If you're a new business owner or are thinking about opening a studio, it's important to know what's involved in successfully managing a tattoo shop. What elements, tools, tips, and tricks will help you stand heads and shoulders above your competition? What do you need to know to protect your clients physically and yourself and your staff legally? In the paragraphs below, we touch on all the basics from shop safety to managing day-to-day operations to marketing your business and beyond. Even if you're the owner of an established tattoo shop, you're sure to learn something new.
Starting a tattoo shop is no small order. You'll need to find a location where people can easily find you and that offers sufficient space to accommodate the number of tattoo artists you plan to employ, but that also has a reasonable lease that's in your budget. You'll have to obtain all the business licenses your state requires, and the tattoo artists you employ may need to get tattoo licenses, too. Unless you plan to run your business solo, you'll need to hire staff, including someone to man the front desk and phones, tattoo artists, possibly a piercer, and anyone else you think would be an asset to your new business. Each staff member should undergo some degree of OSHA training appropriate for their position, and your tattoo artists should all be thoroughly familiar with OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. Your clerk will need to familiarize him or herself with your state's laws regarding modifying minors to ensure that no one underage slips by them without parental consent. You may also want to retain a lawyer to consult with you on things like developing a custom tattoo release waiver for your shop. (See our sample tattoo waiver here.)
You'll also have to setup your shop, stocking the front with merchandise, comfortable seating, flash art, and maybe some form of entertainment, and stocking the back with all the tattoo, medical and cleaning supplies you'll need to run your business on a daily basis. You may decide that it's your shop's policy for tattoo artists to purchase their own core tattoo supplies, but you'll need to provide safety gear, cleaners, sterilization equipment, and other basics.
Your First Shop Supply Order
Assuming your tattoo artists will be purchasing their own tattoo tubes, tattoo needles, tattoo ink, and other core tattoo supplies, your first supply order should include everything else your shop needs for daily operations, plus a few extras to spruce up the front of your shop and get the back organized. Consider adding the following items to your first order to make sure your tattoo shop is ready for opening day:
Art Driven Television Brought to You by Sullen TV & Painful Pleasures: Sullen's Art Driven TV will make a great addition to the front of your shop. It serves as both an advertising vehicle and entertainment for your clients. Have it personalized with your artists' portfolios and profiles, and your custom content will be supplemented with engaging industry footage. Alternatively, you can purchase Sullen TV videos like Tattoo Timelapse Volume I and Under the Skin to play in your shop and entertain your waiting clients.
Tattoo Flash Art: TatSoul offers 3 styles of tattoo flash rack you can customize with your own collection of flash art. Choose from a wall-mount flash rack, a single-tier freestanding flash rack, and a double-tier freestanding flash rack. We also offer more than 130 different tattoo flash art books that you can display on tables in your waiting area.
Tattoo Aftercare Displays: Enhance the front of your shop and increase sales by displaying tattoo aftercare products out front. A number of the tattoo aftercare products we offer come in convenient display packs that can be set on a counter top or shelf with minimal merchandising required--brands like Richie Bulldog Hustle Butter Deluxe, Ink Fixx, Tattoo Goo, After Inked, SkinLock, and others.
Body Jewelry, Alternative Apparel & Other Merchandise: If you plan on employing a piercer at your tattoo shop, you should add piercing aftercare products and body jewelry to your front-of-shop merchandise displays. Even if you don't have an in-house piercer, body jewelry displays can help bolster your sales, as can alternative apparel by tattoo lifestyle brands like Sullen and InkAddict and novelties like temporary tattoos and henna kits. For unique upsells your clients will only be able to find at your shop, convert your tattooists' artwork into custom-engraved Limitless jewelry, like pendants and plugs, as well as canvas prints and posters. You can also give each of your artists a hand or foot from the A Pound of Flesh line to tattoo with unique designs, and then put them on display in your shop using our convenient hand and arm stands.
Tattoo Furniture: Outfit each tattoo workstation with a rolling tattoo stool on wheels and either a tattoo chair or tattoo table that will keep clients comfortable while your artists work. You may also want to have at least one tattoo arm rest available that your tattoo artists can use as needed, either to prop their own arms or to hold clients' limbs comfortably while they tattoo areas that would otherwise be hard to access. You should provide each artist with a floor lamp, table lamp or both, too, so they have sufficient illumination while they work. We also carry several tattoo workstation options, if you're interested in buying a superior alternative to a typical storage cabinet/counter for each artist's work space.
Art Equipment: Even the best tattoo artists occasionally need a little help from a professional light box when working up tattoo design ideas, so it's a good idea to order one for your shop. You may also want to get a tattoo thermal printer, thermal copier and hectograph tattoo transfer paper, at least a starter supply of stencil transfer products like Stencil Stuff, and a case of surgical skin markers. If you buy our Precision mini surgical skin markers, consider picking up one of our convenient wall-mounted dispensers for them, too.
An Autoclave & an Ultrasonic Cleaner: Ideally, every tattoo shop should have at least one autoclave and one industrial ultrasonic cleaner for cleaning and sterilizing tattoo and piercing equipment. If you can't afford either at first, let alone both, check out our Sterilization Alternatives for Small Shops article for tips on cleaning and sterilizing tools without an autoclave.
Tattoo Cleaners, Disinfectants & Biohazard Containers: To make sure that used tattoo needles and other sharps are disposed of properly immediately after use, you should get either one large Sharps container for a smaller, single-work-space shop or multiple smaller Sharps containers for shops with separate modification rooms. You'll also need an ample supply of appropriate cleaning products, like Sklar Kleen for hand-washing tattoo instruments, Wavicide for cold sterilizing tools, AutoClean Autoclave Cleaner, Madacide for cleaning counter tops and other work surfaces, and SaniWash or other hand soap for employees and clients to use as needed.
Tattoo Antiseptics, Ointments & Skin Cleansers: Proper pre-modification skin prep is an important part of the tattooing process that every one of your tattoo artists should engage in every time they're preparing to tattoo a client. You have choices when it comes to skin cleansers, but most tattoo artists opt for Green Soap. As for tattoo antiseptics, alcohol prep pads or alternatives containing alcohol, like Prevantics Swabs, are ideal. You may also want to keep a supply of antibiotic ointment, petroleum jelly and other such products on hand so they're available when needed.
Tattoo Covers & Protective Gear: Your tattoo artists may want to choose their own preferred brands, types and sizes of gloves, but it's always good to have extras on hand. Get a box or two of size large gloves that will fit most people, and choose nitrile over latex to avoid triggering latex allergies in employees and clients alike. You should also stock face masks (for use when artists are sick or will be in close proximity to a client's face while working), exam table paper, clip cord covers, bottle bags, machine bags, tattoo sleeves, dental bibs, disposable plastic aprons, drape cloths, grip sleeves, and blue barrier film. To keep protective gear handy and better organized, consider utilizing our acrylic holders, like our wall mount barrier film holder and our acrylic glove box dispenser.
Tattoo Power Supplies & Cords: Your tattoo artists should bring in their own tattoo power supplies and either RCA or clip cords, but it's a good idea to have a couple back-ups on hand in case something goes wrong with an artist's equipment. Rather than lose a day or more of work while waiting for replacement power supplies to arrive, your tattoo artist can temporarily use the house power supply and/or cords to keep up with their appointments while their new gear is in transit.
Tattoo Ink Cups, Holders & Tools: Although your tattoo artists will be responsible for their own gear on a day-to-day basis, you may want to keep some extra sterilized ink cups, empty ink bottles for custom-mixed colors, and Petrify absorbent polymer pouches on hand for those times someone runs short. To help your artists organize their workstations, you might also consider buying ink cup holders and tattoo ink bottle stands for each station.
Tattoo Bandage Supplies: Every client with a new tattoo will need to be bandaged up properly before leaving your shop. Even if you plan to have your artists order their own tattoo bandage supplies, you should still have some back-ups on hand. Tatu-Derm rolls are great back-up, because artists can cut off pieces from the roll to fit each new tattoo they ink and get numerous uses out of a single roll. Dri-Loc Pads, tape, gauze, and/or cohesive wrap are also good bandaging supplies to have on hand. Since gauze will serve a number of purposes, you may want to order extra.
Tattoo Studio Hardware & Software: Rev23 Development Inc.'s Tattoo Management Studio software is the only software currently available designed specifically for tattoo and piercing shops. It will make it easier than you can possibly imagine to run your shop efficiently, effectively and profitably. If you're wondering how one software program can achieve that, just take a look at some of the things Tattoo Management Studio can do for you:
- Appointment Management - This program has a virtual receptionist that you can easily setup to send text and email appointment reminders to clients and cancellation notifications to artists. It also has a built in calendar which you can integrate with your artists calendars to monitor and update your tattoo artists' schedules and give them easy access via their mobile devices, use the software to track deposits, and even get notifications when you need to pass forfeited deposits onto artists.
- Client & Service Tracking - Save time and money you'd otherwise spend on paper by scanning clients' drivers licenses to automatically pull name and address info into new client records, having clients e-sign release forms, and emailing them aftercare instructions. You can also keep track of the products and services each client buys, and if they sign up for your mailing list, you can use the Constant Contact integration to send them targeted marketing emails. The system will keep track of things like commissions based on presets you enter, and it can produce reports for health inspectors when needed.
- Point of Sale Capabilities - Use Tattoo Management Studio to sell gift cards, charge clients' credit cards, print receipts, set your cash drawer to only open for designated cash transactions, calculate quantity price breaks on particular products, place special orders for clients, and more.
- Inventory Management - Maintain detailed lists of the products used and sold in your shop, tracking specifics like ink bottle sizes, jewelry dimensions and styles, and so on. The system will alert you when you're running low on something that's critical to your business, and you can use the data stored in it to run physical inventory as often as you'd like.
- Reporting - Tattoo Management Studio's charts, reports and KPI's (key performance indicators) will keep you apprised of how your business is performing. You can pull payout info on the fly, review customer demographics, see what marketing vehicles are performing best for your shop, and more using the software's robust reporting features.
- Multi-Studio Support - If you decide to open a second tattoo shop down the road, you can buy another Tattoo Management Studio license and access one central database from either location. That way customer information can be shared between your shops, employees can see if out-of-stock products are available at your other location, and you can pull reports that show how both shops are performing individually and as a whole.
- More - In addition to the features detailed above, you can also use Tattoo Management Studio as a time clock, to track referrals, to print bar codes, and to ensure that each employee has exactly the access level you want them to have. Artists won't be able to see each others' commission structures, your scheduler won't be able to tinker with product prices or commissions, and only your manager will be able to control everything. It also introduces accountability, since each employee's actions will be flagged with a time and date stamp and details about what values they changed, with pre- and post-change values recorded.
You can learn more about Tattoo Management Studio's many benefits and its system requirements by visiting our Studio Software & Hardware section or Rev23.com. If you invest in Tattoo Management Studio software, you may also want to check out our hardware packages, which give you the ability to buy just the core pieces of hardware you need most. Choose from scanners, cash drawers that only open when cash transactions are recorded in Tattoo Management Studio, bar code readers, receipt printers, cameras, and more.
Setting up Your Tattoo Shop
Once all your supplies come in, it's time to start setting up your shop! Organize the front area by clustering comfortable seating near a TV and placing a coffee table and/or end tables nearby. Spread flash art books and magazines on the tables, and put a Sullen TV DVD or your customized Art Driven Television DVD in to play on the TV. If you've purchased wall-mount or free-standing flash racks, set them up nearby for clients to peruse while they wait. Consider adding shelves and/or cabinets to display upsells like tattoo aftercare products, body jewelry and alternative apparel, and setup a front desk with a computer, cash drawer, receipt printer, a stool for your clerk, a phone, and other hardware and/or office supplies. You should also display your business license(s) out front where all prospective clients can see them.
In the back, setup a work space for each of your tattoo artists and other body modification artists. Stock each work space with a tattoo workstation and/or counter with cabinets, a stool, a tattoo chair or table, a Sharps container, a wall-mounted acrylic glove box holder, a hands-free dispenser for soap or hand sanitizer, a regular trash can, a hazardous waste bin lined with red bio-hazard bags, and whatever organizational tools you'll be providing, like tattoo ink bottle stands. Prepare your clean room, preferably in a room separated from the rest of your shop by a door, and designate it as an "Employees Only" area. Your clean room should include a sink with plenty of counter space and storage cabinets around it, an autoclave and an industrial ultrasonic cleaner (ideally), readily-available gloves, aprons and other protective gear that employees can don when cleaning equipment, and plenty of appropriate cleaning supplies, as detailed above. Finally, you should setup one bathroom that's accessible to clients and employees, if not one for each. Consider equipping your bathroom(s) with hands-free soap dispensers, trash cans, plenty of toilet paper and paper towels, and regular bathroom cleaning supplies, like toilet bowl and mirror cleaners.
Designate one employee, such as your front desk clerk, to periodically check on the bathrooms during the day and ensure that they're clean and well-stocked. Go over proper hand hygiene, the importance of wearing gloves, and pre-/post-modification clean-up procedures with your artists before opening your doors, so they know exactly what's expected of them. You should also assign end-of-day clean-up tasks to your employees ahead of time, so everyone knows what they need to do to help you maintain your shop's appearance and keep it sanitary. (Check out our Shop Safety section for helpful articles about sterilization techniques, maintaining a sterile work environment, and more.)
Once your tattoo artists and any other modification artists you employ have had a chance to setup their workstations and you've prepped the front of the store, debriefed your staff, and made a final pass through the shop to confirm that everything's ship-shape, you'll be ready to open your doors!
Marketing Your Tattoo Shop
While you're getting ready to open your shop's doors to the public, you'll need to spend time marketing your business in addition to setting up shop. The five main areas you should focus on initially are planning and advertising a grand opening celebration, building your online presence, harnessing the power of referral marketing, utilizing eye-catching marketing materials in ongoing advertising efforts, and getting involved in your community.
Planning & Advertising a Grand Opening
A grand opening is a great way to draw curious community members into your shop with the lure of free food, deals and goody bags. If it makes opening less stressful for you, you can have a soft opening followed by a grand opening a few weeks to a month+ later, and promote the grand opening hard in the time in between. You might consider buying a local mailing list (contact USPS about their "Advertise With Mail" options) and sending out custom postcards, flyers or brochures that will market your grand opening event, detail your shop's services, and include a special offer for residents in your area. You can also have an A-frame sign or other display made to attract the attention of people walking and driving by your shop. Put an announcement about the grand opening in your local paper, on your website, and anywhere else you can find to mention it online. If you have the budget for radio ads, they're a great way to hype a grand opening, too. The key to successful radio advertising is frequency; your ads need to play as often as you can afford during the times the station(s) you partner with suggest for reaching your key demographic, which should include men and women ages 18-35+ for radio ads.
The day of the grand opening, pick up refreshments from a local bakery or grocery store; if you offer to advertise for them during your event, you may earn yourself a discount. Cheesy as it may sound, you should tie brightly-colored balloons to your signage out front and/or put weighted balloons by your front door. You want to attract people's attention in any way possible! Finalize your day-of decorations with a "Grand Opening" banner across the top of your front window--preferably one that mentions all the goodies in store for anyone who comes inside, like "Refreshments", "1/2 Off Tattoos", "BOGO Piercing Deals", etc. ("BOGO" means "buy one, get one", BTW.) If you really want to pull people in, you can also have someone walk around your shopping center and hand out grand opening flyers containing coupons and details about the day's festivities, which may include things like instructional demonstrations, Q&A sessions where people can ask you anything about tattooing, aftercare, etc., a raffle to win a free tattoo (don't forget to buy raffle tickets if you do this), a special appearance by a well-known guest artist, and goody bags filled with tattoo and piercing aftercare samples, business cards, magnets featuring your business info, and anything else you want to include. To get a jump start on your word-of-mouth marketing efforts, consider handing out referral cards to anyone who gets a tattoo, piercing or other body modification during the grand opening celebration.
Building Your Online Presence
Ideally, you should start building a website for your tattoo shop well before you ever open your doors. It can be a simple one- to five-page website initially, with a homepage, About Us page, a Services page, an Aftercare page, and a Contact Us page, for example. As you have time, build the site out further by adding online portfolios for your tattoo artists, links to your social media pages, and other content that will be beneficial to your site visitors. Pictures are great, but keep in mind that search engines value written content as much or more as graphic content, so you should include robust descriptions of each picture you post, detailed tattoo aftercare instructions, rich tattoo artist bios, and so on.
Once your website is live, setup a Facebook page, a Google+ account, a basic (free) Yelp account, and an Instagram profile for the shop. You can expand to Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and other social media sites later, as desired. Give your tattoo artists access to your Instagram account so they can share photos of the tattoos they ink as they finish them. You might also consider having each artist setup a free mini portfolio in our online photo gallery, where thousands of people could potentially see their work daily. You can link each tattoo artist's bio on your website to their Painful Pleasures portfolio to allow prospective clients to see their work without taxing your servers with hundreds or thousands of images.
Encourage your happiest patrons to submit reviews about your shop through Google+ and Yelp. You can do a monthly drawing and award a prize to one randomly-selected reviewer and/or send a special offer to everyone who reviews your tattoo shop. When you receive exceptional testimonials, add them to your website, too. You can also use client testimonials in marketing materials, but only use one robust review or 2-3 brief reviews on printed advertising materials so you don't overload readers. The most important thing is to get good reviews online where people will see them most, on sites like Google+, Yelp and your own website.
If you want to make sure people find your website online and it isn't ranking well for local tattoo shop searches like "tattoo shop in Silver Spring, MD", you might also consider investing in a paid search marketing campaign. Paid search, also known as pay per click (PPC) advertising, is available through Google, Yahoo, MSN, and other search engines, but with nearly 70% market share, Google is absolutely the place to be and be seen online. Google makes paid search easy even for newbies; just go to adwords.google.com, sign up for an account, and read through their online tutorials to learn how to setup a campaign. The keys to success are ads containing a call to action, like "Call Us Today at ###-####", and bidding on long-tail keywords that will draw in people who are looking for very specific phrases related to your business. For instance, bidding on "tattoos Maryland" would be costly and get you very few new customers, whereas bidding on phrases like "tattoo shops in Aspen Hill, MD" or "top tattoo artists in Silver Spring Maryland" will be more likely to drive qualified traffic to your website. You can also restrict your ad campaigns so they only display in the geographical areas you want them to appear within, meaning that people outside of your state, county or city will not see your ads and waste your precious advertising dollars by clicking on them when they have no plans of flying to see you anytime soon. If all of this is too overwhelming for you even after you've had some time to review Google's paid search tips (which is nothing to be ashamed of; it can confuse even pro marketers!), consider hiring a paid search specialist to help you navigate the PPC advertising waters.
Harness the Power of Referral Marketing
Positive referrals are most tattoo artists' bread and butter. Employing talented tattoo artists is an important first step to getting positive referrals to your shop, but there's a little more work involved for those relying on word-of-mouth marketing to drive traffic in the door. You have to encourage happy clients to post positive reviews online, as mentioned above, and ask the best reviewers for permission to post their testimonials on your website and in printed advertising materials. You should also consider starting a refer-a-friend program, where you give coupon cards with a "referred by" line on the back to each patron who leaves your shop. Be sure to let them know what's in it for them whenever you get one of those referral cards back from a new client. Maybe it's a free aftercare product, a discount on a future service or something else altogether. Be creative, and follow up on your promise. If you offer both referred and returning clients something in the bargain, you'll see a lot more of those referral cards return to your shop along with new business. (Tip: Turn our business cards into referral cards to keep program costs manageable; you don't need flashy ads for this type of marketing.)
Make & Distribute Eye-Catching Marketing Materials
Our Print & Design Center gives tattoo shops like yours loads of affordable advertising options. We've already talked about the mailers, flyers, referral cards, banners, A-frame signs, and custom canvas prints and posters you can get through our Print & Design Center, so what else is there? Loads! We can make stickers and magnets for you to hand out to people when talking about your business, stationary and envelopes featuring your business logo and information, colorful brochures that will sell your artists' work with vivid imagery, acrylic frames that you can use to feature a deal of the week or month on your front counter, attention-grabbing back-lit signs you can mount outside or inside of your shop, banner stands and custom tablecloths to draw attention to your convention booths, decals you and your employees can put in your car windows and give to friends, family and returning customers to promote your business, engraved jewelry displays for your shop, and much, much more. You can utilize your tattoo artists' artwork and your own verbiage, or contact us to create custom designs for you. Your advertising options are practically limitless when you take advantage of our Print & Design Center resources!
Get Involved in Your Community
Community businesses like yours need the support of the communities they serve to thrive. Believe it or not, your community needs you, too. If you partner with non-profit organizations in your area, you'll find the rewards to be, well, rewarding. The more you do, the more your community members will hear about you and think about your business in a positive light. To make that happen, you have to get involved!
Getting involved takes many shapes and forms. It may be as simple as advertising in local non-profits' event programs or as complicated as coordinating a fundraiser of your own to benefit a local charity. You can sponsor non-profit events in your area with a donation and/or physical support (e.g. recruiting your staff to provide a local charity event with the manpower they need to pull it off). You can do a food drive or collect toys and clothes for underprivileged youth in your area. You can rally your staff to man a soup kitchen or to make brown bagged lunches for the homeless. You can volunteer as a tutor at your local community college. The possibilities are almost endless!
More Information for Tattoo Shop Owners
This is just a basic guide to managing your tattoo shop. There's so much more you need to consider and do when getting started, managing your business on an ongoing basis, and marketing your company. You might want to invest in a business book or two to get supplemental information in the areas where you feel you need the most help, but you can also turn to our site for a lot of additional information. For instance, our Helpful Tips & Software for Managing Your Tattoo Shop blog post contains some supplemental information to what you've read here. The Shop Safety, Tattoo Information and Piercing Information sections of our free Help Center also contain a wealth of information that tattoo and piercing shop owners are sure to find useful during day-to-day operations. Your success is our success, which is why we're here to help you understand our products and services better and get the most you can out of our website. Contact us any time with specific questions or suggestions for future educational articles; we're listening!