Business owner Tony Gehman knew starting his own company was the only career path for him. Tony completed one semester of college soon realizing he had a different calling. He started Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters fly fishing shop when he was 20 years old in 1990. The name Tulpehocken came from a creek near his hometown in Reading, PA.
There are many components that go into creating and managing a business. “It was very difficult working with the bank on getting a loan approved so young with no credit or equity. It took five months of convincing to finally get the results I wanted,” says Tony.
That loan changed Gehman and his family’s life forever. His fiancée Kelly lived above his first shop with him with their two cats. “Honestly, I never once had a doubt about his success. Living in the shop was convenient and so fun when you’re with your best friend,” says Kelly.
The company expanded at a rapid rate and now has four locations throughout Pennsylvania. These locations include his hometown Reading, Boiling Springs, Haverford, and State College. “The hardest part is managing the employees at all four shops. It was challenging making sure everything and everyone was in sync, but hiring Chris helped out substantially,” says Gehman.
Frangiosa is in charge of overlooking the shops and managing the purchases in merchandise. He has become a middle man between Gehman and the shops when he is unable to be physically present. “Tony is a great guy, he has taught me everything I know about the business. He went from my mentor to my lifelong friend,” says Frangiosa.
Gehman and Frangiosa share most work days together and have traveled the Caribbean as a team. They have been to Cuba, the Bahamas, and Belize leading fishing trips. They take avid fly fishers and make sure everything runs smoothly. These trips are a once–in–a–lifetime experience for most of his customers and highly anticipated.
“You train your employees to be qualified enough to leave, but you hope they never do,” says Gehman. Frangiosa was hired 13 years ago and has been by Gehman’s side ever since.
Family is the most important thing in Gehman’s life. “The best part of the job for me is knowing I followed my passion and never gave up. Making my own hours and spending time with my family is amazing,” says Gehman. His wife and 21-year-old twins Jake and Julia have always been his priority. He was actively at both of their lacrosse and football games making sure they always felt supported. He wanted to give them the same support he received from his parents growing up. This support continued when he decided to leave college and open up TCO.
“My dad is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever me,” says daughter Julia. They often golf together in their free time and the Hershey Park Country Club. Growing up watching her father continue to surpass his goals has guided Julia to major in business.
TCO has a unique partnership with its vendors. Its partnership with Orvis is the first fly fishing shop the company has ever worked with. They have teamed up to provide reduced rate fishing gear for the holidays. TCO continues to expand inventory and locations. “We currently have our 5th location in the works. It seems to get more exciting every time. It’s rewarding to know we are bringing new resources to local areas,” says Gehman. This scarcity in fly fishing shops were part of the reason Gehman chose that business. The only fly fishing shop in Reading, PA was going out of business. At this time there was no internet ordering from a catalogue would be the only way locals could continue to fish. Gehman combined his love for fishing and business, trusted his instinct and seized the opportunity. This desire to grow earned TCO the “most Complete Fly Fishing Outfitter on the East Coast” measured by the quantity of stores and its eCommerce presence.
Gehman and the company are incessantly known for their positive customer service and drive to improve the community. One of the costumer favorites are the daily “stream reports.” These are updated every morning with the temperature, water conditions, and clarity level. So before driving out to the streams customers can either check online or call the store.
Gehman created the company’ s internet site to convince his buyers and improve the selection of their gear. “I got my fishing gear stolen and was only given the option to use TCO,” says Bret McClain. “After meeting Tony and his workers, I refuse to go anywhere else even though I’m out of state. They are all great guys.” Although it is inevitable to impress every costumer that comes through the door Gehman says most buyers return.
Maintaining a relationship with family, employees and customers is a challenging and time consuming job. Gehman credits much of his success to his work ethic and his family that believed in his vision. They followed him every step of the way and are now able to celebrate his success. “He has worked so hard and never let that get in the way of me or our family. He has been the best role model and father I could have ever imagined,” says his wife.
Gehman knew he wouldn’t learn anything in college that he couldn’t hands on experience for himself. Regardless of the challenges and inexperience he launched his company and never looked back. “It was the best decision I have ever made,” says Gehman.