While some companies may come and go with tastes and fads, the tattoo industry has proven to be quite resilient for centuries. At the same time, with famous tattoo artists hosting their own reality shows and industry integration, tattooing is also experiencing a new rejuvenation.
Today, there are approximately 21,000 active tattoo parlors in the United States. Researchers estimate that a new artist moves in every day and that the American tattoo industry as a whole generates about $2.3 billion in revenue each year.
Bearing in mind that consumer demand has been relatively stable over the past two millennia, it’s not hard to see why aspiring artists or entrepreneurs continue to be interested in starting their own tattoo business. . But starting a tattoo parlor isn’t just about getting funding and getting a little creative. There are a few things you will need to do first.
Here’s a quick how-to guide to get you started.
How to start your own tattoo business
Obtain a license
Unfortunately, being good at drawing doesn’t make you a tattoo artist. In most states, you’ll need to get a license before you’re allowed to perform tattoos or body piercings — and before you get a license, you’ll need to get some experience first.
The Alliance of Professional Tattoo Artists recommends that aspiring artists complete an apprenticeship of at least three years before going it alone and settling down. During these apprenticeships, you will typically work under the direct supervision of a licensed artist who designs tattoos, operates machinery, and sterilizes equipment. Some apprenticeships are remunerated, but many others are not.
In some states, the requirement to take an apprenticeship is not just a recommendation. For example, to comply with the Body Art Procedures Act and open a tattoo parlor in New Jersey, you must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of training. In states like Oregon, you only need to complete a minimum of 360 hours of training with a licensed artist and produce 50 tattoos.
Most states expect you to pass a written test and hold a current blood-borne pathogen certificate in order to become a licensed artist. The same type of procedures will generally apply to obtaining a license for a tattoo business as opposed to obtaining an individual artist license – but the rules vary from state to state. You will have to do your research.
Get the right gear
In order to start your own tattoo business, you will need to cover some basic start-up costs. Estimates range from around $25,000, but it entirely depends on the type of business you are starting and a wide range of variables. Either way, there’s quite a bit of basic equipment you’ll definitely need to get started.
First of all, you will need reliable tattoo machines and various needles. Quality machines start from around $400, while sanitized disposable needles will be an ongoing overhead. Similarly, you will need a steady supply of tubes and ink to power the machines. You will also need other basic equipment like shaving supplies for clients, stencils for designs, and plenty of sanitary items. Scanners, decent computer software, and printers will likely be needed if you plan to allow customers a say in designing custom artwork.
You will also need to purchase special furniture. Most states have strict rules regarding the type of furniture used in tattoo areas, and if you don’t meet those standards, you could be shut down. Specially designed beds and chairs usually start from around $500 each.
Choose the right location
Choosing the perfect location to set up shop is tough for any business, but if you’re opening a tattoo business, you’ll also face a few legal hurdles.
Many municipal authorities have land use and zoning ordinances that limit the location of tattoo establishments within a city or town. Many of these rules end up throwing a high concentration of businesses into a relatively small area of town, which can make competition a real problem. That being said, you may be able to circumvent these regulations and open up in another part of town by paying for various municipal waivers and approvals.
Again, you’ll need to check with your local and state authorities before you fall in love with a particular location. If your favorite site conflicts with applicable laws, it’s worth seeking professional legal advice to see if you can mitigate existing legislation.
Aside from boring, regulatory gibberish, there are other important factors to consider when choosing a location for your tattoo shop. You will want a high traffic area, ideally near the nightlife. You should also keep in mind that your ideal location may require logistical changes for the tattoo job, such as adding partitions, sinks, or new electrical outlets. If you are buying space this will not be a problem, but if you are renting you will need to get written permission from the landlord.
think about marketing
Once you’ve certified and authorized yourself and set up your new store, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to market your business. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful in the tattoo industry, but you’ll also need a decent web presence.
First of all, you will need to create a website with a simple and memorable URL. Clearly list your business services, location and key information. But more importantly, exhibit your work. Instead of choosing a fancy e-commerce web template, opt for a site driven by top-notch artwork and aesthetics. It’s also worth maintaining a corporate blog on your site describing important or interesting artistic concepts.
But your biggest marketing weapon will be social media. Image-based sites like Instagram are a great way to show off your artwork, and Facebook has a built-in review platform that could help you build consumer trust fast enough to earn more work. Be sure to respond to all reviews and answer any questions or comments that may arise on different platforms.
That being said, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon some basic traditional marketing concepts just yet. Printed flyers and business cards always resonate well in the tattoo industry. Don’t be afraid to review potential advertising opportunities in local media, if available, and dare to be different.
Remember: if you don’t stand out, it will be very difficult to succeed.
Tattoo photo via Shutterstock
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