all photos courtesy of Christine McCormick
Scott Gerber is making Sarasota smile. Up and down Tamiami Trail, dozens of his vibrant, life-sized aluminum Tube Dudes can be found fishing, stretching out in yoga poses, or playing tennis, all with enormous grins spread across their faces. On Siesta Key, one is hanging upside down drinking a blue martini, and another Tube Dudette lives on top of the Ritz waving to boats out on the water. Even the New College Archeology Lab has one of Gerber’s creations— an excavating archaeologist complete with a shovel and clipboard.
“They’re fun,” Gerber said, standing next to a guitar-strumming Tube Dude in his warehouse workshop. “Everyone smiles when they see these Tube Dudes. They make everybody happy.”
The creation of Tube Dudes wasn’t all smiles and sunshine. When the effects of the economic recession hit home and orders for his $700,000 boats quit coming in, Gerber was forced to shut down 67,000 square foot his Legend Custom Yacht warehouse and lay off 50 employees.
“I felt like a failure,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Gerber and Laci Szalanczy, another yacht builder Legend Custom Yachts, decided to try their hand at something else.
“I was trying to find a way out of my massive depression,” Gerber said. “I had some aluminum pipes laying around the shop, and that’s when I decided to put together the first Tube Dude.”
Gerber and Szalanczy cut, bent, and welded the aluminum tubing into a six-foot-tall person. The faceless “stick man” could hold a fishing pole in one hand and a beer in the other, but it was still missing something. Gerber slapped on a pair of eyes and a huge goofy grin. It wasn’t long before friends and neighbors were requesting there very own tube dudes.
“Some hold fishing poles, some hold mailboxes,” he said. “They’re functional pieces of metal artwork, and lots of people wanted them.”
By September, just a couple months after shutting down the boat business, Gerber was putting in hours each day filling orders for the brightly-colored smiling Tube Dudes.
“When we first started, we were making about one a day,” Gerber said. “Now we’re shipping out five or six every day. We’ve made around 200 of them so far.”
Each Tube Dude is a unique, copy-righted custom creation.
“Each one is designed by the customer,” said Gerber. “We draw up a sketch of what they want, and then we build it. Just about anything is possible. We’ve made flamingos, firefighters, and even Da Vinci’s Vesuvian Man. After we’ve put them together, we ship them off to be powder coated, and they can choose from more than 150 different colors.”
Gerber and his Tube Dudes recently relocated to a large yellow warehouse near downtown Sarasota. Dozens of Tube Dudes (and Dudettes) crowd around the room in various states of completion. Some are just piles of bend pipes, others are welded but still the shiny silver of the unpainted aluminum tubing. Finished Tube Dudes wait to be packed up and shipped off to eager customers.
“Our first orders were to people around Sarasota,” Gerber said. “Then we shipped a couple out around the US. One went to Kentucky, a half dozen or so have gone to New York. Snowbirds come down and want to take some of that happiness home with them.”
Tube Dudes are rapidly becoming an international sensation. Gerber and the rest of the Tube Dude crew have shipped their creations to Norway, England, and Canada.
But with money coming in and orders going out, Gerber hasn’t stopped caring about the community. He thinks that what goes around comes around.
“For every four Tube Dudes we ship out, we make at least one for charity,” he said, standing in front of his latest creation to be donated to the Forty Carrots Family Center. “I believe in the wheel of Karma, and I believe it comes around a lot faster than people think.”