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The entrepreneurial story behind Sunset Hill Stoneware

Duane Dunsirn, co-owner of Sunset Hill Stoneware, has had his hands in countless entrepreneurial endeavors over the course of his career. He has invented and developed products that have changed the nature of several different industries, and ones that are even found in households and businesses across America today.

Duane recently recounted his history as an entrepreneur and how it shapes the way we make our famous stoneware today.

Pull Quote Entrepreneurial History


Duane Dunsirn's humble beginnings

Duane Dunsirn with machinery he invented c. 1970s

Duane never attended college. After he graduated high school, he had two jobs: He worked at paper giant Kimberly Clark, and also took inventory and did maintenance work at his father's new business. The business opened in 1966 and had two printing presses that were originally built in 1932. According to Duane, they were in poor condition due to their age and natural wear and tear.

"The maintenance man quit after six months, so I asked, 'Why don't you let me take that on?'" he recalled. "I ended up designing all of our machinery and built 14-color inline presses."

Since he was developing some of these unique, cutting-edge systems in the 70s and 80s, when cell phones were still the size of someone's head and the internet was still very much in its infancy, technology was not on Duane's side early on.

Even without the help of today's technology, Duane found ways to learn how to fix and develop new machinery and products. He did his own research to propel his invention. Oftentimes, he asked for advice from engineers and handymen and carpenters that knew the tricks of their trades and used the knowledge he gained from them to build and improve his own new systems for efficiency and quality.

"I can't imagine what I would've done if I'd had all this other technology," Duane said.

custom technology at sunset hill stonewareStickers printed on Duane Dunsirn's machinery

Duane was involved in a number of other businesses and products before coming to Sunset Hill Stoneware. Some of these past ventures include a paper converting business with his brother that they later sold to a larger company, the 14-color inline press, machinery to print materials like stickers and a series of paper coupons that would later be used for the McDonald's Monopoly game pieces sometimes found on the sides of the restaurant's food and drink containers.

Beyond the world of paper products and printing, Duane's knack for invention has sparked a variety of equipment and systems that help Sunset Hill Stoneware be the successful company that it is today. His systems allow Sunset Hill Stoneware to have one of the fastest turnaround times in the industry while protecting our freshly-thrown custom mugs and steins from the heat, cold and humidity outside the facility, no matter the season.

"I just look at things a totally different way," Duane said. "That's what's always set us apart in any business I've been involved in, including this one."

Tools and Quality

Today, Duane is still involved not only in Sunset Hill Stoneware's operations, but also at HawkPoint Technologies, which supplies the electronic MRP system that allows our company to reduce our paper consumption by hundreds of pounds every year. He's always looking for more ways to improve the systems Sunset Hill Stoneware uses to assure quality of our products and the safety of our employees.

In turn, the respect Duane shows toward our employees is reflected in how clean our production facility is. The shop is free of graffiti and debris, and every day each station looks as spotless as it did when production started that morning. Our potters and craftsmen creating the mugs are happy in their work and treat the building with care in part because of this mutual respect.

Sunset Hill Stoneware Pottery Facility

"Everybody respects everything we've done, probably because of how much Tom and I respect them and how we respect this business," Duane said.

There's a reason we don't mind showing the inside of our facility where some of our competitors are more hesitant. The customized systems Duane has created help make it so nobody in our shop has to wear a respirator or have an individual air filter at their work station, including the potters. This puts us light years ahead of other potteries in terms of efficiency, safety and eco-friendliness and ultimately reflects in the product we give our customers, a major point of pride for Duane.

"I know if I can do the right thing, if I can provide everybody with the right tools to do the job and we can do a quality job, the rest all comes together," Duane said. "The customers love it, the customers will buy your product, sales should not be an issue, people are not going to get hurt so there's no issues with safety and people really appreciate it."

Duane's lifelong experiences as an inventor and entrepreneur reflect in every in of Sunset Hill Stoneware's production facility and business. From our digital order-tracking capabilities to the consistent climate controls and even the shelving where we dry our mugs, our team uses his inventive mind to propel every piece of stoneware we produce and bring to you.

"Even on the weekend, I'll come in there early in the morning and just walk through the plant," Duane said. "And I'm just in awe. They're in here, they use it every day, they love it and it really works well for them and for us."

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