Starting any new business like Opening a tattoo Shop can be extremely stressful. I made a lot of mistakes in my first few years of owning a business and i’ve written this guide to help you avoid them.
This short guide is aimed at tattooists looking to open their first tattoo shop. If you are a business owner interested in expanding your portfolio to include a tattoo shop I have written a separate guide about the pros and cons of a non-tattooist operating a tattoo shop here.
My advice is based on opening and operating a tattoo shop in the UK. Remember to check the relevant laws in your country as they may be different!
Opening a Tattoo Shop – The correct location
Most online guides recommend finding a busy location with high footfall to situate your tatto shop. Whilst this advice remains solid for shops located in busy major cities it no longer applies to the hundreds of small town high streets around the country. Mostly becuase it doesn’t take into account the rise of the internet and the proliferation of mobile devices and the changes they have brought to high street shopping.
Today, everything and anything can be purchased on-the-go and our shopping demands can be fulfilled with just a click.
Is it time to get off the local high street?
High streets around the world are quiter that ever and less traffic means less customers to your new business. Add to this the high running costs of high street locations and you start to see why many tattoo shops fail in these locations.
Last year Britain saw over 2800 store closures in the first half of the year alone. According to Retail Gazette, over 140,000 jobs were lost and we said goodbye to stores from some of the country’s top retailers, including House of Fraser , Toys R Us, Next, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, and many more. Only 15 out of the 96 sectors showed net growth in store numbers, with the biggest declines felt in fashion, restaurants, estate agents and pubs.
Large retailers have been particularly hard hit with those operating 10 stores or more closing over 5800 branches between 1 January and 30 September last year, a 77% increase on the previous year.
More people are choosing to shop online: “In the retail sector, online spend is almost breaching 20%, with £1-in-every-£5 spent coming through internet sales, which has effected the true value of physical retail stores.”
Physical space is expensive: “Extortionate rents for premises and the business rates that straddle them have placed additional financial pressures on those who are already under serious strain.”
Consumers are more careful: “Consumers themselves are becoming more conscious spend-wise, with the economic ramifications of Brexit continuing to cause a crisis of confidence in people’s wallets.”
Retailers can’t keep up: “Some retailers are suffering natural decline by not offering consumers a reason to shop in their stores, suffering from outdated USP’s, with poor fiscal management and standing still in an environment that demands fast-paced evolution.”
Opening a Tattoo Shop
Figures show that older people still go to stores to shop 75% of the over 55’s choose to do their shopping both online and in store. But the younger generation seems to be more inclined to avoid the high street altogether. The younger generation are the core audience for any high street tattoo shop. They get more tattoos. 45% have a tattoo compared to 28% of people over 50.
18% of 25-34 year olds do all of their shopping online.
All These changes mean that in 2020 most clients serious about getting a tattoo do their research online, make an appoitment and then travel to their chosen tattooist. Clients getting a tattoo on their local high street are simply shopping based on location and price.
This poses a three-fold problem for the high street tattoo shop.
Competition drives prices down and keeps them there.The hourly rate of ‘street shop’ work hasn’t increased in the ten years I have owned a shop.
Lower quality clients make maintaining an up to date professional porfiolio almost impossible.Endless faded grey roses and infinity symbols do not make an attractive portfolio for higher quality clients and they will look elsewhere.
Attracting top quality artists to work in high street locations that dont deliver quality clients is very tough.If a tattoo shop cannot deliver quality clients for the tattooists they will move on quickly. An ‘apprentice mill’ with a massive staff turnover and no consistency is a huge red flag for good artists and serious clients.
Choosing a location away from the high street
Choosing a location away from the high street offers a lot of benefits to your new business especially if you are a tattooist looking to operate your own business for the first time.
The cost of leasing or buying a property in a non-retail focused area are far cheaper.
The internet and your ability to build an online profille negates the need for a shop front.
Higher quality Clients Are willing to travel and want better work.
Basing your business on high quality, low volume tattooing is more ressession proof.
Things to consider
Find a location that has good links to motorways, rail and airports. This will make it easier for you clients to get to you.
Make it easy to find your shop. Put your business on google maps and include a photo of the front of the building. If you’re on the first floor or higher put a prominent sign in the window.
Once you’ve found your shop
Get a lease! When i rented my first shop I did a ‘handshake deal’ with a friend to takeover the back of his barber shop. At first this seemed like a good, low risk idea. But i hadn;t considered that there was no security in it. So, when my ‘friend’ decided that he no longer wanted me in the back of his shop I was out. No notice, no negotiating, nothing. Just get out on this day.
This meant an enormous amount of stress, financial pressure at a time when the business was still very new. It could very easily meant the end for me. So my advice would to be always get a lease and a contract for your building. It’ll cost you a little more but it’s worth it because, as a tenant, you have rights. Friends don’t, sadly.
Get correct permmisons
I had to move buildings very quickly. Fortunately a premises became available very close to my original studio which was perfect. But I had 2 problems; 1. For reasons I will go into later in this article I had had to close my original business (on paper) and start a new Limited company and 2. The premises I wanted was classified as retail A1. If you’re thinking ‘what the hell does that mean’ like i was at the time. Let me explain.
The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order categorises uses of land and buildings. Developments may not be used for purposes that are not within the use class for which they received planning permission.
‘Sui generis’ buildings are those that do not fall within any particular use class. The Latin term ‘sui generis‘ means ‘of its own kind
I didn’t have time to get the correct planning application done before I leased the building. So I signed a 10 year lease on a building that was A1 and then hope and pray that I could get it’s use changed to Sui generis. If i hadn’t been able to I would have had to pay rent for ten years on a building I couldn’t tattoo in! AND becasue my company was brand new I had to find an enormous deposit as well.
This was a HUGE risk that we had to take because the location meant existing clients could find us easily. It was also a risk I could have easily avoided if i’d got a lease on the original studio and good staff. And that brings me onto my next point.
Opening a Tattoo Shop – Hire good staff
The main reason I had to close a business only to open a new limited business was because in my original studio I hired bad staff. I was far too trusting and got ripped off blind. This simple mistake cost me thousands of pounds, a great deal of pain and suffering and ended up nearly costing me the business and my livelihood. These days I’m far more careful.
Check credentialsAs the owner of the business you cannot take peoples word. You must protect the tattoo shop and so it’s imperitive that you check that the staff CV is genuine. Call the refernences and get an idea of the person you are hiring.
Check workHave the artist demonstrate that they can do the things they say can and have them perform some studio tasks in front of you. This simple check would have saved me from from hiring a lying ‘scratcher’ who went on to steal anything he could from me.
Check with previous studiosCall where they say they used to work and ask if they left in ‘good standing’.
Put a contract in place.And then you can sue them when they open a shop 3 miles from yours.