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

Tattoo Studio
Tattoo Studio at night.


So, you’re interested in starting a business, and you’ve been looking at tattoo shops. Will this make a great small business? Absolutely! 


However, it’s important to go into this venture with eyes wide open. Tattoo shops make great small businesses, but they are also very different from the small businesses you may have seen your friends start. 


Don’t worry, though: we put together a comprehensive guide to how tattoo shops are unlike any other small businesses! 


High Equipment Cost 


Tattoo artist at work
Tattoo artist at work

Every great tattoo has a bit of pain behind it. So, in the spirit of working through the pain, we figured we’d rip the band-aid off right away: this is going to be expensive. 


Many small businesses owners can cut costs by starting a business at home. Tattoo shop on the other hand need a sterile and regulated place to work from, you’re going to end up buying an average of $25,000 in equipment for a fully outfitted shop. 


And before you ask, you can’t really cut corners with this stuff.

“Your success is your reputation, and low-quality equipment leads to low-quality work. “


The Marketing Is Different 


Unlike other small businesses, tattoo shops market their business very differently. This is mostly because of the complicated feelings America has about tattoos. 


On one hand, tattoos are becoming more and more popular, especially with Millennials. That’s why tattoo shops are so attractive to people who are starting a business. With the popularity of “tattoo TV” leading the trend, tattoos are even becoming more acceptable in the workplace. 


Tattoo TV
Tattoo TV

However, tattoos still seem like a cultural taboo to many people in many places. Your marketing should lean into this, emphasizing tattoos as a way to rebel and assert someone’s independence from others. 


Additionally, social media marketing is an absolute must for tattoo shops. If you’re not rocking Instagram and Pinterest as a tattoo artist, you’re missing out on a lot of potential traffic! 


The Atmosphere Is Different 


This next point is an offshoot of the previous one: customers have a certain set of expectations when it comes to tattoo shops and their atmosphere. 


A more “traditional” small business is all about a minimal atmosphere. That means clear walls, vibrant colors, and bright lights. Fortunately, tattoo shops get to stand out from the crowd. 


It’s fine to have walls covered with cool art, and it’s especially good to cover walls with your own designs and flash sheets. The atmosphere should have muted colors as well: think black furniture, dark blue walls, and so on. A good shop looks like the town’s coolest bar, minus the alcohol. 


Inside a successful tattoo shop
Inside a successful tattoo shop

And while your actual work area needs good lighting, your shop lights shouldn’t be too bright. Dim lights make the atmosphere more mysterious—and when it comes to tattoos, that makes them more inviting! 


Easy Expansion 


We’ll end on a high note with one more way your tattoo shop is different from other small businesses: it’s very easy to expand. 


Most small businesses focus on doing one thing very well. However, diversifying your business is the key to growing both customers and profits. 


It’s very easy for tattoo shops to also start offering piercing services, for instance. Since customers will need special products to help clean and maintain tattoos and piercing, you should be selling those products as well. Some of the more common products we’re asked for are shirt, pins, and stickers. Anything that lets the customer “wear” more of your work without a permanent commitment, and at a lower price point that a full on tattoo.


Finally, tattoo shops can offer tattoo removal and repair services. It’s really that simple: add three times the service and watch your customers grow!  


Final Thoughts 


Now you know why tattoo shops are unlike any other small businesses. But do you know how else to succeed? 


Stay tuned to Tattooing 101 for the latest tips on starting and marketing your shop! 


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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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