Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Artist behind $1,800 mailboxes delivers on ambitious expansion plans

Forced to move by redevelopment, pipe-bending entrepreneurial artist Scott Gerber finds a new home.

In July 2020, a three-piece Peace, Love and Happiness installation displayed in Tube Dude's parking lot on Main Street ahead of its debut in New York City.
In July 2020, a three-piece Peace, Love and Happiness installation displayed in Tube Dude's parking lot on Main Street ahead of its debut in New York City.
Photo by Nat Kaemmerer
  • Manatee-Sarasota
  • Share

Scott Gerber calls his Tube Dude creations “art a la carte.”

Given the nomadic history of his company in and around Sarasota, perhaps it could be called "art on a cart."

Part sculptor, part metal fabricator and, most recently, part powder coater, Gerber’s multiple moves from downtown to St. Armands then back to downtown Sarasota have been capped off with another move, this one to south Bradenton. 

There, Tube Dude has more than twice the space to create whimsical metal sculptures from the original classic mailbox to mermaid outdoor showers.

What began in 2010 as the former yacht builder found himself in the throes of a shrinking market due to the housing recession has blossomed into a global business with Tube Dudes and Dudettes — along with mailboxes in the design of aquatic birds and sea life, pets, wildlife, large exhibition pieces and more — now in display around the world.

A Tube Dude mailbox on St. Armands.
Photo by James Peter

Tube Dudes and Dudettes are custom made to represent owners’ professions, recreation interests, lifestyles and more, all with the trademark face with a cheek-to-cheek grin meeting large round eyes.

Now in his new 16,712-square-foot space at 2306 60th Drive E. — more than double the square footage he had at 1710 Main Street — Gerber and his staff of five are in expansion mode. That includes an investment of some $100,000 for powder coating equipment necessitated by lagging turnaround in outsourcing that step in production.

Now he offers powder coating to other fabricators.

“One of the reasons why we moved into a building so large is we when we got into the powder coating ourselves,” Gerber says. “That’s a 500-degree oven, and every time that door opens a lot of hot air comes out. Now my painter has a whole area to himself and he's able to keep it super clean with no grinding, no cutting, nothing else on that side of the building.”

A Tube Dude egret mailbox stands, appropriately enough, on Bird Key.
Photo by James Peter

Gerber is also adding a line of marine furniture that, like the sculptures, are made of marine-grade aluminum and powder coated for coastal environment durability.

Tube Dude's latest move wasn’t voluntary, but it is serendipitous — trading high Main Street visibility for square footage. The space the business occupied for five years at the corner of Main Street and Pine Place, along with the rest of the block, will be razed to make way for an apartment building.

“The city tried to kick us out when we first moved in because they said that what we were doing was industrial, but it just so happened that we didn't meet the city's definition of industrial, but we did meet the definition of an artist's studio,” Gerber says of his prior location. “We had five wonderful years there and it was great because very few places in a metropolitan situation can you do welding and grinding and cutting and all that. It was great for our customers because they would get to come see how the art developed.”

Examples of Tube Dude’s work are scattered throughout the city and are prominent on St. Armands and Longboat Key, the most visible pieces being the wide variety of mailbox designs. Gerber says the mailbox is like the business card of a home, making an impactful first impression and providing a hint of the owner’s personality.

Mailboxes embedded in flamingos, ibis, sandhill cranes and others are prominent, but there are also surfers, octopus, tennis players and more, the portfolio limited only to the customers’ imaginations.

The vast majority of the more than 10,000 pieces produced by Tube Dude, Gerber says, start as custom designs by request. 

The classic

After shuttering his yacht-building company and laying off 40 employees, Gerber sought a business that would help lift him out of his funk. He turned to his expertise in metal fabricating and artistic inclinations to make people smile, thus the signature smiling face on all the dudes and dudettes that leave the shop. 

He knew he was on to something while installing his first two pieces — identical classic mailboxes — one at a mansion in Tampa and one at a tiny bungalow locally.

Tube Dude owner Scott Gerber makes cuts in an alligator head fabricated from scratch.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“The first one I delivered was to a house that had to cost $20 million,” Gerber says. “It was all marble on the outside and they had three white Bentleys in the driveway. My second delivery was to a young couple whose house on a good day, maybe cost $50,000. It was the exact same mailbox, and no matter what their house cost both customers loved their mailboxes just as much.”

The classic mailbox is now built, powder coated, delivered and installed — all by hand — for $1,800. According to the Tube Dude website, a peacock mailbox goes for $4,200. In between are egrets, flamingos, mahi-mahi, sailfish and more. There are also dudes and dudettes for gardening, sports, musicians, artists and dozens more.

The most expensive orders to date are the three-piece Peace, Love and Happiness installations in New York City and in Mexico City, commissioned at a price of $250,000. 

Among the newest popular pieces is the mermaid outdoor shower, which sells for $4,200. Fully portable, all it requires is connection to an outdoor hose. 

An octopus mailbox made by Tube Dude
Courtesy image

"They are all through the Caribbean,” Gerber says. “The whole East Coast is very receptive of them. It will cost you $3,000 just to have a plumber come out and install a piece of PVC pipe with a shower head on it. You can move it anywhere you want. One hand can hold your towels and your soap and you can hang wet bathing suits on the fingers.”

Also new are pool rails in the shape of blue herons, swans, dolphins, flamingos — practically any form aluminum tubes and sheets can be bent, welded, powder coated and installed.

Global reach

The move out of downtown into an industrial park north of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport will limit Tube Dude’s foot traffic visibility, but not its reach. Gerber credits Gallery Manager Susan Clark for the company’s profile on its website and on social media platforms. 

He says a recent posting of a picture of flamingo pool rails drew more than 6 million views worldwide. As a result, “We just built 20 flamingo pool rails,” Gerber says.

Among the newest product lines made by Tube Dude is a variety of swimming pool hand rails.
Courtesy image

Tube Dude also has a large customer base in the Northeast. The company’s contract installer is soon departing for The Hamptons with some 20 deliveries and a 6-foot heart to be installed at the New Jersey home of a top executive of Pulte Homes.

Celebrities are also fans of Tube Dude, among them country singer John Rich. Tube Dude recently built a “Guitar Dude” mailbox that will be delivered to his new home in Franklin, Tennessee.

Marketing efforts include select art shows, the next one in Texas. Gerber is designing pieces to appeal to that audience.

“Cowboys, of course,” he says. “Maybe a football player colored silver and blue.” 

Texas, Gerber says, is a fertile market. “We've never shown there, and we are right for Texas because everybody has a big yard and they don't like HOAs out there.”

Ironically, Gerber doesn’t have a Tube Dude mailbox at his own home. 

“I don't have one at my house only because I haven't decided which one I want,” he says. “I would say that 99% of our creations are designs of our customers. I'm afraid to pull the trigger on one just because I know that my next great customer’s idea will be the one I really want.”

Until the next customer after that.

This article originally appeared on sister site



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

Latest News