started a European organization called Cycling Without Age. His goal was to help the elderly get mobile. He started by offering free bike rides on a rickshaw vehicle to local nursing home residents – then the movement caught on spreading to more countries, including America. Watch the 15-minute video; it is time well worth spent.

Buy Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at Caramel Crisp & Cafe where Cycling without Age riders stop for coffee Buy Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at Caramel Crisp & Cafe where Cycling without Age riders stop for coffee 

Locally, Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh is the first long-term care organization in America to obtain a license and implement the program. Residents can sign up and cruise the city by trained Cycling Without Age pilots. The program simply creates joy for residents.  It gives them an escape from their troubles, pains and/or depression and exposes them to fresh air, sunshine, rosy cheeks and sites that bring back memories. Riding that rickshaw gives them mobility and allows them to be the superhero once again as the wind blows through their hair.  

"We are proud to have launched this amazing program in Oshkosh, Wisconsin”, reinforces Bonnie Behnke, director of development for Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh, Inc. “There are smiles all around, pilots, elders, staff, family, bystanders, every time you come in contact with a rickshaw! We love creating joy in our elders lives!" 

                                       Buy Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at Caramel Crisp & Cafe where Cycling without Age riders stop for coffee 

                    Buy Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at Caramel Crisp & Cafe where Cycling without Age riders stop for coffee

Thank you to the trained pilots, the Oshkosh Police Department and Caramel Crisp & Café for opening your doors to this program and serving the weary travelers their favorite beverage in Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs. You’re helping others live their life – for the rickshaw pilots, you're taking a priceless journey.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Ever notice that the places where you grow up never seem that interesting until you move away? I grew up in a small town on the other side of the lake. Whenever I travel home and drive past the rolling farmlands and through the historic towns, it’s refreshing to see these communities thrive in new ways.

The drive takes me through Chilton, Wisconsin; population under 4,000. It’s a city that has everything you need – hardware, furniture, grocery stores, post office – even their own Dairy Queen. It also has a nice coffee shop called Terra Verde Coffee, located right on the main highway.

      Terra Verde Coffee mugs  Terra Verde Coffee mugs

Owned by Marko and his wife Melissa, the business was created to give locals a worldly experience. The owners import organic coffee from around the globe and roast them on site to create the most environmentally friendly product available. Each month they feature a seasonal variety – this month, it’s their Nutty Irishman just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!  In addition to coffee, tea and expressos, they also serve fresh bakery warm Paninis and handmade soups.

                                  Terra Verde Coffee mugs

Once a month, you’ll find a video of Marko promoting their monthly favorite with a Sunset Hill Stoneware mug. It reminds us that people can develop an obsession for the mug they use. It’s that emotional attachment that makes our team happy to be a part of the story.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Back in the 60’s Batman and Robin taught us that crime doesn’t pay. Looking back at the series, it’s interesting that the dual team never thought of partnering with a crime-fighting dog.

Canines have been used for hunting and providing security since the Middle Ages; they have certainly have played an active role for the US military. In the 1970’s, law enforcement agencies in the United States started partnering with highly trained canines. Today these specially trained dogs are considered part of the police force with many of them having their own badge numbers.

Across the country, there are many canine training centers.  Unlike other programs that focus on a variety of K9 disciplines, the Georgia K9 NTC Track School program is dedicated to pure tracking, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Located on the beaches of Edisto Island in South Carolina, Georgia K9 NTC produces and develops proven man-hunters.  There is no other K9 Training Company in the world that trains more professional military and police K9 trackers – and of course, they do more. 

They offer basic and advanced handler courses, detector programs, even obedience training for high caliber breeds.  Jeff Schettler, a police K9 trainer and a retired police K9 handler, along with Kelli Collins, co-founder and general manager are setting new trails.  Jeff and Kim are taking their vast law enforcement knowledge and expanding into service dog training serving children with autism and special needs.

         Buy Georgia K9 NTC mugs!

Sunset Hill Stoneware is pleased to be their partner in crime.

Keeping watch.  Pat

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There’s a movement in America that screams red, white and blue. Established in 2007, this crusade started with a small band of brothers who were passionate about United States National Soccer. It began at Captain Jack’s, a local bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. Three fans began throwing viewing parties and traveled to as many games as possible.

As they trekked across the country, they became frustrated with the lack of support for fans to meet together. American baseball, football and NASCAR fans all gathered, tailgated and cheered for a common good. The three soccer fans felt like the outlaws of American sports and within a short time, they banded together to create a nationwide, non-profit supporter group called the American Outlaws (AO).

AO members are honored to be Americans and proud to be soccer fans in America. They are loud, passionate – and organized. In 2013, they celebrated their 100th chapter; in 2014 they announced their first international chapter. Today they have more than 175 official chapters with more than 30,000 members.

          Click to buy this American Outlaws stein  Click to buy this American Outlaws stein

The goal of the American Outlaws is to unite their fans, create a large presence and give more visibility to the sport. They unite supporters locally and nationally – and they ask for you to join their movement.

          Click to buy this American Outlaws stein  Click to buy this American Outlaws stein

AO started with three fans working together to unite America. That’s something for everyone to cheer about.

Keeping watch. Pat

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It’s easy to get sentimental as we look back at accomplishments. Certainly being recognized for our landmark safe, clean air initiatives this past year stands out. There’s another milestone that makes us proud – and that’s you!                                          

On a daily basis, we receive validation of our work. People from all over this great country write to tell their story of how they found their first SHS mug, how they broke the handle off their Mom’s favorite mug after 12 years and they need to have it replaced immediately, how they collect our mugs as they travel the country. Retailers comment on how nicely packaged our pieces are, how they sell out the same day the shipment arrives, how easy we are to work with.






We log many of these endorsements on our testimonial page – in fact, we’ve been logging and dating your comments since 2011. Why? It makes us proud of the product we hand produce and the high level of services we provide. It is simply a privilege to serve you and America’s best.

Our team is forever grateful for you taking the time to be kind. Making the effort to tell someone they are doing well is a fantastic reflection on you.

Thank you.  We'll catch up in the New Year.

Keeping watch. Pat

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