Niles Deneen of Deneen Pottery joins the 144th episode of the podcast this week. Deneen is a second-generation pottery business that got its start in the 1970s from Niles's father. From meager beginnings of making a handful of mugs with only four glaze colors, the small business has blossomed into producing over 600,000 mugs a year. These mugs are all hand-thrown, fired in a kiln and glazed in Deneen's facility, which is doing its part to reduce its carbon footprint and create incredible art at the same time. Death Wish Coffee has been working with Deneen Pottery since almost the beginning, and Niles talks about his unique relationship, the pottery industry, and just how these beautiful mugs are made.
Jeff: Well first, let me just say Niles, it's great to meet you in person and I'm so glad that you're here at Death Wish.
Niles Deneen: It's fantastic to be here.
Jeff: It's awesome.
Niles Deneen: It's cool to meet you as well.
Jeff: You are the man, the myth, the legend around here, around these parts.
Niles Deneen: I think it's a combination of all of those things with all the opportunity we've had with you guys, you know.
Jeff: I definitely want to join into that, but I kind of want to start very much in the present with Deneen Pottery and what you guys look like as a business right now because I love the parallels between not only getting to work with a company like you guys, but we are a small business. You guys are a small business and small businesses are going to rule the world someday. All big businesses started out as small businesses ...
Niles Deneen: That's true.
Jeff: ... one day, you know?
Niles Deneen: That's true.
Jeff: So the first question I really wanted to ask was at this day and age, 2018, 2019, do you know how many mugs you produce a year?
Niles Deneen: Yeah. We get there. Wet the finger to the air and just kind of feel it out. It's like 600, 700,000.
Niles Deneen: Each one is thrown on a potter's wheel individually one at a time.
Jeff: That's insane. How many employees now at Deneen?
Niles Deneen: We have 92.
Niles Deneen: Yeah.
Jeff: So still even under 100 employees. That is nuts. That's nuts.
Niles Deneen: Yeah. It's fun to have people come through because they're like, "Wait, how many mugs a day? How many mugs does one potter make?" You're like, "Yeah, 200. We've got some guys that can crank out 300, 350 in a day."
Niles Deneen: When you think about how many whatever you can do. It's like I can't send 350 emails.
Niles Deneen: If there's nothing in there, maybe hit send, send, send.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. No, it's the total truth. That's what's so interesting about the industry that you are in, this pottery industry, because you guys 100%, this isn't blowing smoke, make the nicest mugs on the market and that's why you see them everywhere. Has it surprised you now seeing where the company has went to getting some of the clientele that you're making mugs for such as NASA ...
Niles Deneen: NASA. Yeah. No. Or the mug you're drinking out of today.
Jeff: Yeah, the satanic temple at Salem.
Niles Deneen: It's like, what?
Jeff: Does that just blows your mind?
Niles Deneen: Absolutely.
Niles Deneen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. I think when I first started working for my parents we had 22 employees. We were doing 500 mugs a day. So now we're doing 2,007, 2,000. I've seen a 3,000 day. But yeah, as you know, small family business, when you're starting out, you do whatever job needs to be done on the day. It could be this, it could be that. It could be whatever it is, but as time has passed we've been able to attract good talent and put people in charge of different things and it's really fun. But now I go back to something my dad said. I always knew that we would be able to have a pottery business that could be this big, but he said, "I didn't think I'd be alive to see it. I thought this would take a couple of generations." It's like, that's insane.
Jeff: It's nuts.
Niles Deneen: Yeah. But it's like, "Okay Dad, so what's the next part of the vision?" He's like, "Well, that's up to you." I'm like, "Oh, okay. No pressure. No pressure."
Jeff: No pressure. No pressure. So walk me back then, because correct me if I'm wrong, your father started the company officially in the '70s correct?
Niles Deneen: Yeah, '72.
Jeff: You have grown up with this industry in your family your entire life.
Niles Deneen: Oh yeah.
Jeff: What has it been like not only seeing the family business grow but then becoming part of and eventually running the family business?
Niles Deneen: Well, it was real cool when we were little and the business was growing when we had dinnerware. We did this glaze engraving stuff and it was kind of like we had a couple of retail stores. Those are fun at Christmas. My brother and I run around like, "Oh look, it's retail. We can go over there and see Santa and can do this other stuff and go to kiosks in malls." But then it didn't get fun around like '87, '88 when we had to go bankrupt. That was real tough and that kind of cemented this idea that the idea of a family business is great, but I think I need to do something else. So sort of chased around a couple of different ideas and decided to get as far away from the pottery as I could after college, as you do. You've got to fledge the nest. You've got to go find yourself ...
Jeff: Of course.
Niles Deneen: ... and find your own identity. So I did some other things and then was searching for a path and then I talked to a good friend of mine that I ran track with at the University of Minnesota, Aaron [Wecraft 00:00:04:31]. A lot of times people will want to guide you with questions to help you discover. He was like, "Niles, don't be an idiot. Your dad makes the coolest pottery. Go work for your dad." I was like, "You think so?" He's like, "Absolutely. You can sell stuff. You can talk to people. Figure it out." I was like, "All right, dude. I'll do it."
Niles Deneen: So kind of here we are.
Jeff: Wow. So do you think that the company has grown the most in the last let's say decade or has it been a slow burn since the inception?
Niles Deneen: Well, it was a nice slow burn and then it was ...
Jeff: Well, correct. Yeah. Yeah.
Niles Deneen: ... on fire. Then when they started back up, yeah, I think since about 2009 it's been double digit, like 10% on average year over year since then. It's weird because as you know probably, but the changes you guys have seen here have been dramatic over the last three to five. Dramatic, but as you continue to grow, it's like you don't see the changes that's happening, especially if you don't move. We haven't moved out of our building. We've been in there for 20 years.
Niles Deneen: We had one bay and then we had another bay and then someone moved out and we took over another bay. Then pretty soon it's like, "Oh, we're from the East wall to the West wall to the North, to the South." Then we got the [inaudible 00:05:51] next door. So then we have a place to go have good beer and good food, so it's not bad. But when you go, when you come, we're doing that.
Jeff: Oh, definitely. Definitely. So that brings me to a question actually that we're dealing with here at Death Wish. Like you said, in the last three to five years we've seen this incredible growth, not only from opportunities like the Super Bowl commercial, but also, we are now in retail, which we've never been in before up until 2019 and we're hitting the international market hard. We're doing all this, so I see it from the executive standpoint, Mike and Keith really juggling how we're growing and how we're scaling the company up and really learning that kind of day-to-day. Is it the same with Deneen? Do you feel that in your position?
Niles Deneen: We feel it in a different way. I look to the work that you guys are doing and the success you've had and the ramping up and the staying steady and consistent. Mike is just, he's a hero of mine. Just to keep everyone in place and to be able to focus on the vision and how the visionaries work and what they see and how they're going to get there and how you put all the people in charge and your teams and the accountability, you guys are running a for real ...
Jeff: We're trying.
Niles Deneen: ... world class business.
Jeff: We're trying.
Niles Deneen: I'm humbled to be part of it and I I want to emulate it and you guys are just kicking ass.
Jeff: That's awesome. Well, you brought it up. One of the things that I know Mike is about, and I know you are too, is consistency. You consistently make an incredible product. When it comes to on the coffee side of it, obviously we have to dial in the roasting, we have to get the right machines in, it's a little different on your side because it's hand-thrown. How do you vet those hands that you're putting on a product that needs to be consistent?
Niles Deneen: Well, if I was going to be just funny, I'd say, well you count the fingers and count the thumbs. If you've got all the digits, chances are you can do it. You know, it's slow to hire. You've got to find the right people. Thirty, 60, 90 days until you get it in. But anyone that's touching pots, we have such a great team of press people. Hats off to all my people at home, but it is. It's just a daily dedication of perfection. You just got to chase it and sometimes you're going to be a little low, but if you're aiming super high, you're not going to miss the mark. You'll still hit the target.
Jeff: Yeah. It's just incredible to me to think about it as an industry. Not as, and I'm sure you laugh about this because you probably get this a lot, but I mean most laymen who know nothing about the potting industry or the or potting in general, if you mention it, the most pop culture thing that comes up is Ghost.
Niles Deneen: Oh yeah.
Jeff: You know?
Niles Deneen: Yeah.
Jeff: The peak of pop culture with pottery, right?
Niles Deneen: Yeah.
Jeff: But that's not the industry. The industry is such a hands-on human industry that creates this incredible thing.
Niles Deneen: Well, and this is a real niche within the ceramic industry. The ceramic industry is like 1.4 billion but includes ceramic tile, ceramic urinals, porcelain.
Jeff: True, true, true. Didn't even think about that.
Niles Deneen: That is the industry itself. Worldwide it's still continuing to climb. In the US it's actually declining a little bit, but a lot of that is because of the cost of labor and there's other countries out there that can produce just as good. Then the markets are here, but it's how you juggle it around. But houseware and dinnerware, so includes any dinnerware sets, any sets of mugs, that's still like 500 million? Five million? Some big number. I'm not a real numbers guy. Mike's got the numbers.
Jeff: No, but that's still ...
Niles Deneen: But then even within that, we're like a five to $6 million company. So when you think about billion and then tiny, tiny. So to do handmade like this though, that's a real ... There's a couple of companies that are like ours. We set ourselves apart because of our dedication to quality and because we're powered by solar and we just want to make the best mugs. But yeah.
Jeff: Talk a little bit about that being, I didn't know that. You guys are powered by solar?
Niles Deneen: We're powered by solar, yeah.
Jeff: So how did that come about?
Niles Deneen: We were renting in our building so there was no real opportunity for that kind of investment, but in 2015 the building came up for purchase and we're like, "Oh, is the building going to be big enough? Do we want to move? How is this going to work?" Okay, to move a pottery when you have all your kilns and all your equipment and all ... We've done over $750,000 worth of leasehold improvements when we were leasing.
Jeff: How many kilns do you have?
Niles Deneen: We have 14. We have three glaze kilns. So our capacity is like 3,000 per day finished, 2,150 degrees. But the idea ...
Jeff: So moving 14 kilns is just ...
Niles Deneen: Forget it.
Jeff: I don't even want to think about it.
Niles Deneen: No. I've got two kids. We moved when they were small and I was like, "I don't ever want to do that again." No.
Jeff: That's just couches and beds and stuff.
Niles Deneen: Yeah. Exactly. I mean I will help you move. I will not help you pack.
Jeff: Right, exactly.
Niles Deneen: Oh no. So in 2015 the building came on and then because we have the [inaudible 00:11:07] next door there was a knock at their door. It's like, "Hey, you guys have a nice big flat roof. There's no trees or anything. Have you ever thought about solar?" Deb, who is the co-owner, she came over and she's like, "Hey, there's some people that are interested in solar. You guys?" I was like, "I've always wanted to do it. Yeah, let's sit down." Literally had lunch the next day and they're like, "This is how it could work." I said, "Give us some numbers." So then it just sort of happened.
Jeff: Wow. Are you completely solar powered?
Niles Deneen: I wish I could say we were completely solar powered. No, we have a 137 megawatt, kilowatt? No, 137 kilowatt solar array, 399 panels.
Niles Deneen: The amount of energy it produces on a daily basis is enough to fire one of our glaze kilns. But so far we've done like eight megawatts so far this year, which is enough to power 100 houses for a year.
Jeff: Wow. That's so cool because obviously on the environmental side it's amazing, but it's also thinking outside of the box because when you think of what you do and what you produce, immediately you think of that's a lot of power.
Niles Deneen: It's a lot of power.
Jeff: It's a lot of power to power all these kilns, to power all that kind of stuff. To supplement it with solar power, that's awesome. It's inspiring.
Niles Deneen: It's one of the sort of many small, I mean that's the big thing, but there's a couple of other smaller things that we do just to be as eco-friendly as we can. So corrugated that's recycled, starch biodegradable peanuts, crushed recycled newsprint to separate the mugs in our boxes. I remember we had a supplier change that came along that was able to offer us their starch biodegradable peanuts cheaper, and so we took some deliveries and Dad got it. It's like, "This plastic bag, this polly, this is thicker than what we got before. I don't like this." I was like, "All right, we'll see if we can get a thinner bag." He's like, "They don't offer a thinner bag. They want it to protect it from the elements, from heat." Dad's like, "Well, you know what? I don't care. We're not storing them for a long time. We're going to go back and we're going to pay more because I don't want to put more plastic into the earth."
Jeff: That's awesome. That is awesome.
Niles Deneen: You just got to do the right thing whenever you can.
Jeff: Yeah. No, and that's what is a tenement of a good business and a good business model and exactly why you guys are successful like you are. Because it's not just about creating the product. It's about creating the best products you can and being good to the environment while you're doing that. That's inspiring.
Niles Deneen: One, if we were a company that was just about making money, we'd be making money. We're a company that's just about making beautiful work. I mean that is our core passion is just to create beautiful work.
Jeff: Yes. That's so, so cool. So speaking of beautiful work, can we walk through exactly the process of what it is to make one of these mugs? Because I've said this before, it's funny, again, as someone who knows next to nothing about the industry and I've talked to other people who don't either, there's a misconception, the Ghost misconception, that you're just like [inaudible 00:13:56] and there it is. Or not even that. It's like you have a mold and you just pour the clay into the mold and then voila, beautiful mug. That's not the case either. Can we walk through that process?
Niles Deneen: Absolutely. Yeah. The bigger huge manufacturing facilities that are pumping out tons of mugs, they slip cast. So it is a mold, liquid clay. They do that. That's not how we choose to do it.
Niles Deneen: So when we start, we start with logs of clay that we extrude because we process our own clay in-house and we cut them up into the perfect bite size pieces. Our potters will stack up two or 300 pieces. So in the morning you walk past the Potter's Lane and it's just everyone's got huge piles of clay. Halfway through the day, halfway gone. End of the day, all gone. That transformation is amazing, but once a pot is thrown, we let it set for a day. When it comes up the next day we'll apply a handle, we'll put a medallion on it, we'll let it air dry for three days, and then we bisque fire to 1,600 degrees.
Niles Deneen: It takes about 16 hours, comes out. We do a quality inspection. We'll paint in the medallion to pop out the detail, and then it moves through, and I'm doing this, it moves through because our building as we've grown over time is just like, oh, that was a conference room? Well, now that's the glazed storage area. Oh, that was where we used to hold cardboard? Oh no, that's the glazing area now. But the pots then moved through and then we apply glaze, which is done through suction. So we'll take a mug and we'll dip it into a bucket, pull it out. That's a solid, one of these guys. If it's a marble, then you've got to wait for the glaze to dry a little bit and then you will dip just the top in one or two more dips.
Jeff: So cool.
Niles Deneen: Then you remove the glaze off the front and the medallion, and obviously if you dipped it in, glaze is covering the whole thing and you don't want it on the foot, so then you've got to wipe off the foot. Then you stack it in the kiln that fires for another 24 hours. You never want to touch a mug after it comes right out of the kiln.
Jeff: Will it just crumble?
Niles Deneen: Well, you can crack the doors at like 800, but if you were to open the doors at full temp, the thermo shock would ripple through and you would just be like ... But there's a few times when you open it at like 400 you're really just anxious to get some stuff out. If you reach in there and the pot's 400 degrees, you put it down, you have no fingerprints. Not a good thing.
Niles Deneen: No. So then after it cools, then you take it back into the shipping department where we'll inspect it again, grind the bottom, make sure it's super silky smooth, pack in the boxes and ship it out. So all in all, from start to finish, the time it takes is you know about 21 business days, so three to four weeks. But when you have orders that are stacked up, then it just takes a little longer.
Jeff: Right, exactly. Where in that process, because one of the things that our fans love is we number our mugs except for the yearly mugs, you know? Then also when they are mugs that are let's say numbered out of 5,000, whenever you get to those even hundreds you sign them.
Niles Deneen: That's Dad.
Jeff: Your dad signs them.
Niles Deneen: I've done it once.
Jeff: You've done it once.
Niles Deneen: I've done it once.
Jeff: I was going to say I've seen video of you signing them. So when does that in the process happen, when you number them and then sometimes sign the bottom?
Niles Deneen: Right before the first firing.
Jeff: Right before the first firing.
Niles Deneen: During that three days of sort of the drying time, they'll go from being leather hard to being sort of more, it's just harder, less water. It's not fun to number them when they've dried too long because it gets scratchy, but if you can find that perfect little time when the clay, it just comes up like little little noodles. It's so fun. But Dad digs that. He digs that.
Jeff: That's so cool. Like I said, our fan base loves it. They're posting the photos like. "I got a signed one this time."
Niles Deneen: No, that's one of the coolest things is when you get to see that back because you put out, I mean it's every even hundred and maybe five of those that I've seen. So if you've got those, if you've got a hand sign one, we'd love to see those post them up. Share them up.
Jeff: Tag Deneen Pottery.
Niles Deneen: That'd be cool to see them for real.
Jeff: For real. Then also I wanted to ask, because you were talking about some of the different things in that process. You add the handles later.
Niles Deneen: Yeah.
Jeff: So are the handles hand handled?
Niles Deneen: The handles are hand handled. We extrude handles. So if you've ever played with Playdough ...
Niles Deneen: ... and they have that little kind of deal, you put it in, you put the little template, you want to squish it down and it comes out. So we have one of those that that produces the handles themselves and then we cut them into six inch lengths. But yeah, there was a couple of days I've done it. I have not done throwing, but I've done handled plying. I've done medallion plying. I've done glazing. I've done scrubbing. I've stacked kilns. The one thing I haven't been had enough time to develop is to sit down to willing to throw uniform mugs. It's just, it's a different task. I also can't do balloon animals so don't ask.
Jeff: Okay, done. That was going to be the second part of this.
Niles Deneen: But putting on a handle is super cool because you just have this nice little ribbon of clay and then we sort of score and then we smooth it out and then you put it down and then as you're putting it, it's perfect because the mug is leather hard. So you've got some rigidity there, but then you want to make sure that it's straight and level. So you've got to look at it a couple of ways and then you've got to make sure that she got the right bend.
Niles Deneen: So if you've ever looked at it, this is because someone's hand is going like that. That is the handle. If you're not careful when you put it down and you do your next one, you get like, "Yeah, I got that. That's good," and if you hit it like that, it's messed up.
Jeff: It's over. Yeah.
Niles Deneen: So if you're not careful, you'll see mugs that will look like that. Not ours because we'll catch it just because you can't put out product that doesn't look good.
Jeff: Exactly. Exactly. The other question on the handles then, what is the reason or the origin between the U-facing mug? I guess you'd call it the left-handed mug. How come the handles are always there?
Niles Deneen: That's a tough one. When you set about to do something and you repeat it, just keep it going the same way.
Niles Deneen: But it's funny.
Jeff: So no real ...
Niles Deneen: No.
Jeff: ... lefties are better or whatever?
Niles Deneen: Well, so my mum is a lefty. Her twin sister is also a lefty and my dad's a righty. But my mom is kind of an introvert. My dad is an extrovert, so we always go with the, well it's a lefthanded extrovert or a right-handed introvert. But truly it's like the artwork that you create and the brands that want to be celebrated, they want to be celebrated by the people that are drinking. And it is, it's like the majority of people are right, but left is not bad. You can hold it with both hands. Yeah. We started doing it one way and we just keep doing the one way.
Jeff: Oh, that's so interesting. The other thing that you brought up, and it's another thing that's a fan favorite at Death Wish with the mugs that we make, is when you double dip the glaze and you said, you know, like sometimes you dip it again or you dip it two more times and you just get this amazing ... And every one is different.
Jeff: So was that something that started when you started glazing mugs? Did you start thinking of different ways you could glaze?
Niles Deneen: It happened before I was really sort of in the business. I go back to the stories that when dad started he had six different styles of mugs and then four colors.
Jeff: That was it.
Niles Deneen: Four solid colors like hunter green, gloss, burgundy, and I think it was probably navy blue. Didn't think he was going to have to add any more colors on the map because that's enough, right? Four colors? Plenty, right?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Niles Deneen: But then I don't know if it was a happy accident or it was like let's test this out. Let's do a whole mug and let's put a little bit on top. But what I do know is that the term we call it marbling, frosting, drippy stuff, you know? It's got a lot of different names and we know what you mean. But when they opened the kiln and Dad saw the mug that had this effect on it, he's like, "Wow," and this is kind of going to date my dad a little bit, but he's like, "That looks like a marble." I was like, "Well, why a marble, Dad?" He's like, "Well when I was a kid we used to shoot marbles. You'd get a circle and then you have your shooter marble and your marbles." So he's big into marbles. So then marbling.
Jeff: I love it. I love it. That's so cool. The other aspect is the incredible medallions. Now, you said that those are also applied after the mug is made. How are they created?
Niles Deneen: That's kind of the secret sauce, a little secret sauce. We were able to use computer generated artwork and then produce a mold. So then each one of these guys is pressed by a mold and then a little piece of clay and then there you have trick.
Niles Deneen: Yeah, magic.
Jeff: Because what's incredible is, is some of the medallions, especially the ones that we've gotten to create through Death Wish because of the amazing Thomas [inaudible 00:22:39] and some of our other people that we've worked with, the detail that can come on some of these is just ...
Niles Deneen: It's insane.
Jeff: ... insane.
Niles Deneen: No, and I don't know how old you are. I'm 43 now, starting to have to wear ... I need any cheaters. I need good light. Some of the designs that Thomas is pushing through, I literally need to get the glasses on to see all those little hidden gems. No, when we're lucky enough to run across paths of those that are in ceramics and they look at this and they're like, "No, clay is not designed to do this."
Jeff: To do that.
Niles Deneen: This should be metal. There should be some real etching with tools. It shouldn't be able to hold a print. But we've got a good supply of clay available in the US. They haven't said it's limited, so we're good. I think we can make a lot more mugs with a lot more detail.
Jeff: That's excellent. And the reason why I actually have this mug right here, it was the first ever Christmas mug we did with Death Wish and you designed that medallion, right?
Niles Deneen: I did. It's always we, you know?
Jeff: Uh huh (affirmative).
Niles Deneen: But in this time, Tina Roberson, we call our Texas Tina, she was in the middle of moving from Minnesota to Texas, which now it's hard for her to go by Texas Tina because she's surrounded by Texans, but Minnesota, Texas Tina, she still has the jam.
Niles Deneen: But she was doing some stuff, but it was like, all right, this side project came up and everyone has a John Swedish story, right?
Jeff: Yep. Please continue.
Niles Deneen: So, John, and he's fairly visionary, right?
Niles Deneen: "Do you see what I'm seeing?" We're like, "I know you're seeing more than what you're saying, but yeah, I think I do." So he's like, "All right, let's play with this one." So then I kind of put something together, threw it to him. We changed it a little bit more, brought it back and he's like, "Dude, that's it. We got it." It's like, sweet. I truncated that time because it wasn't quite that quick. It was a lot more.
Jeff: Oh yeah. Hours of conversation.
Niles Deneen: As anyone who's ever talked to John, you know the hours can slowly just quickly lose you.
Jeff: I love the story of that mug because we released that mug. Obviously for anybody who's watching and listening to this, this mug is not available anymore. We released that as this was so early in the company. I believe this was a freebie to get you to sign up for our mailing list. You got this mug, and I don't even remember how many we made. But yeah, it's incredible. Throwing it back to John, it was John's idea to start working with you and to make mugs. Because when Mike started the company, obviously we want to create coffee, but then we wanted to supplement it with something. So of course you need something to put your coffee in so why don't we sell a mug?
Jeff: Never in a million years thinking we would come into a culture, and I see all you mug lifers out there and it's incredible.
Niles Deneen: Without you this wouldn't be what it is.
Jeff: It's incredible. Some of our fans who have full collections and all on display like Gail Dunnmeyer who has her tree of all the Deneen ...
Niles Deneen: Love. Love seeing that one.
Jeff: ... of everything I think you guys have ever done.
Niles Deneen: Yeah.
Jeff: It's just mind blowing.
Niles Deneen: Yeah. No, it's humbling to be a part of such a wonderful community and to have such a fan base that digs the work that we're putting out. Supporting Death Wish and being able to get this artistic sort of creative and beautiful approach to every one we get to do, it's just sick. It's crazy.
Jeff: It's so cool because it promotes something that I am very passionate about that I think is constantly lost in this day and age, in the click bait day and age, is art. Creative art is some, and I say this because our parents, it was in that generation, it was very much the norm to collect art to display art. I'm talking painting or sculptures or whatever it is in your home and to have it. That is not the case as in this newest generation. Art is much more of a downloadable commodity, is much more of a digital commodity, and that's still art, but something that you put your hands on, something that is created by human hands and becomes a highly collectible, it's something that I'm always championing, you know? And I love that that is literally what your company is based on and what you create. To be able to be a part of that and through a coffee company to be able to promote art and creative arts ...
Niles Deneen: And Thomas, the backbone of ...
Niles Deneen: ... the creative expression and bringing in the different artists he does and the vision that he's got, just to have it continue to evolve. You never know what's going to come next. You never know what new release, what the number is going to be. But again, getting back to that art, it is. I love seeing the displays but these things are functional. We make them so you can use them and they'll last for many lifetimes, which is the coolest thing. But yeah, you get that display aspect but then you get the you can use it. If you break it, like your Death Cast out there, you can still display it. You still got it.
Jeff: Yeah. I'll actually grab it.
Niles Deneen: The shard. Oh wait, so you're a self-professed nerd, right?
Jeff: Oh yeah.
Niles Deneen: So Dark Crystal?
Niles Deneen: Dude.
Jeff: Can't wait.
Niles Deneen: August 30.
Jeff: Can't wait.
Niles Deneen: Been dying for that one.
Jeff: Speaking of, and we'll go on this tangent real quick. Nerds unite. Dark Crystal was one of my favorite things growing up because not only am I nerdy for fantasy stuff and stuff like that, I am a product of the '80s. So I'm a product of the Jim Henson boon. That was obviously the '60s and '70s, but '80s is when The Muppets and Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street and everything made it made a huge, so anything like that I would consume. It warms my heart again as a champion of creative arts that we're getting a brand new Dark Crystal on Netflix, but it's not in this digital age. It's all hand-crafted puppets from the Jim Henson Workshop. That's what's amazing about it.
Niles Deneen: Yeah, I got it. Have you been to Atlanta? Have you seen the puppet museum?
Jeff: I've been to Atlanta and I did not have a chance to go when I was there. So the next time I'm going down I am definitely going to go.
Niles Deneen: The [inaudible 00:29:28] had those like the beetles send out the-
Jeff: Yeah, I forget what the heck they're called, but yeah, the giant weird beetle things.
Niles Deneen: Yes. Yeah, they have one of those and it is ...
Jeff: I have to go.
Niles Deneen: ... man-sized.
Jeff: I have to go.
Niles Deneen: Giant. Chilling to see that. You walk in the museum, it's the history of puppets, so puppets from little tiny ...
Jeff: Punch and Judy. Yeah.
Niles Deneen: ... many different cultures. It's all over the place, but then you get into the Dark Crystal section. Oh, I'm pumped to see that one.
Jeff: I am too. Yeah.
Niles Deneen: Sorry about all this.
Jeff: No, never. Never apologize. What I did want to bring up though is when we were talking about the shards, you pointed it out to me and I think this is so interesting and I'll actually send some photos of it in here too, when mugs do break, you get to see not only the work that goes into it, but how thick they are and how the thickness changes and stuff.
Niles Deneen: Yeah. Yeah. That's the true testament of someone that is a master at their craft because there's no ... We've got a couple of videos on our website that you can see, but when you take that piece of clay and you throw it down on a wheel, you could close your eyes. I mean, our guys could close their eyes, center it, open it, do a pull, grab the profile tool, put it down and then you just guide the clay in. But you can't just ... It's just perfection. It's just exactly what it will look like. The perfect weight, good durability, and except this one came into contact with an ax?
Jeff: It did. I'll sync that in the video in here too. Yeah. We were giving away an ax that we co-collaborated with Cold Steel Knives and we wanted to show that the ax actually worked. It worked more beautifully than I ever could imagine because it made it so the medallion was still intact with a little foot around it ...
Niles Deneen: That's crazy.
Jeff: ... that I could display it. I love it. I love it so much. So that kind of brings me full circle to the theme of this show. For anybody who might not have ever tuned in before, the theme of this show is that we are all fueled by death. We all want to leave this world a little bit different than we came into it before we inevitably leave it for good, and so that brings me to the question through your career, through growing up in the industry to thinking I got to go find myself to having your friends say, "You know what? You should definitely go work for your dad," and actually being a part of this industry and shaping Deneen into what it is today, what fuels you to keep doing it? What fuels you to keep going?
Niles Deneen: Love of family and just being creative.
Niles Deneen: Yeah.
Jeff: The creation actually fuels more creation for you.
Niles Deneen: Yeah, the opportunity just to collaborate and to create and then to carry on the legacy of what my parents started. There's a lot of pressure with it. It's no joke and everything that we have is riding on in what we're doing today. You can't continue to grow a business and invest in it without investing what you have. So this who we are. This is what we're doing. There was no Plan B for my dad, so to help carry on the business so that it will remain successful and then allow them to retire and then if we are fortunate enough to continue to collaborate with awesome customers and continue to do what we're doing, then there's a chance my kids will be able to get in and step up and should they so choose.
Niles Deneen: There is no pressure, Theo or Eloise. There's no pressure. You go find yourself. You do what you want to do. Because in sophomore year when my dad was driving me back to my college house and he's like, "Hey, I'm ready for you to take over," that was not what I wanted to hear. Which then helped me scoot.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Niles Deneen: But otherwise what fuels me is Death Wish with cream. I prefer it to have just a shot of cream.
Jeff: Hey, that's totally fine. That's totally fine. We love it any way anyone wants to enjoy the coffee. That's great. Well, the partnership that we have is something really special because it's not just about creation, it's not just about product-based stuff. It's about small businesses in America supporting each other and creating something more. We would be not the same company without Deneen at all. I think probably-
Niles Deneen: Nor would we be the same company without Death Wish. Come to my office sometime.
Jeff: I can't wait.
Niles Deneen: Gail's collection is far superior than mine, but I don't have that much space. But it is like, "Oh, there's that mug. There's that mug. There's ..." Then my son Theo, it's like the Valentine's Day, the creepy teddy bear?
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Niles Deneen: He walked in and he's like, Dad, I love that mug." Carries it home, carries it in the daycare. It was his mug.
Niles Deneen: It's the teddy bear with the ...
Jeff: Yeah, it's the deady bear.
Niles Deneen: Dig it.
Jeff: I dig it. I dig it. Finally for our listeners and viewers, obviously the best way to follow Deneen Pottery is across all social media @DeneenPottery. I'll have that all on the show. If people want to follow your journey, do you personally social media? If you don't, that's totally fine too, but if you want to shout anything out you can.
Niles Deneen: I do very little with Facebook and Deneen Pottery doesn't do a lot on Facebook. We're more focused on Instagram.
Jeff: It's the better platform for a visual ...
Niles Deneen: I dig it.
Jeff: ... medium. Yep.
Niles Deneen: And I do have my own page that some of the folks from the community they're in, but otherwise it's a private page just because it's families and kids and it's those memories. But there's some good people out there and you want to throw a I'd like to follow you, a request, we'll get you in there.
Jeff: Excellent. Excellent. Niles, I can't thank you enough for sitting down and talking with me. This was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.
Niles Deneen: Cool. Good. You'll learn more when you get to come.
Jeff: I can't wait.
Niles Deneen: Minneapolis.
Jeff: I can't wait.
Niles Deneen: Comic-Con's got to show up sometime.