St. George, Utah
Boating and wakesurfing accessories
The son of a BYU professor, Rob Andrus grew up boating in the Provo area. Boating led to wakeboarding, and Andrus started making wakeboarding accessories on the side when he was in college at BYU in the early 2000s. "That was around the time wakeboarding was invented. We would go wakeboarding all the time."
Wakeboarding led to wakesurfing, a popular sport where riders surf the wave created behind watersport tow boats.
Andrus graduated with a business degree, then later returned to BYU for a master's in construction management. He worked in construction the industry, but the passion wasn't there. "I was just really, really bored," says Andrus.
When the iPhone arrived in 2010, he rethought his career after reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and started flipping ATVs on eBay. "Within about two months, I was making more money on eBay than I ever did with my full-time construction job," says Andrus. "Within three months of having an iPhone 4, I've been self-employed."
After leaving construction to focus on eBay, Andrus saw an opportunity in the boating
industry. Starting in his garage in California, he began experimenting with wakesurfing tabs that create a rideable wave behind the boat.
"I looked at what was available on the market and decided I could make something better," says Andrus. "Early surf systems did a very poor job of creating the perfect wave, they also lacked functionality."
The R&D process led to the startup of Evolution Tabs, which offers a $3,195 system that's more fuel-efficient, more performance-oriented, and easier to install than competing options. "There's a lot of strategic advantages and differentiation between my product and anything else that's on the market," says Andrus, who relocated the company to St. George within a year of the launch.
The first order of business: "How do I make this scalable? How do I make this so I'm not the guy doing the welding, the bending, the manufacturing?"
The answers came in the form of a network of contract manufacturers in southwestern Utah. "Here in St. George, I use professionals who do the welding, bending, cutting, polishing, and finishing," says Andrus. "It's a win/win. I'm using local contractors who are very, very happy to have consistent work and to work with people who pay quickly. For a local machine shop, that's beautiful: consistent work, larger batches, and income for their families. That's exactly why they're in business."
The St. George network includes TJ Metal Tech and TMS Machine, leaving Andrus free to focus on final assembly and QA, sales and marketing, and fulfillment.
Upon going to market in late 2020, Evolution Tabs won a fast following: Leveraging Facebook, sales hit $40,000 in the first month. "My entire business has been built on word of mouth and off the reputation that I've built," says Andrus.
The company has continued to exceed his expectations: "Sales have really, really taken off," he says. "It's a scalable thing. My contractors have been great in terms of always finding materials and getting them for me. They're always pushing me to first in the line. When you pay quickly, you get much better responses from your contractors. When they say, 'Hey, we're done,' and you show up that day with a check, they love you. It really creates goodwill."
Beyond goodwill, it allowed one vendor to buy a new welding rig after Evolution Tabs committed to continuing to use the shop. "It's like a $10,000 or $15,000 welder," says Andrus. "He was just thrilled to be able to share in the growth."
Challenges: "I'm waiting on my patents," says Andrus. "It's been under approval for about two years now, basically since I launched the company." Some big boating players tend to get litigious when they sense competition, he notes, which could lead to "legal challenges from people with infinitely more money than you have."
Marketing is another challenge. "Word of mouth is the only way I've built my business, so my product is very well recognized among boat owners looking for aftermarket surf systems," says Andrus, noting that he'd like to get his message out to a broader audience.
Opportunities: In a down market, demand for pricey new boats sinks, making retrofitting boats with Evolution Tabs more attractive. "It's a very affordable option," says Andrus. "You can go and retrofit these old boats and get a superior surf technology to just about anything on the market."
He sees opportunities in licensing his system to boat OEMs, but he is also interested in launching new products, like the new Gamechanger surfboard racks that debuted in late 2022.
Needs: "Taking the last few steps in making the business truly scalable, which affords freedom of time and location," says Andrus. "Fulfillment, marketing and a dealer network."
Commercial space is an option, but Andrus laments the high prices in St. George.
He says he also needs "expanded use of social media through Youtube
content and TikTok," noting, "Video editing is not my strong suit. Raising awareness of my brand through new marketing is a challenge, and a job in itself."