Armadillo Enterprises, a large manufacturer of unique, well crafted musical instruments, was once just a small company in Tampa, FL. Before the late CEO and founder, Elliot Rubinson, began expanding the company, it was simply called Armadillo Case Company. Founded in 1994, the company’s main purpose was to manufacture and distribute flight and tour cases.
Not long after, against the recommendation of many people, Rubinson bought Dean Guitars, a once-popular guitar brand founded in 1976 that had become bankrupt. The payoff turned out to be more than anyone could have imagined.
A few years later, he also acquired the brands ddrum Percussion and Luna Guitars. As the company continued expanding, it became known as Armadillo Enterprises.
The company distributes all three of its brands to hundreds of stores in the U.S., and Dean Guitars has been the most popular among musicians and music shops. The late Elliot “Dean” Rubinson is to thank for the reemergence of the legacy of Dean Guitars, which had gone bankrupt in 1997 shortly before he bought it for $50,000. Since that acquisition, Dean Guitars continues to experience a tremendous amount of success.
Growing The Brand
At their peak in 2009, the company had gross revenue over $20 million, and moved from Clearwater to a much larger building in Tampa – that also features their USA custom guitar shop. The Dean Guitars brand is used by dozens of talented and legendary guitarists, including Dave Mustaine of Megadeth and until the day of his passing, Dimebag Darrel of Pantera.
Each of Armadillo Enterprises’ brands is refreshingly unique from other products. Luna Guitars, created in 2005, features hand crafted, exotic instruments. Each instrument is uniquely carved and inspired by world culture, nature, and art. On the other hand, ddrum Percussion is a producer of drum sets and equipment. Their success grew in 2005, when Rubinson bought the brand and decided to introduce acoustic drums, making ddrum a full line drum company. Ddrum prides itself in producing quality, affordable drums and equipment, stating that “ddrum is a company of drummers for drummers.”
During Elliot Rubinson’s success, his son, Evan, got to experience it firsthand. While studying Economics and Public Policy at Duke University, Evan would also work as a financial analyst and consultant for Armadillo before creating his own investment company. In 2016, on the 40th anniversary of the company, Armadillo Enterprises announced that Evan would be assuming the position as president and CEO of Armadillo, stating that “Elliot has worked diligently, over the years, to impart all of his knowledge upon his one-and-only son and protégé… to proactively ensure that the succession of CEOs would prove to be a seamless transition.”
As part of the mentor process, Elliot and Evan traveled to China, Korea and Hong Kong to visit various factories. Shortly after Evan assumed his position as head of the organization, Mr. Rubinson passed away due to a rare type of brain cancer he had been battling for a short time.
The outpour of love and support from artists and fans came from all parts of the world.
Through His Son’s Eyes
Evan fondly recalls memories of his father, including a time when Mr. Rubinson took him to meet his favorite musician, Lexi Lahore of Children of Bodom. Evan, 13 at the time, was awkwardly surprised when the first thing Lahore says, “You smoke?” and offers him a cigarette, which he nervously accepted feeling the glare from his mother. Another moment he remembers is randomly jumping on a private jet to Chicago with his father to watch that same band perform live at the House of Blues.
As his short-term memory declined, Elliot began to reflect more on life-long themes and memories — including his earlier years growing up in Queens, New York. He visualized and worked with Pearl Works to design a New York Skyline themed guitar featuring the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower; however, he became too sick before he could see it complete. Evan had the custom guitar completed and brought it to his father in the hospital, who had unfortunately slipped into a coma by that time. To commemorate his father’s legacy in the industry, Evan purchased the guitar and now keeps it on display in his home. It’s a true piece of art that is priceless.
U.S. Manufacturing with Precision
Although some of the guitars are made overseas in China and Korea, their high-end products are handcrafted in a workshop located in the United States 120,000 sq ft facility. The guitars begin production in Tampa, where they are built from the finest blocks of wood, taking eight hours just for the detailed sanding process. After that, they are shipped to California to be uniquely designed and painted. Once customized with a trademark design, the guitars are shipped back to Tampa where the truss rod and hardware are put into the guitar.
Although it is more costly to produce the instruments in America, Dean Guitars feels it is worth using top notch labor and components when assembling their U.S. products. The process makes each U.S. custom Dean Guitar a true piece of art.
A New CEO in the Age of Big Data
Based on Evan’s confidence and the way he articulates his points, you would be surprised to find out he is just 25 years old. It does show with his passion that turns into endless work days, as well as the way he is connecting with customers digitally. He recently asked his FB followers about an idea for creating a USA customizer that people can use to create their own guitar design online. The response from his audience was enthusiastic about constructive feedback.
Evan has a sharp mind that seems to quickly recognize trends. This is a characteristic that will help him with navigating the next phase of these iconic brands that he now steers.
His father and an amazing team built these brands for the last 20 years and Evan is primed to continue with a legacy of his own. We are going to continue to follow Armadillo Enterprises and update this story.