Success by Southwest: ASU Alumnus Combines Business and Pleasure

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Senol “Louis” Usluca believes everyone should embrace their inner entrepreneur.

“It would be great if everyone tried to figure out how they could get into an endeavor that would make them happy and facilitate their financial and life goals,” says the 26-year-old ASU grad.  

Usluca earned a business communications degree from the W.P. Carey School of Business last year. Though he spent a lot of time networking and building his resume (he even spent some time interning on Wall Street), he still hadn’t fully realized what he wanted to do.

Usluca is ambitious and well-connected, but he quickly realized that his entrepreneurial and marketing prowess would best be put to use at his father’s company, Custom Hide, which launched in Phoenix in 1997.  

Custom Hide handcrafts leather goods such as briefcases, duffel bags and backpacks. Its mission is to provide consumers with a premier product at a competitive price. The business has shipped custom-made bags to Japan, the UK and Australia, but Usluca’s goal is to bolster the brand’s success at home.  

Usluca says one of the brand’s biggest selling points is that they can make anything completely custom from the ground up, a dynamic feature that many of their competitors don’t possess.

One thing it lacks, he says, is widespread marketing. He’s looking to change that.

I’m helping him get the word out on the business because he’s so busy doing the production of everything,” he says. “I’m passionate, I’m young, I’m on the move…I think it’s the perfect compliment to what he’s doing.”

The brand has had a strong internet presence since its inception, but Usluca hopes to build the brand from the inside out, getting the word out across the state and expanding its recognition from there. He says his goal is to make the brand “synonymous with Arizona” by putting a southwestern flair on their merchandise, an element they hope to weave into the fabric of the company — literally.

“One of my ideas was to line part of the bag with some type of southwestern fabric or pattern, something to denote that we’re from Arizona,” he says.

The brand’s website will also get a makeover, featuring an inherently Arizona aesthetic that will include desert scenes, jeans and cowboy boots.

Custom Hide reproduction of a 1945 U.S. Army briefcase

“It’s still business professional, but there’s a western twist to it,” Usluca says. “It’s not Wall Street; it’s Texas, it’s California, it’s Arizona.”  

Usluca also posits that Custom Hide is “Arizona’s best kept secret.”

“I think it’s a secret just because we don’t market within the geography of Arizona. We don’t market at all really,” he says. “At the price that we’re giving to our customers and the quality, it’s a home run. I think people would be really excited to know that you can buy a leather briefcase that’s handmade in Arizona and you’re going to get a great price on it.”

Through his experience and education, Usluca has learned that a good business includes superior attention to detail and effective communication with the consumer.

He credits Four Peaks, SanTan Brewing Company and Cartel Coffee Lab as a few local businesses that provide outstanding service and a sturdy business model.

“They take pride in what they do, serve quality products and they’re accommodating to the customer,” he elaborates.

Usluca hopes to take these qualities and embed them into his latest business endeavor, a breakfast restaurant called What’s Crackin’ Café, slated to open in Mesa later this month.

Usluca got involved through his mentor, Craig Arstingstall, whom he says has been a huge asset to him in the business world and beyond.

“He’s tried to help me out in every step in life since I’ve met him. He’s really taken me under his wing.” he says. “He’s really encouraging me with Custom Hide and he’s always said, ‘Man, you’ve really motivated me to break out of the corporate world and start my own thing.’ So it’s kind of reciprocal; we just motivate each other.”

Usluca says being a successful self-starter doesn’t always mean business as usual. In fact, he recommends pushing boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone as often as possible.

“A mixer might be awkward if you don’t know anyone, but just go there; life isn’t supposed to be easy,” he says. “You’re supposed to be put in uncompromising positions and that’s how you grow. I’ve always been a creature of habit and in my experience, some of the best times I’ve had — the most fun or the most beneficial — it was just me putting myself out there.”

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