Managing a tattoo shop can be a complicated business, but having the right tools at your disposal can make it a much less daunting task. There are also certain tips and tricks of the trade that will simplify the shop management process for you, protect you legally and help you grow your business. Whether you're an established tattoo shop owner or just getting started, you're sure to learn a few new things here that will help you operate your tattoo shop as efficiently, effectively, and profitably as possible.
Protecting Your Shop & Staff
Before we get into some of the tools that simplify things like maintaining client data and managing inventory, it's important to go over a few shop safety basics that will benefit you, your staff, your clients, and your business as a whole. Tattooing safely means protecting both your clients and yourself from physical harm and legal repercussions alike. It requires maintaining a sterile work environment in which tools and surfaces are kept thoroughly disinfected, practicing proper hand hygiene, wearing gloves, placing used needles and blades in Sharps containers, and following the other best practices detailed in our free Shop Safety articles. Here are some of the key takeaways you'll find in those articles:
- Obtain all appropriate business licenses and display them clearly in the front of your shop. Work to keep your shop up to code to protect your business licenses.
- Find out if your state requires your tattoo artists to obtain and maintain tattoo licenses. If licenses are a must, don't let your artists tattoo in your shop until their licenses are up-to-date.
- Make sure that you and your employees consistently follow OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogen Standard by reviewing the training and OSHA resources available online and taking precautionary measures such as using Sharps containers and wearing gloves while working.
- Turn away clients who appear intoxicated or who can't provide valid proof that they're old enough to get a tattoo. Read the National Conference of State Legislatures' Tattooing and Body Piercing for Minors article to learn about your state's age limits for tattoos and other body modifications.
- Have every client sign a tattoo release waiver before tattooing them. You can view our sample tattoo waiver and use it to develop a custom one for your shop with your lawyer's help.
- Utilize proper sterilization methods for keeping tools and work surfaces clean and sterile. If you have a small shop and can't afford an autoclave, check out our Sterilization Alternatives for Small Shops article. Keep your shop stocked with disposable sterilized tools like individually-packaged tattoo needles and disposable tattoo tubes, too.
- Make sure all of your tattoo artists have a basic understanding of microbiology and how microorganisms can negatively impact clients. They should also be educated on proper pre-modification skin prep, which eliminates potentially-harmful microorganisms before tattoo needles have a chance to push them beneath clients' skin.
Setting up Your Tattoo Shop
Every tattoo shop should have a minimum of four primary areas: a waiting room/shopping area with a front desk, tattoo and other modification work spaces (which may be separate rooms or one large area with multiple work stations), a clean room, and a bathroom that's accessible to clients. Ideally, your waiting room should include comfortable seating, flash art and tattoo portfolios that prospective clients can peruse, a selection of tattoo aftercare products and anything else you want to sell, like body jewelry or alternative apparel, and a front desk equipped with a cash drawer, computer, credit card reader, receipt printer, and other studio hardware. (Note that we sell many of these items as hardware packages that allow you to get just the items you need most in a bundle that will save you money.) If you'd also like to add an entertainment element to your waiting area that includes features about your shop and your artists' work in addition to engaging industry-related footage, check out Art Driven Television brought to you by Painful Pleasures and Sullen TV.
When setting up work stations for your tattoo artists, make sure each area contains a Sharps container, appropriate storage space like hanging or free-standing cabinets, a tattoo stool, a tattoo chair or table for clients, and wall-mounted glove holders, rinse cup dispensers, and hands-free soap/hand sanitizer dispensers that will make it easier for your artists to keep their work spaces clean and sterile. Stock each work station with things like exam table paper, latex or nitrile gloves (nitrile may be best since so many people have latex allergies now), face masks, disposable aprons and arm covers, and other protective gear. If it's your shop's policy to have each tattoo artist pay for their own supplies, that's fine, but you should at least keep an eye on stock levels and make sure everyone is re-ordering safety gear before supplies run too low. Alternatively, you can order protective gear and other tattoo supplies in bulk yourself to save money and effectively manage inventory, and then let your artists pay for the supplies they use.
Your clean room should include an employees-only sink for cleaning tattoo tools, sufficient storage space for your clean room supplies, an ample supply of tattoo cleaners and disinfectants like Wavicide, Sklar Kleen for hand-washing instruments, Ink-Out, Madacide, and Microsan Rx Soap, an industrial ultrasonic cleaner, an autoclave, related cleaning tools like hard bristled brushes and sterilization pouches, a Sharps container, and plenty of protective gear like gloves and disposable aprons. This area should absolutely be off-limits to clients, so it's best to utilize a room with a door as your clean room and mark it with a bio-hazard or "Employees Only" sign.
For additional recommendations on the best tools to organize your shop, where to find product displays that will enhance the front of your studio, and other must-haves for tattoo artists and shop owners, check out our Accessories to Organize Your Shop article.
Managing Inventory, Client Info, Scheduling & More
Until a few short years ago, no one had bothered to develop a software program specifically for tattoo and piercing shop owners that would help them stay on top of client data, industry-unique inventory, artists' schedules, and other aspects of running a tattoo and piercing shop. The closest things you could find to shop management software packages were programs designed for salons and spas, which are fundamentally different from piercing and tattoo shops. A brilliant programmer with a penchant for tattoos noticed the problem and decided to design software that would cater to tattoo and piercing shops' unique needs. He started coding like crazy, and before long he'd developed what's now known as Rev23 Development Inc.'s Tattoo Management Studio.
Since it was released to the public in 2010, Tattoo Management Studio has been the shop management software for the tattoo industry. It's used by tattoo studios all over the world and has been recognized as the only major software package designed specifically for tattoo and piercing shops. Tattoo Management Studio will make it easier than you could ever imagine to effectively and profitably run your shop. Here are just a few of the program's many features that are tailored specifically to tattoo and piercing shops' needs:
Appointment Management - Not only can you monitor your artists' schedules with Tattoo Management Studio, you can also schedule appointments for them that will sync to their calendars, have the program's Virtual Receptionist send clients automated text message and email appointment reminders as well as notify artists of cancellations, allow your artists to manage their schedules from their mobile devices, track client deposits, and even get notifications about forfeited deposits owed to your artists.
Client & Service Tracking - You'll save countless trees and money you would have spent on paper with Tattoo Management Studio, because it will allow your clients to sign paperless release forms and receive aftercare instructions electronically. When a new client comes in, you can scan their driver's license and have all their basic info pre-populate into their client record, saving you time and the hassle of hand-entering data like their name and address. The system will also store a copy of the client's driver's license and any pre- or post-modification photos you take of them. If you add their email address and they sign up for your mailing list, you can use Constant Contact with Tattoo Management Studio to send them marketing emails, too. You can also keep track of the products clients buy for marketing purposes and which services each client receives to ensure that the artists who serve them earn appropriate commissions based on tattoo size, time or other factors you've preset in the system. As an added bonus, all of the client data you store in Tattoo Management Studio can be easily exported for health inspectors to review when necessary.
Point of Sale Capabilities - Tattoo Management Studio allows you to charge clients' credit cards, print receipts, sell gift cards, and more. It includes an advanced feature that allows you to setup quantity price breaks on select products and discounts that will be automatically applied when certain products and services are purchased together--for instance, when someone buys a tattoo aftercare product after getting a tattoo or chooses upgraded body jewelry for a new piercing. You can also special order jewelry and other products for your clients from Painful Pleasures or other vendors and keep track of the orders in Tattoo Management Studio.
Inventory Management - Maintain a list of all the products used in your shop right down to individual sizes and styles of body jewelry, tattoo ink and more. Keep track of stock levels so you know when you need to re-order and you'll never find yourself without a product that's critical to your business again. You can easily print out inventory reports when you want to do physical inventory checks, too.
Reporting - Stay on track and get valuable insight into how your business is performing with Tattoo Management Studio's charts, reports and key performance indicators. Get payout information whenever you need it, see what marketing is working and what isn't, view customer demographics, and more. You can even run scenarios to show your artists how much more or less they'd make if they charged hourly vs. by tattoo size. Tattoo Management Studio will teach you more about your business--and how to make it even better--than you can possibly imagine!
Multi-Studio Support - If you own more than one shop, Tattoo Management Studio will connect your businesses and allow you to access data from a single database no matter where you are. You can share customer information, gift card balances and more between shops. If a client wants a product you're out of in one store, you can quickly check to see if you have it at another location. (One license required per studio.)
Other Features - Use Tattoo Management Studio to have hourly employees clock in and out, print bar codes, track referral sources, and more. Most importantly, this software package offers an unparalleled level of security. Each user has their own password-protected account and limited accessibility to the system based on the role you set for them. Artists can't see each other's services and commission structures, and front desk staff can't tinker with inventory numbers or prices, but managers can control everything. Anytime someone makes a change, like a product price adjustment, the change is recorded with a date and time stamp, the previous and new values, and the name of the user who made the change, making everyone who uses the system accountable for their actions.
Tattoo Management Studio runs best on PCs utilizing Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1. Ideally, the computer it runs on should have a 1.8+ GHz processor and a minimum of 2 GB of RAM. An internet connection is required to utilize the program's email and text messaging functionality, credit card processing, and integrations like Google Calendar and Constant Contact.
If you're interested in learning more about Tattoo Management Studio and the compatible hardware we offer, like credit card readers and cash drawers triggered to open only by cash transactions processed through Tattoo Management Studio, visit our Studio Software & Hardware section. You'll find even more detailed information on Rev23.com, including features, pricing, testimonials, how to try out Tattoo Management Studio for free, and more.
Marketing Your Tattoo Shop
When you own the only tattoo shop in town, you may not need to do much marketing. However, as tattoos and piercings continue to grow in popularity, competition is growing, too. How can you make your shop stand out among the competition? Employing talented, well-known tattoo artists is a good start, but there's a lot more to it than that. Here are a few marketing tips from our own marketing guru that are sure to help you grow your client base:
1. Build Your Online Presence
Google is no longer just a company; it's a verb! People "Google" everything, from movie info to restaurants to tattoo and piercing shops and beyond. If your business doesn't have an online presence, you're selling yourself short, because you likely won't be coming up in search results for tattoo and piercing shops in your area. If you want to be seen online, build a website for your shop that includes the company history, artist portfolios, pricing information, aftercare tips, a virtual tour of your shop, and anything else you think might be relevant to prospective clients. Pictures are great, but words matter to search engines, too, so use rich descriptions wherever you can on your site. If you're looking for formatting ideas, check out Painful Pleasures' tattoo shop websites, BodyModInk.com and TheStudio.PainfulPleasures.com.
You should also delve into social media and create Facebook, Google+ and Yelp accounts for your shop, at minimum. If you're loathe to go as far as setting up Twitter and Pinterest accounts, at least create an Instagram account where your artists can show off their latest work by clicking quick pics with their cell phones. You should also encourage your artists to setup their own mini portfolios in our free online photo gallery, or make an account for the shop and regularly share photos of your clients' new mods in a place where they have the potential to be seen by thousands of people every day.
Encourage your happy clients to post reviews of your shop on Google+ and Yelp. You can even offer motivation like a monthly drawing for a gift card to your shop or a special coupon for each reviewer who sends you a link to the review they wrote about you online.
Finally, consider setting up a paid search account that will put your business at the top of Google search results. Google offers a lot of help that allows business owners to create and manage their own pay per click (PPC) ad campaigns, but you can also enlist the help of a paid search specialist if desired. The key to making paid search profitable for your business is to bid on "long tail keywords"--i.e. very specific phrases like "tattoo shop in Washington DC" or "tattoo shops that specialize in watercolor tattoos" rather than just "tattoos" or "tattoo shops". You should also limit your campaigns to the geographical region surrounding your business, so you don't waste money on clicks by people who may not even live in your time zone let alone your state.
2. Make Eye-Catching Marketing Materials
Did you know that Painful Pleasures has a Print & Design Center where you can create stunning marketing materials for your business featuring artwork by your own artists? We can create custom business cards for you in unique shapes, A-frame signs that you can set outside your shop to get the attention of people passing by, banners and banner stands to draw people to your booth at conventions and community events, brochures, flyers, postcards, magnets, and more that you can use for mailers and/or hand out at events, and customized products you can sell in your shop, like canvas prints of your artists' work, laser-engraved belt buckles, photo plugs, and so much more. We can even design marketing materials for you! Whichever custom print and design options you choose, they're sure to make people take notice of your shop and provide you with a healthy return on the investment you make in quality marketing materials.
3. Harness the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing
In the body mod industry, nothing is more valuable than a positive recommendation from a past client. Encouraging your clients to post reviews about your shop online is one way to generate good word-of-mouth marketing, but it isn't the only way. You can (and definitely should) include client testimonials on your website and Facebook page. Periodically offer bring-a-friend promos where you charge a reduced rate for a service when 2+ new clients come in together to get modified. Consider starting a refer-a-friend program and rewarding your clients for sending you new business, too. Offer discounts, gifts, exclusive deals, or other incentives to anyone who sends you a new client. You can even use the back side of your business cards to promote your refer-a-friend program and include a "Referred by" line where the referrer can write their name and phone number before handing the card to a friend. Add a discount for the referred friend, too, and you're sure to see those referral cards make their way back to your shop.
4. Get Involved in Your Community
What you do comes back to you, and companies that support the communities they serve are usually rewarded with new business. Do a food drive for a local food pantry or other charity. Volunteer at community events with your staff... while decked out in t-shirts featuring your business name, of course! Collect gifts for Toys for Tots during the Christmas season. You can also support various non-profit organizations by taking out ads in their activity programs or by sponsoring events. The ways you can support charitable organizations are practically endless!
If your city has a "Taste of [City Name]" day, rent a booth at the event. Even if you can't do mods on site, you can hand out marketing materials, sell aftercare products, body jewelry and artwork by your tattoo artists, and do a raffle for a free mod or gift card to your shop. Ideally, you should try to get people to sign up for your mailing list to enter the raffle, but usually drawings have to be accessible to anyone, which would include those who don't want their names added to a mailing list. Still, you'll find that most people will willingly give up their email address at the prospect of winning something cool, even if they don't have to.
There are many, many ways to market your tattoo shop beyond the handful of ideas listed above. Think about the types of advertising you tend to respond to best, and decide whether those forms of advertising might work for your own business. Be creative! If you run a sterile shop with friendly staff, manage it well by utilizing tools like Tattoo Management Studio, employ talented artists, and market your business in a variety of ways, your tattoo and piercing shop is destined to succeed.