I interviewed Isaac Childs, Founder and Manager of Rustico Leather. His experience is a compelling story that any entrepreneur can learn from.
Isaac, describe your company for me.
Rustico Leather is a Utah-based designer and manufacturer of leather goods. We have 9 employees and average just over a million in annual sales. We are currently in over 600 retail locations across the country ranging from resort town boutiques like the Sundance General store to larger distributing retailers like Barnes and Noble. We also do a lot of custom projects in the entertainment, corporate and promotional industries. Some of these clients have included Disney, Oprah, Philip Morris and many more. We also sell direct to the public through our online website and are constantly providing unique custom leather products for individuals across the country.
Rustico specializes in hand-crafted leather journals, photo albums, binders, presentation covers, pad folios, satchels and accessories. All our products are proudly made here in the USA. All our products are Handmade to order. This allows us to create individuality in each one of our pieces, creating a “one of a kind” type feel to our products. We have our leathers specially designed so that they wear into a beautiful patina with use and age. All our leather and paper is all purchased here in the US. We have roughly 84 great standard products to choose from, and we are constantly creating new and unique custom products for individuals and companies.
Okay, Isaac, let’s dig a bit deeper. What’s the value proposition?
Custom products with very small or no minimums, short lead times and surprisingly affordable prices. They are hand made in the USA. Each product is made to order by skilled artisans ensuring a “bespoke” style of service and product. This increases its value as a keepsake or gift item and is meant to last a lifetime. Our best value is that we work with a company or client to create a product that will not only attract attention to the receiver but also be kept and used for many years to come. All our products can be personalized with names or logos of companies for added effect.
What motivated you to launch Rustico? How did it all begin?
After creating the initial journals and having pretty good success selling them to family, friends and one local shop (Sundance general Store), several friends from college and I launched a website with the intention of selling these online. Shortly afterward, Disney gave us a call to help with a press kit for their upcoming series storm stories. From there we just launched forward, never looking back.
What is the mission and vision for Rustico?
We will be the premier custom leather goods maker. Ideally, we would like everyone in America to carry or have a Rustico Leather journal sitting on their desktop, bookcase or nightstand. We want people to turn to us for high end custom projects that require great quality and workmanship.
What would you say is an entrepreneur’s greatest or most valuable resource?
Passion. Passion for the plan, product, vision or business model is probably the most important resource an entrepreneur can have. Next would be a great mentor. Unguided passion can spell disaster pretty quick.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I faced would probably be learning how to manage people effectively. I am not sure if I have overcome this completely but I have read a lot of books, watched others that I felt where great managers, picked their brains for info, gone to trainings and hired others that have more experience than I do.
What motivates you to overcome your challenge with managing people? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My inspiration comes when I travel. I’m able to get a breath of fresh air and then come back and dive back into the thick of it even stronger. I really love what I do. I honestly can’t think of another thing I’d rather be doing. When the challenges seem to come in waves I just have to remember that perspective and then I’m good to keep moving forward.
What role has innovation played in the development of Rustico?
Every project we do is a variation of something we’ve already done–continuous innovations. Many of our products have been developed due to problems that needed to be solved or a necessity that required some smart solution. So in that regard, innovation is very key. While many of our products are based off old world standards (i.e. leather, paper, handstitching) being able to create and produce such labor intensive and raw products in a larger scale and affordable takes 21st century planning and ingenuity. Without constant innovation and reinvention of our products and processes we would not be competitive.
What do you wish you had known before launching Rustico? Any regrets?
I wish I had a better understanding of forecasting and knowing what to look for in a balance sheet or P&L in order to see what is happening with the business. At the same time, had I known everything I know now, I’m am not sure if we would have continued moving forward; my naivety pushed me to move forward when conventional training would have told me to stop.
Got any advice for rookie entrepreneurs?
Be passionate about your idea. Remember, bigger is not always better. Develop a process. Have a healthy tolerance for the unknown. Constantly be ready to change. Improve. Innovate.