Entrepreneurship isn’t always the easiest option, but for some, it’s the only choice. Tom Dunsirn officially started his pottery business in 1998. While he was working on the concept, his parents stood on sidelines and questioned each other how they could change their son’s mind. Who could make a living throwing pottery? As you know, Tom’s story ends well. He persevered, chased his dream and 18 years later the business is thriving. 

             Entrepreneurship is part of the Sunset Hill Stoneware story.  Entrepreneurship is part of the Sunset Hill Stoneware story.  Entrepreneurship is part of the Sunset Hill Stoneware story.

There’s no short cut to success – and once you figure things out, something else pops up. Ask any entrepreneur and I’m sure they have a story about the level of angst and sleepless nights that keep them awake. 

ELEMENTS TO SUCCESS

1. Love what you do
Passion is vital for success. Whatever roadblock is thrown in front of you, keep going. Find another way. 

2. Take baby steps
Start simple; stay focused. Discover what you’re good at – and get better.

3. Learn from others
Find a mentor to help you. Soak up their knowledge and improve upon your business model. 

4. Self-promote 
Marketing starts with confidence from the founder of the business. Create a good elevator speech and your pitch becomes your story – and your success.

5. Never settle
Entrepreneurs are movers and shakers. Trust your instincts. Adjust and keep going. 

    Entrepreneurship is part of the Sunset Hill Stoneware story.  Entrepreneurship is part of the Sunset Hill Stoneware story.  Entrepreneurship is part of the Sunset Hill Stoneware story.

Enthusiasm for what you do is contagious. At Sunset Hill Stoneware, we never know where we’ll find Tom, but we know he’s got our back.

Keeping watch. Pat

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We’ve been named as a preferred vendor for Ducks Unlimited. It’s an ideal relationship. Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation; Sunset Hill Stoneware is America’s Greenest Cleanest Pottery.

2017 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program2017 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program2017 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program

Ducks Unlimited got its start in 1937 during the dust bowl. It was initiated by a small group of sportsmen. Their collective goal was to protect the drought-plagued waterfowl populations that had plunged to unprecedented lows during that time period. The mission of Ducks Unlimited remains the same as its forefathers: habitat conservation.

Focused primarily on North America, waterfowl and wetlands are the primary focus of the organization’s habitat work. Duck Unlimited members are conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts who live primarily throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. And the driving grassroots force of the organization is its volunteers; people who are your neighbors and co-workers.

In 2015, Ducks Unlimited volunteers hosted more than 3,900 fundraising events. Their collective event efforts – banquets, tournaments and outings – represent some of the organizations most important stream of revenue.

2016 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program2016 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program2016 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program

For the past 4 years, Sunset Hill Stoneware has been recognized as a Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor. Many times, you’ll find our product at your local banquets if the regional manager has brought the product in for their event. Or purchase directly online for yourself and/or gift to your favorite conservationist. In 2017, Ducks Unlimited will be celebrating 80 years – our 2017 portfolio offering reflects that milestone.

       2017 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program      2017 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program    2017 Ducks Unlimited Preferred Vendor Program

Ducks Unlimited is the largest and most effective private, nonprofit, waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization in the world. That’s a pretty good statistic for an organization started by a few good men almost 80 years ago.

Keeping watch. Pat

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They say that good things are worth waiting for in life. That’s how we feel about our new orange glaze. It’s taken us a while, but it’s been well worth the wait. And we don’t have one new orange glaze – we have five! You see? It’s true! Good things are worth waiting for! View our current Glaze Color Chart.

A few weeks ago, we introduced 12 new glazes – today we are adding 5 more to our lineup. All the colors we are launching today are in a variety of orange shades – perfect for a Halloween launch!

                        Sunset Hill Introduces 5 new Orange glaze colors on Halloween!

                      Sunset Hill Introduces 5 new Orange glaze colors on Halloween!

Customers love our glaze colors – very contemporary, they tell us. Our mug styles and colors sell well in retail stores as they connect with consumers, their homes and lifestyles. Every once in a while, a customer will request us to match their logo PMS color – that’s where colors become a challenge. We’re simply not a paint company that can mix pigments together and come up with a new color. Jason, our production manager will tell you, there’s much more chemistry and science involved.

First Sunset Hill Stoneware Catalog

When Tom started the business in 1998, he offered 12 glaze colors. While some of the twelve remain a part of our offering like our Sunfire Red and Natural Clear, many of the original dozen no longer exist. Simply because the minerals used back then are not the same as today.

Launching New Glaze Colors
As we look to introduce new glaze colors, we start by looking at trends. In 2015, Marsala was introduced as the Pantone color of the year – very similar to our current Mulberry Blush. We also listen to customer requests and their wish list. If we get enough customers asking for the same color (like orange!) we work hard to fit their needs. So that’s our starting point from the sales and marketing side.

The next step is working with Jason and his production team to understand the characteristics of what we’re looking for. He typically asks two questions:

  1. Do we want a glossy glaze? Matte? Satin-Matte? Transparent?
  2. What color family? When we say ‘orange’, do we want primary orange? Blaze orange? Tangerine? Apricot?

​Our guidance gives Jason a starting point on the glaze base he needs to use. Certain components don’t work well with specific bases and others need a ‘host’ or ‘partner’ for the ingredients to interact with each other in the way desired.

                            Jason testing for new Sunset Hill Stoneware glaze color

With the requirements for color established, production begins making additions to the base centered on scientific formulas and guidelines. The process becomes a fundamental trial and error experience by creating the base formula, documenting the process and firing it for results. Typically the desired result doesn’t transpire in the first trial run – or the second trial or the third or fourth for that matter.

Creating a new glaze is all about chemistry. Making sure all of the components fit, melt and interact together as one. One of our proprietary glaze recipes could look completely different depending on the conditions. A chemical reaction can be caused by the clay body, the technique applying the glaze, the firing program, the kiln atmosphere – even the water used can play a part in the glaze being successful or not. It simply is a test, adjust; test, adjust; test and adjust the process.

One day all the chemistry connects and ‘presto’ we have the beautiful color we were trying to attain. After admiration, the challenge faced is to duplicate the mugs beauty. It starts with another attempt to replicate and repeat success. It can take as long as the 1st step. And sometimes it’s a bit more frustrating as you know it can be done as you’ve done it before – just how did we make it work?

                            Jason testing for new Sunset Hill Stoneware glaze color

Once we are confident on the color and know we can imitate the recipe for years to come, we send the glaze out to be independently tested for leaching levels and long-term safety. It is also during this process we gain confirmation that the glaze is FDA compliant.

                         Sunset Hill Stoneware glaze team

Glaze Challenges
We work hard to make sure new glaze colors will perform up to our standards for many years to come. We consider many factors: the beverages put into a glazed mug, the behavior of microwaves and the detergent used in dishwashers etc. These dynamics have influence and can create havoc with the final outcome if not considered.

Gaining consistency of color is important also. When a customer orders 15,000 mugs, they want every hand thrown mug to be similar in color and functionality. While customers appreciate the individual artsy part where every mug is hand thrown and unique, it is their name is being placed in stone(ware). Our artisan-thrown, glazed mugs are meant to reflect an organization’s corporate values and standards. Uniformity is important to the process.

                           Sunset Hill Stoneware glaze team

As a mug progresses from a freshly thrown piece on a pottery wheel, it travels into a bisque state. During this first firing, the 1800° kiln is burning off carbon and organic materials while releasing sulfur within the clay mug. The clay structure changes as the temperature increases. At the same time, the kiln is also removing water from the clay mug as it fires and dries the ware.

                           

Repeat orders can also be a challenge. Customers will question why when they ordered the same style and glaze color three months ago, the mugs look different this time around. It’s hard to give a definitive answer to that. The difference in color could go back to a number of things starting with the glaze minerals where they are mined. Nature has control of that. The clay base, chemical composition, purity of materials, firing times, temperatures, placement in the kiln, techniques applied, time of the dip, consistency of glaze etc. It’s a science – and an appreciation for hand thrown stoneware.

Orange You Happy
We’re thrilled to add 5 more new 100% lead-free glaze colors to our line up – and hope you enjoy for years to come.

New Creamsicle glaze color from Sunset Hill StonewareNew Orange Sherbet glaze color from Sunset Hill StonewareNew Tigers Eye glaze color from Sunset Hill Stoneware
                       New Blaze Orange glaze color from Sunset Hill StonewareNew Candy Corn glaze color from Sunset Hill Stoneware

Keeping watch. Pat

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Every once in a while a brand crosses our Sunset Hill Stoneware production line that makes our team step back and reflect on how far we have come. We never thought a reality show would make us pause, but that’s what happened.

        CM-6 Potbelly mug from Sunset Hill Stoneware   CM-6 Potbelly mug from Sunset Hill Stoneware

A few years back, my husband and I took a road trip to Iowa. We went to see the Field of Dreams and take in a few Quad Cities River Bandits games in LeClaire, Iowa. At the time the River Bandits were a minor league baseball team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. We enjoy watching up-and-coming players to see who makes it to the big league.

While in town, we stopped at Antique Archaeology. The business is housed in a former fabrication shop and acts as the home base for the American Pickers show on History Channel. The show was relatively new at the time, premiering in 2010. At the time of our visit, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, the show’s pickers were on the road picking on the East Coast.

        CM-6 Potbelly mug from Sunset Hill Stoneware with Antique Archaeology brand   CM-6 Potbelly mug from Sunset Hill Stoneware with Antique Archaeology brand

As we walked through the front door and turned around, right above ours heads was an original rectangular sign advertising Bowser Service Station. I instantly knew we had to have that sign. The gal managing the shop told it us it was not for sale. Many people had wanted it and Mike simply was not selling it. We browsed the gift store finding standard t-shirts and novelties from overseas. We left without the sign. In Mike’s eyes, it was priceless.

Bowser Service Station sign at Antique Archaeology

Since our visit, we continue to watch American Pickers. In their 6th season, we’ve seen Mike and Frank expand into Nashville while traveling America. They meet all kinds of characters along the way who have collected and held on to America’s treasures. ‘Picking’ is something Mike and Frank did together as kids; they’ve taken their love for picking and turned it into a growing business. Mike and Frank educate viewers while breathing life back into historical pieces whether it an ol’ leather coat, motorcycle or rusty oil can. The show’s popularity falls in align well with current re-purposing ideas and upcycling inspirations that are favored today.

In 2015, Antique Archaeology introduced a new brand called Two Lanes. The brand highlights stories of the backroads they travel, along with American-made home décor and more. The blog tells the story of a way of life inspired by the spirit of America’s small towns, the people that live in them, and the two lane roads that wind between them. It reminds me a bit of a song by Alan Jackson, called ‘The Little Man’ about a simpler time in life. If you haven’t taken the time to join Picker Nation, join now.

In early 2016, the National Trust for Historic Preservation association created a national campaign called ‘This Place Matters’ that encouraged people to recognize places that mattered to them and their communities. They partnered with Mike. It was a perfect match as Mike was known for bringing visibility to America’s smallest treasures. Now he was able to share and tell the stories of places that are significant to America. Via an Instagram contest, The Variety Theater in Cleveland, Ohio was announced in September as a winner of the competition. I’m sure we will hear more about the restoration of this 1927 movie theatre in a future show.

Mike is driven by his love for America. He calls himself a finder and rescuer of objects – but his passion for preservation runs deeper than what you see on the surface. He simply wants to save America – one piece at a time.

CM-6 Potbelly mug from Sunset Hill Stoneware with Antique Archaeology brand  CM-6 Potbelly mug from Sunset Hill Stoneware with Antique Archaeology brand

In the meantime, I wonder if he's ready to give me a price on that ol’ Bowser Service Station sign. It has my name on it.

Keeping watch. Pat

Posted in America, Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We wouldn’t have a story without our customers. In fact, their brand image tells our story. Our Signature Stoneware™ mugs stand out for our ability to take a custom logo, press its intricate details into clay and high fire the pieces for long-lasting durability. A little bit like playdoh with more functionality, design and durability.

Our hand thrown stoneware has traveled to many parts of the world – France, United Kingdom, Vietnam, but mostly we like to keep our American-made products right here at home in the U.S.A. Many times our mugs travel to places we’ve only dreamed of going to or seen in photos. That’s when we appreciate hearing back of their travels.

Oh, if only a mug could talk, right?

While our Signature Stoneware™ product can’t tell us about its flight over the mountains, how gently the UPS man carried the box of mugs or how many his mug friends are arranged on the same shelf; our customers do tell us where they bought our mug and how much it has become a part of their life. It’s those stories that we treasure.

Terlato Kitchen
Located in the heart of the Midwest, the Terlato family name is known for its high standards and quality. Terlato Kitchen is offers a line of luxury wines and traditional Italian food specialties. Their artisanal tomato sauce spooned over a comforting bowl of pasta sounds delicious. The Kitchen’s online store offers sauces, preserves, honey, vinegars – even a bloody Mike mix named after Mike Ditka. Also nestled in their gift packages you’ll find a quality-made, artisan-thrown mug. Their American-made story individually packaged for the holidays.

               Terlato Kitchen story

Consolidated Construction
Starting as a family-owned business in the 1950’s, this full-service construction contractor has evolved from their roots in North Dakota to three locations. Now employee-owned and headquartered in Wisconsin, their portfolio includes project experience in 16 states throughout the Upper Midwest. They serve many markets including assisted living, heathcare, hospitality, religious and more. Earth-saving sustainability and safety ranks high in their objectives. This American-made company connects their brand story with America’s Cleanest Greenest Pottery at their job sites to recognize client excellence.

               Consolidated Construction story

Friends of Friday Memorial Library
Public libraries across the country are the cornerstone of healthy communities. These gathering establishments allow community members to find jobs, explore medical research and simply get lost in wonderful novels. The Friday Memorial Library is located in New Richmond, Wisconsin. This past year, volunteers of The Friends of Friday Memorial Library created a Friday Library Fund to support and build on their library’s future. To show their passion and as part of their fundraising, they sold supporters treasured Signature Stoneware™ mugs to fulfill their mission.

               Friends of Friday Memorial Library story

Flight 93 National Memorial
This past summer, my stepbrother John and his wife Barb, traveled to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a small town with a population of 237 according to 2010 census. Why would anyone travel here, you ask? Well, Shanksville is where 40 passengers and crew members tragically lost their lives on September 11, 2001. From this tiny town, Shanksville’s volunteer firefighters, along with police and emergency personnel from surrounding communities rushed to help.

Today at this solemn place in America we can visit the Flight 93 National Memorial crash site and remember those who gave their lives to shield others. It is here, we remember. It is also here where you can purchase their heart retching story memorialized in a Signature Stoneware™ memory mug. We are grateful for the opportunity, yet wish there would have been no need for anyone to be part of this American story.

                Flight 93 National Memorial story

Gift boxes, client gifts, fundraising, reselling. Your brand tells a story. Our Signature Stoneware™ conveys that message for years to come.

Keeping watch. Pat

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Customer service is the heartbeat of any business. No matter how great your product or service, responding to your customer in a timely, professional manner beats everything.

                          Sandra, Shari, Shelly at Sunset Hill Stoneware

Good service was important in the early 1800’s where pioneers traveled by horse and wagon to the general store. They relied on the storekeeper to carry food like dried beans, cornmeal and coffee, along with necessities like medicines, cloth, pistols and rope. While the store shelves were crammed with boxes, crates and tables, they depended on the merchant’s knowledge for product information, to have what they needed in stock – and for gossip on the locals. Very similar to what you can see at Oleson’s Mercantile on Little House on the Prairie reruns; Nels worked hard to keep his shelves stocked and customers happy.

Everything changed in the late 1800’s when the telephone was invented. If you had enough financial status, you could now call your order into the general store so your goods were ready for pick upon your arrival.

By the 1960’s, call centers emerged and by the ‘90’s, emailing, shopping the Internet and chatting live online became more prevalent. Early in the 2000’s self-checkout lanes opened in grocery stores – and now social media and apps have changed everything.

Today consumers value information that they can obtain readily on their own – and if they can’t find what they need, they want immediate help. They don’t want to enter into the customer service underworld where their phone call is loped through an automated system – you know, ‘press 1 for English’ and ‘listen carefully as our list of options may be have changed.’ For companies that don’t respond quickly, I expect they suffer sales fallout.            

                 Outstanding Sunset Hill Stoneware Customer Service

1. Accessibility
Customers should be able to get a hold of you, or someone in the company, easily if they have a question or need support. Having multiple outlets (phone, email, and web) for communication is essential.

2. Timely Response
Responding to an inquiry within 24 hours is standard. If a question is coming in over the weekend or a holiday, most customers understand and will wait for a reply on the next business day.

3. Treat People with Respect
There's an old saying ‘you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. This simply translates to ‘be nice’. Everyone has ‘off’ days, so accept that, listen and solve the issue so it benefits both parties.

4. Honesty Counts
Don’t promise something that can’t be done. If you can’t deliver what is needed or within the timeline required, be honest and prepared to walk away from the opportunity. Or if something got messed up in the process – we’re all human, we all make mistakes; just remedy the situation the best you can and move on.

5. Do What You Say
This one’s easy. Simply fulfill what you said you were going to do. Building trust and reliability is the first step in developing a long-lasting relationship. Many times you have to depend on others to fulfill what you promised. If it ends up that you can’t do what you thought could be done, then review #4.

At Sunset Hill Stoneware, we like to think that we do these five steps and more. In my opinion, our account specialist team is second to none.

Meet our Account Specialist ‘S’ Team

Shelly at Sunset Hill StonewareShari at Sunset Hill StonewareSandra at Sunset Hill Stoneware
Shelly, Shari and Sandra are only a snapshot of our account specialist team. You’ll have the same great experience when working with Jeff, Tom, Teri, Anne and Brandi too. They are all experts in helping customers build brand equity by setting their logo in stone(ware).

                      Sunset Hill Stoneware Account Specialist Team

The essential principles of customer service are timeless and unchanging. Much like stoneware that is attractive, functional and uniquely yours.

Our team is ready to support you.

Keeping watch. Pat

Posted in Marketing, Wisconsin | Tagged | 3 Comments

You’ve heard the old saying ‘you are what you eat’. More Americans are realizing that their mood, energy levels, food cravings and general health have a lot to do with what they are eating. I remember my Grandma saying, ‘when you have your health, you have everything.’ Of course, I was ten years old at the time and didn’t know what she was talking about, but somehow it stuck with me through the years. I think we all know what Grandma meant today.

Harvesting your own garden and shopping at farm markets has grown to be popular. It’s standard now to find an aisle or two of organic offerings within your local grocery store. In fact our local grocery chain did an extensive remodel this past summer; it now has a ‘greener’ healthier look throughout the store with employees dressed in fresh lime-colored shirts. They even added a green leaf to their logo. It all builds a bit of trust with the consumer that their products are healthy and safe.

The demand for organically produced goods continues to show double-digit growth, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. We can find organic products in almost 20,000 natural food stores across America and in nearly 3 out of 4 conventional grocery stores. Consumers are showing a willingness to pay the price for organically-produced foods that keep their health, the environment and animal welfare in mind.

                                   Double Digit Growth for Organic Industry

RWE Healthy Living recently moved to their new store in Plainwell, Michigan that promotes wellness for the long run. Casie Dussia, proprietor, has made her life-long dream a reality when she opened her new location this past year. Now this small community of residents uses the store as a gathering place to meet friends and neighbors, while they make healthy food choices and gain advice on nutrition and fitness.

Casie Dussia, proprietor of RWE Healthy Living RWE Healthy Living and Sunset Hill Stoneware

This isn’t Casie’s first venture. In 2010, she founded and continues to operate Run With Endurance (RWE) with one purpose in mind: to educate and motivate women to live their lives with purpose through God’s word and physical fitness. Casie is a personal trainer and nutrition consultant so it made sense for her to open R.W.Eats in downtown Otsego in 2014. Her goal was to give residents healthy food and nutritional options without having to travel to the ‘big’ city. Together with her husband John and son Jase, they looked to inspire and educate communities in southwest Michigan to make healthier choices. With recently relocating to a larger storefront in Plainwell, their better-living mission continues. Their complete health food store offers a wellness bar with fresh foods made daily for breakfast or lunch, along with consulting and massage services.

                           Sunset Hill Stoneware mugs at RWE Healthy Living

America was built on entrepreneurs like Casie. Sunset Hill Stoneware is proud to be a part of her offering – and it’s good to know that the American Dream that built this nation stands strong. 

Keeping watch. Pat

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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

Posted in Wisconsin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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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