If you're a tattoo or piercing artist thinking about striking out on your own, you have to give careful consideration to the question, "Do you have what it takes to manage your own shop?" Starting a tattoo and piercing shop is a big job. Unless you have sufficient savings, you'll need to create a business plan so you can get a loan to fund your start-up project. You'll have to find a good location--preferably one that will draw foot traffic, but that's in an affordable area where the rent will fit your budget. You'll have to scout out talent to fill the gaps you can't fill yourself--tattoo artists and/or a piercing artist with skill and, ideally, who already have a following. You may need a clerk or shop manager to fill in when you're not there and when you're working on clients. You'll also need a ton of supplies initially. You'll need furniture and some form of entertainment for the shop's waiting room, aftercare products and other merchandise to sell, tattoo chairs, a piercing table, work stools, an autoclave, an ultrasonic cleaner, cleaning products, gloves, and a variety of other tattoo supplies, piercing tools and medical supplies. You may also want to consider investing in software like Rev23's Tattoo Management Studio, which you can learn more about in our blog post Helpful Tips & Software for Managing Your Tattoo Shop. A Wacom tablet and pen set that your tattoo artists can use to create custom-fit tattoo stencils would also be helpful.
Once your shop is setup, you'll next have to turn your attention to marketing. Ideally, you should build a website for your tattoo and piercing studio and create social media profiles for the shop on all the major platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You'll need to purchase custom business cards and other marketing materials, like flyers to promote a grand opening event, window banners, and A-frame signs to promote shop specials. You'll have to register your business with Google to ensure your location shows up on Google Maps and includes a beefed up listing about your services, hours and talent. The bottom line is that marketing alone takes a lot of dedicated work, but it's a necessary component in making a tattoo and piercing shop successful.
There's a lot of leg work required if you want to get your own tattoo and piercing shop up and running, but the rewards can be immense if you have what it takes to start your own business and manage it well on a day-to-day basis. You don't necessarily need a business degree, although that kind of education can be invaluable to any new business owner. As long as you have drive, the ability to plan and execute your plan, talent--either of your own, hired or both--financial backing, and physical support in the form of a loyal staff, starting your own tattoo and piercing shop and making it successful is a feasible venture.
Where to Start
Before you strike out on your own, it's important to educate yourself as much as possible on all the elements that will help you build a successful business. Start by picking up a book about starting a business in your state. Read about what's involved in the process--what business licenses you'll need, how to register your business name, and so on. It may be tempting to skip the research and jump right to renting a shop space, but you'll be better off in the end if you make sure you fully understand what's involved with starting a business in your area first.
Once you've read up about starting a business in your state, you'll then need to decide how you want to register your business. You have three general choices for the type of business model you utilize. You can register your business as a sole proprietorship or partnership, as an LLC, or as a corporation. Here's a brief summary of the benefits and drawbacks of each of these options:
|Sole Proprietorship or Partnership||Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)||Corporation|
|When you own your business alone, as a sole proprietor, or with a partner, you will be personally responsible for all debts the business incurs. If you fail to pay your debts, your creditors can go after your personal assets, including your bank account, home, car, etc. Because of that, a sole proprietorship/partnership setup is the riskiest type of business model. The benefits of sole proprietorships and partnerships include lower costs and less paperwork to setup the business, as well as a decreased need to keep personal and business funds separated from each other. Record keeping in general is simplest with this business model.||In most cases, an LLC protects owners from personal liability if a business is unable to satisfy its debts. The owner(s) may be held liable when an LLC owner personally guarantees a debt or mixes personal and LLC funds, the company has too little capital or insurance, or the business fails to pay state taxes or violates state law in any way. It's easier for an LLC to raise start-up funds than it is for sole proprietors, and business ownership can be transferred more easily. It costs more to setup an LLC, but those costs can be partially offset by cheaper insurance. There are fewer formalities to setting up an LLC than a corporation, but it will require more paperwork than setting up a sole proprietorship or partnership would. You have to maintain separate records and keep your personal and business finances separate if you form your business as an LLC.||When incorporating a business, you can choose between a C corporation and an S corporation. A C corporation will give you personal liability protection, tax benefits, and unparalleled ease if you need to transfer business ownership. An S corporation allows you take advantage of pass-through taxation, meaning you and any other owners will pay taxes on business income rather than getting hit with double taxes at the business and personal levels. Setting up a corporation is more complicated than setting up both sole proprietorships/partnerships and LLCs. The setup costs will be higher and paperwork will be more involved.|
You can learn more about these options and get help with the legal paperwork required for starting the type of business you choose through websites like LegalZoom.com. Before registering your business name, it's a good idea to check a site like GoDaddy.com to see if there's a good URL available that relates to your chosen business name. For instance, JoesTattooShop.com might be taken, but JoesTattooStudio.com may be available. Just make sure there isn't another shop in your state registered with the same name before finalizing your shop name and domain name decisions.
If you know you're going to need a loan to get your business up and running, give strong consideration to registering your business as an LLC or corporation, since it's easier to get funding for a business when you're not personally liable for it. Most banks will require you to submit a well-thought-out business plan before they'll consider giving you a loan, and preparing a business plan is the soundest way to start a business even if you don't require funding. Doing so will help ensure that you've carefully thought about all aspects of starting and running a tattoo and piercing shop before you've made a big investment that can't be undone. You can find sample business plans online that you can use as a template for creating your own. Start by looking at the U.S. Small Business Administration website's "Create Your Business Plan" section.
Once you have a business plan prepared, you can start shopping for the best banks to approach about getting a small business loan. Pay attention to things like fees, payment terms and schedules, convenience (e.g. locations and banking hours), and service, because there's a good chance you'll want to approach the same bank about opening a business checking account and getting a line of credit for covering large supply purchases in future.
After preparing your business plan, registering your business, buying a website domain, and obtaining funding, you can move onto securing a location for your tattoo and piercing shop and then finally dive into the fun part: setting up your shop. It may take some time to get to that point, but it will be worth the wait because you'll be building your business on a solid foundation.
The next big decision you'll need to make is the physical location for your tattoo and piercing shop. Ideally, you should pick a location in an area with decent foot traffic, so your shop can advertise itself to a degree. You may need to do some remodeling to make the space you choose work for a tattoo and piercing shop setup. Ideally, you'll want a waiting room, cubicles or rooms for tattooing and piercing, a clean room, storage, and either a public restroom or separate bathrooms for staff and clients.
Once the structural setup of your shop is just right, you'll need to put the finishing touches on everything--get a front counter installed, put comfortable seating and maybe a TV in the waiting area, add tattoo flash racks and product display shelves, racks, and/or cabinets to the front of your shop, setup each work space with shop furniture and accessories like tattoo chairs, piercing tables, work stools, storage cabinets for tattoo and piercing supplies, wall-mounted glove box holders, and Sharps containers, and stock your shop with all the merchandise and supplies you'll need to be ready for the first day you're open to the public. You'll also need to hire staff and start promoting your business with custom signs, printed marketing materials, and a strong online presence.
When you finally open your shop, the real work will begin--work that will make things like registering your business, creating a business plan and setting up your shop seem like a cake walk in comparison. Every day you'll have to concern yourself with your shop's sanitation, delivering consistent customer satisfaction, staying on top of ordering supplies so you never run out of the things you need to keep your business running, managing your staff, marketing your business, and all the other fun things that come with managing your own shop. It's a lot to contemplate, but it's totally manageable if you start with a solid plan and stick to it over time.
Additional Resources to Help Your Shop Succeed
Painful Pleasures isn't just a tattoo and piercing supply distributor. Our goal is to help your body modification business succeed by providing you with all the tools you need to manage your business rather than just supplies. We've created an online Information Center with the goal of giving tattoo and piercing artists and shop owners the educational resources they need to be successful. Our Information Center is filled with helpful articles about shop safety, tattoo and piercing aftercare, maintaining a sterile shop, getting the most from our Print & Design center, and more. Explore it and you'll find a wealth of information that will help you build your business by maintaining a clean, sterile shop, purchasing supplies wisely, advertising effectively, and working as efficiently as possible.
Follow the links below to read some of the articles that are most relevant to starting and managing a tattoo and piercing shop:
- Managing Your Tattoo Shop
- Sample Tattoo Release Waiver
- Sample Body Piercing Release Form
- Piercing Minors
- Essential Supplies for Starting a Piercing Shop
- Tattoo Supplies
- Accessories to Organize Your Shop
- Wacom Tablets Bring Tattooing into the Digital Age
- Tattooing Safely: A Guide for Tattoo Artists
- Piercing Safely
- A Piercer's Intro to Microbiology
- Maintaining a Sterile Work Environment
- Guidelines for Hand Hygiene
- Tattoo & Piercing Sterilization Techniques
- Helping Your Clients Choose Tattoo Designs
- How to Setup a Sterile Field
- Body Modification Skin Prep
- Proper Post-Modification Clean-up Procedures
- Proper Tattoo & Piercing Tool Maintenance
Our Information Center is part of the Painful Pleasures online community, which also includes this blog filled with current information about tattooing, piercing, other forms of body modification, body jewelry, and other industry-related topics. In addition to our Info Center articles and blog, our online community includes a forum where you can connect with other body modification professionals and enthusiasts, an online photo gallery where you can create a free shop portfolio and share photos of the mods you and your staff have done, tattoo and piercing videos, industry news, and more.
To take full advantage of our online community, you'll need to sign up for a Painful Pleasures account. Once you're logged in, you can post questions in the forum for our knowledgeable moderators and experienced community members to answer, respond to other people's posts, share photos in the gallery, and view mature content, among other things. If you need assistance navigating the forum or gallery, check out our How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery Help Center articles.
If you're interested in saving money on tattoo supplies and piercing supplies, we can help with that, too. There are a range of ways to save money when you buy your shop supplies from Painful Pleasures. When placing orders under $100, shop in our Retail Store to take advantage of our everyday low prices. When spending $100 - $499.99, you can shop in our Wholesale Store to enjoy discounted prices available just to industry professionals. Those shop owners and artists spending over $500 also have access to our Distributor Store, where we offer the lowest prices you'll find on our site. When you purchase select products in bulk from any of our three stores, you'll enjoy additional price breaks. Just look at the "Add to Cart" area of any product detail page to see the tiered prices available when you buy an item in specific quantities. To save even more, visit your preferred store (Retail | Wholesale | Distributor), scroll to the bottom-right corner of any page, and enter your email address in the newsletter sign-up box. We'll then send you weekly emails containing coupons, new product announcements, links to our most recent Info Center articles and blog posts, and a variety of special deals.