Tattoo Business – Secrets To Success

For tattoo artists interested in expanding into the business side of the industry, now is the perfect time. The tattoo industry has been growing rapidly the past few years - and expected to continue. Whether you need to know more about how to start a new tattoo business or you’re looking to improve your current business’ performance, you’ll find everything you need right here.

What Makes A Tattoo Business Successful?

While a successful tattoo shop can’t be boiled down to one key factor, there are a few things a you need to do:

1

Find a stellar location

Before you fall in love with a location, you need to check your state and county rules about tattoo shops (sometimes called “body art facilities”). They will have specific standards about the building layout, ventilation, signage, etc. 

You’ll also need to be where your future clients hang out. Places with high foot traffic, easy parking access, nearby complimentary businesses like bars and restaurants are all great indicators that you’re picking a great spot.

tattoo shop business

Before you set up shop, make sure the competition isn’t too steep. Even if you are the best artist on the block, the more competition you have nearby, the harder it will be to get clients, as many of them will already be loyal to a certain artist or shop. That’s not to say you can’t be anywhere near another tattoo shop, but too many shops can make it difficult to keep consistent business coming in the door. 

Note

Many tattoo artists think having a shop in a big city will mean easy money because there are so many people there. However, that’s how all other artists think, too. In reality, all the best artists are in big cities, and the competition is much harder. It’s far more difficult to make money in this “winner takes all” environment. For most artists, the real opportunity is in smaller towns of 50,000-100,000 people. The competition is low, but there are still enough people in the area to keep all the artists in the shop busy all day, every day.

2

Hire other people

It’s tempting to go it alone to cut down on costs at the beginning. But hiring a part-time bookkeeper to help with accounting and getting someone to work the front desk or counter (at least during your busiest times) while your artists tattoo will save you time and money in the long run. 

tattoo shop owner writing a business plan

Sponsoring (and showing up at) community events and posting on social media are great ways to build a presence on your own. However, outsourcing your marketing can be incredibly helpful. Hiring a marketing company may be a frustrating up-front cost, but the clients they bring in can be well worth the investment.

3

Treat your shop like a business

Being your own boss is an exciting journey. But when it comes to owning a business and employing friends while creating a relaxed atmosphere, there’s a fine line. 

While you certainly want to enjoy the people you work with and allow for a creative environment, you’ll want to be real with yourself about which friends might slack off and who might take advantage of an “easy-going” shop to avoid paying bills. 

You’ll also need a solid business plan (keep reading!).

How Tattooing Businesses Are Different

When it comes to how to start a tattoo business, you’ll find that it’s very different from how you start in any other industry.

The Up-front costs are higher

Most small businesses can get by with cheaper materials, computers, etc. This is not the case with tattoo shops. You need high-quality machines and materials to make your best work. Without them, you risk your shop going under altogether. 

tattoo machine used by professionally trained tattoo artists

If you’re thinking about beginning in a private studio space in your home to save money, check your state and county regulations. Some places allow this practice, while others will permanently ban your tattoo license. 

You can expect the initial equipment expenses to between $5,000- $25,000 for a fully outfitted shop. (This gap is so large because rent and materials depend on your area, and many shops hire artists that already have their own machines and equipment.)

Expanding is Easier

Lots of small businesses have to narrow their focus to one type of service, or even one type of product. Tattoo shops, however, have a lot of built-in opportunities for expansion. 

ear piercing at a tattoo parlor

Piercing:

Tattooing and piercing go hand-in-hand. Hiring a piercer to work in your space is a great way to offer clients another service they’ll probably be interested in.
tattoo art created by tattoo artist

Artwork:

People who get tattoos are - to an extent - interested in art. Selling local art, prints of designs from the shop, and clothing or stickers representing your shop will get a good amount of attention, especially when clients are sticking around for a few hours to get tattooed.
tattoo artist numbing cream

Aftercare:

Additionally, tattoos and piercing require careful aftercare. Selling products to help them do that in-house takes away the hassle of searching out products after they leave the shop and brings additional income for your business.
tattoo removal procedure at a tattoo shop

Laser Tattoo Removal:

Some of your clients will have tattoos they want to cover up. In some cases, getting them removed first is the best bet. Being able to offer laser tattoo removal to clients is a great way to provide all the services they need in one place - making it much easier for them to pick you over another shop.
tattoo artist tattooing permanent lip liner

Cosmetic Tattooing:

Offering cosmetic tattooing services opens up an entire new market for your shop. Some people won’t want body art, but they’ll want cosmetic tattooing to apply semi-permanent makeup.
tattoo business logo

Merch:

Merch is easy to produce and clients walking around wearing your logo can assist in marketing. T-shirts, hoodies, and stickers are an easy way to appeal to your customers, and it’s an easy add-on “souvenir” to their tattoo session. 

Engaging with the community around you will not only spread the presence of your shop through word of mouth, but you’ll also get a stronger sense of what other services could benefit them most.

Why You Need A Tattoo Business Plan

The tattoo industry has steadily grown over 3% each year since 2016, and is expected to grow another 6.6% in 2021. That means a lot of new customers - but also more new shops. Having a business plan prepared before you open will help your shop stand out from the beginning, putting you above the competition. 

tattoo artist writing a business plan

Your business plan will help you figure out where to find customers, decide on a budget, and clarify your goals and values as a shop. You can find our advice for creating a tattoo business here.

Useful Articles For Tattoo Business Owners

Tattoo business management is complicated. Whether your tattoo business is still a growing idea, or you’re looking for advice before expanding, these guide-style articles will give you the tips you need to take the next step.

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Building An Empire of Ink, Part 3: 4 Ways a Tattoo Business Is Different From Other Small Businesses 

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Building An Empire of Ink, Part 3: 4 Ways a Tattoo Business Is Different From Other Small Businesses 

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AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain. When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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