Stick figures bring smiles in Sarasota

Entrepreneur finds versatility, beauty in simple tubular sculptures


April 8, 2013


After his yacht-building business dried up in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, entrepreneur Scott Gerber decided to build a simple sculpture from tubing. Based on a basic stick figure, the first one was a fisherman. Gerber placed a few around town, encountered some interest, and suddenly a new business was born.

Stick figures bring smiles in Sarasota -

Business owners know that entrepreneur means adventurer, and few embody the spirit of adventure as much as Scott Gerber. Immersed in marine culture much of his life, Gerber spent his entire professional career as a boat builder. He built boats in the U.S. for several years, then did a little globe-trotting, working in Monaco, Norway, and South Africa, passing along some knowledge and learning a few tricks of the trade along the way.

When he returned to the U.S., he settled in Sarasota, Fla., where he opened his own boat company. Not just any boat company, though. Legend Custom Yachts built custom-designed, million-dollar yachts. He didn’t use conventional materials, but applied a little nerve and ingenuity when he decided to make boats from composite materials, such as carbon fiber and Kevlar®.

It was a big risk.

“I was using the same material that they use in the F-22 Raptor,” Gerber said. “I could buy the material, but putting it together was trial and error because I couldn’t get any advice on how to do it. All the information on assembly was proprietary.”

Gerber and his team persevered and they put a yacht together. It was a good yacht, word spread, and orders started trickling in. The company was a success, and Gerber’s team of 40 couldn’t build boats fast enough during the middle 2000s.

“The phone would ring off the hook,” Gerber said.

Eventually the financial crisis set it. The phone stopped ringing off the hook, then it stopped ringing altogether. It wasn’t long before the tally in Legend Custom Yachts’ accounts payable column was bigger than the one in the accounts receivable column. The business shrunk as fast as it had grown, and began a descent into a pit of debt that seemed to have no bottom.

Then one day inspiration struck.

Smiling His Way Back To the Top

Gerber asked the shop foreman, Laszlo Szalanzy, to give him a hand on a not-too-serious fabrication project. Gerger wanted to pull together some odds and ends to make a stick figure, one with a big, smiling face.

Szalanzy was more than a little mystified. An immigrant from Hungary, he was acclimating to U.S. culture, but he really wasn’t sure what the phrase stick figure meant. Gerber made a drawing, but Szalanzy was still skeptical. Although he had done some hobby projects with metals, Gerber had outsourced the metal work for the yachts, so neither of them knew much about fabricating. Another risk.

Stick figures bring smiles in Sarasota -

They did some cutting, bending, and welding, and later that morning put together a man. His hand was a length of tube; Gerber put a fishing pole into his hand and unwittingly started a new business.

Riding Another Wave of Success

Other designs followed, and Gerber distributed a few around Sarasota. It wasn’t long before the popularity of the figures, dubbed Tube Dudes, took off. Suddenly the phone was ringing again (not off the hook, but nearly so). President Dude Gerber gave it some thought and, while the concept was still in its infancy, came up with some guidelines for his new business.

1.Every Tube Dude needs a job. They all do something.

2.Every Tube Dude is unique. The shop doesn’t use CNC equipment, so even if a customer wants 100 identical dudes, the best he can hope for is 100 similar dudes.

3.Every Tube Dude is, and will remain, rust-free. Made from aluminum and coated twice, one color coat and one clear coat, they are meant to last and can be recoated if necessary.

Gerber’s showroom is a testament to tube’s versatility. The Tube Dudes on display are fishing, playing tennis, holding a mailbox, delivering a pizza, and on and on.

Where do the ideas some from? This is the best part of all. They come from the customers. Gerber’s customers suggest dudes that reflect their vocations, their interests, and their hobbies, and the staff at Tube Dude does the rest.

What does this mean for Gerber, Szalanzy, and the rest of the staff at Tube Dude? It means they have the ideal fabricating job—every day is a new adventure.

FMA Communications Inc.

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
833 Featherstone Road
Rockford, IL 61107
Phone: 815-227-8262
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