Inkbox CEO Tyler Handley talks about changing the perception of temporary tattoos

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Temporary tattoos are no longer relegated to children’s birthday parties – they are becoming a bigger and more widely accepted part of the body part industry.

Much of this is due to Inkbox, a Canada-based company that was acquired by Bic last January for $65 million. Inkbox co-founder and CEO Tyler Handley joined the Modern Retail podcast this week and spoke about the brand’s growth and sales, as well as the overall temporary tattoo industry.

Inbox uses an active ingredient its founders discovered in a fruit in Panama that leaves what looks like a tattoo mark on users’ skin for one to two weeks. But the company’s products don’t work like traditional temporary tattoo offerings that put simple designs on pieces of paper. Instead, Inkbox partners with both celebrities like BTS and famous tattoo artists to sell customer designs, as well as developing its own design marketplace where designers can take a cut of sales.

According to Handley, the majority of Inkbox’s sales come from its artist market. “We have this Artist Marketplace with over 10,000 creations from over 700 artists around the world who collectively earn millions of dollars a year selling tattoos on our platform, which we are always very proud of,” Handley said.

It’s taken a while to get here – the company is now seven years old – and much of Inkbox’s success is due to the inroads it has made with the tattoo community. For example, early on the company opened its own permanent tattoo shop in order to get to know more artists in the industry.

“We wanted to at least immerse ourselves in the authentic world of permanent tattoos — to make more authentic connections with the artists,” Handley said.

The strategy seems to have worked given the growth in the market and the Bic acquisition. And now that Inkbox is part of a much larger company, Handley has big plans to expand. This includes retail partnerships and more deals with bigger celebrities. “We’re now at a stage where we can’t just go directly to the consumer,” he said. Currently, Inkbox is sold at stores like Urban Outfitters, but Handley intends to expand further.

But even with this growth, there have been obstacles. For example, Instagram was Inkbox’s main acquisition channel. But recent changes in privacy and algorithms have made it much more expensive and less effective.

“It was really disheartening to see Meta’s greed affect our ability to put our content in front of consumers,” Handley said. “Essentially you have to pay to appear in front of anyone now.”

With that, Inkbox now focuses more directly on channels like TikTok. “It’s really authentic in terms of entertainment and engagement. And it’s a totally different way to approach it,” he said.

With all of that, even more expansion is on the horizon. “[We’re focused on] increase our lifetime value and basket size by launching new products – we launched subscriptions three weeks ago,” Handley said. “And soon we’ll be launching other products that adorn other areas of your body – let’s put it that way.”

Here are some highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Inkbox’s Humble Beginnings
“We basically took this fruit and created a formula out of it. We haven’t done anything innovative. It was just a matter of adding some thickening agents to it, putting it in an e-cigarette filler bottle we bought from Alibaba. Alibaba was the best thing because without expertise, you could just search and buy all these products without having the know-how and industry connections. And we kind of hacked it together and mixed this really slimy formula in my brother’s apartment. It stains everything, so we destroy the apartment and everything was stained. And we built an Instagram presence before we got started – literally photoshopping tattoos on bodies in stock photos. It was so rambling. He has accumulated about 2000 followers. And then we went for it with this really rudimentary version to prove the claim.

How Inkbox Courted Permanent Tattoo Artists
“One of the pillars of our brand is authenticity. And there’s always been this kind of awkward interplay between the fact that we’re authentic with the artists – authentic with the stories that we tell – but, for the traditionalists, we’re inauthentic, because we’re not the permanent thing . So we wanted to at least immerse ourselves in the authentic world of permanent tattoos – to connect more genuinely with the artists, and approach it from a perspective that they were a little more used to, so that we could speak to their language. And the way we’ve landed a lot of our biggest artist collaborations is that we’ve brought them through the store first — we’ve gotten to know them, we’ve gone out to dinner with them. [We] just really highlighted that human aspect and like putting a human face to the brand and saying, hey, here’s what we’re trying to do – we’re good people, work with us, please. And, we’d love to promote you, and we love your stuff. And it worked well for us.

Get away from Instagram
“Instagram has always been our main channel. We have a million and a half followers there. We put a lot of work into building this following. to get our content in front of consumers. Basically you have to pay to get in front of anyone now. We have 6% audience on any of our content, where before it was over 60 %, 70%. And it really left a sour taste in our mouths. We always wanted to leave Meta when we could, but the reality was that it was the best channel due to behavioral targeting. But now that has been taken down, it’s not as effective. And so, for us, TikTok has really been this new channel. It’s really authentic in terms of entertainment and engagement. And it’s a totally different way of l approach. It’s not polite, it is not exaggerated. It’s not really thought through. It’s a bit in tune with the times, what’s happening in culture, jumping on trends. Our approach is a risk approach, I call it. We’re launching 10 pieces of content there and one is going to hit – but whoever hits is going to do so much for us that we can run Spark ads behind… So yeah, TikTok is now on par with our [Meta] spend and our volume.

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