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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Deneen Pottery rooted in the past while looking to the future

Posted on 07 May 2018 by Calvin

The Deneen Pottery company motto is, ”Our life’s work in is your hands.” Their 170 glazes are all mixed from scratch, and based on recipes developed by company founder Peter Deneen. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Deneen Pottery is a second generation, family-owned business in the Midway that, according to President Niles Deneen, “produces the finest mugs on the planet.” Their mission is to collaborate with integrity, sharing the legacy of their craftsmanship and the beauty of their products with the world. With retailers located as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Pico, and Germany, it appears that they are doing just that.

The wholesale company was started in 1972 by Niles’s parents, Peter and Mary, in their two-car garage. Deneen said, “Custom designed, hand-thrown ceramic mugs have always been our mainstay. In the beginning, most of our customers were innkeepers.

Over the years, our customer base has grown to include restaurants, breweries, state and national parks.”

Photo left: Company president Niles Deneen said, “In our family, pottery runs in our blood.” Pictured with Olive, the Deneen Pottery Canine Executive Officer. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Mugs made by Deneen Pottery are easily recognizable, despite there being 16 mug styles and 170 color choices, for a total of 2,400 possible variations on a coffee mug. No matter what shape or color, every mug that comes out of the pottery bears their signature, glaze-engraved medallion personalized for the company that ordered it.

Photo left: A potter at the wheel, using the custom blend of red-bodied clay that gives Deneen Pottery mugs their strength and durability. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“It’s not easy to stylishly represent the essence of a place or business on a paper-thin, two and a quarter inch piece of clay,” Deneen explained. “Thanks to our talented designers, and the collaboration that we share with our clients, we have the ability to do that. Once the medallion artwork is set into the medium of clay, it will last a lifetime. Many of our customers never change the design of their medallion; they just select different styles or colors of mugs—year in and year out. We figure that customer retention is like employee retention: treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and your business will do well. It’s worked for us.”

“We have a vibrant, dedicated workforce here: currently 56% Hmong and 44% Caucasian,” Deneen said. “Our middle management reflects the ethnic and gender diversity of our employee base almost to the decimal point. When I came onboard in 2005, we had 22 employees and were making 500-600 mugs per day. Our business volume has grown 20% every year for the last five years. We currently produce 2,500 mugs per day and have a staff of 85 employees, including 12 full-time ceramic artists working at the wheel. No fewer than 24 pairs of hands touch each mug before it is packed for shipping.”

Photo right: One of 85 employees at Deneen Pottery. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Deneen Pottery received a leadership award from the Midway Chamber of Commerce last month, in recognition of significant contributions made to the chamber and the community.

Deneen said, “We were surprised and delighted to be chosen for that award. Our next big project is that we’re installing solar panels on the roof of our building, located at 2325 Endicott St. We purchased the historic brick building in 2015 (after years of leasing it), and bringing in solar was at the top of our list of improvements. We’ll have a total of 400 panels, and the system capacity is estimated to be 127kW.”

“All 14 of our kilns are electric, so the benefits of solar power will be significant. We use a lot of electricity! We’re excited to get the system plugged in so we can say, “Our mugs are 100% crafted by hand, and 50% fired by the sun.”

“Our approach has always been ‘to leave it better than we found it.’ Of necessity, we have to ship our products, but we’ve chosen to use biodegradable packing peanuts made of water-soluble starch, and recyclable packing paper and corrugated boxes.”

Deneen Pottery has prospered through almost four decades of environmental, economic, technological, and workforce changes. The only thing that hasn’t changed is their commitment to creating beautiful, functional, hand-thrown stoneware for their customers. To learn more about their wholesale business, visit www.deneenpottery.com.

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