While some businesses may come and go with tastes an fashions, the tattoo industry has proved utterly resilient for centuries. At the same time with celebrity tattoo artists hosting their own reality shows and the mainstreaming of the industry, if anything the tattooing is seeing a new rejuvenation as well.
Today, there are around 21,000 active tattoo parlous operating across the United States. Researchers estimate one new artist sets up shop every day, and the American tattoo industry as a whole rakes in around $2.3 billion worth of revenue each year.
Bearing in mind that consumer demand has been relatively steady for the past couple millennia, it’s not difficult to see why budding artists or entrepreneurs continue to show interest in starting their own tattoo businesses. But setting up a tattoo parlor isn’t just about obtaining funding and exhibiting a little creativity. There are a few things you’ll need to do first.
Here is a quick how-to guide in order to help you get started.
How to Start Your Own Tattoo Business
Unfortunately, being good at drawing does not make you a tattoo artist. In most states, you’ll need to obtain a license before you’re allowed to carry out tattooing or body piercings — and before you’re allowed a license, you’ll first be expected to gain a bit of experience.
The Alliance of Professional Tattooists recommends aspiring artists undergo an apprenticeship of at least three years before going it alone and setting up shop. During these apprenticeships, you’ll generally be working under the direct supervision of a licensed artist designing tattoos, operating machines and sterilizing equipment. Some apprenticeships are paid, but many more are not.
In some states, the requirement to undergo an apprenticeship isn’t just a recommendation. For example, in order to comply with the Body Art Procedures Act and open up a tattoo shop in New Jersey, you must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of training. In states like Oregon, you’ve only got to complete a minimum of 360 hours of training under an approved artist — as well as produce 50 tattoos.
Most states will expect you to pass a written test, as well as hold a current Bloodborne Pathogens certificate in order to become a licensed artist. The same sort of procedures will generally apply to obtaining a license for a tattoo business as opposed to obtaining an individual artist license – but rules vary state by state. You’ll have to do your research.
Get the Right Equipment
In order to set up your own tattoo business, you’ll need to cover a few basic start-up costs. Estimates range from around $25,000, but that depends entirely upon the type of business you’re starting and a wide array of variables. Either way, there are quite a few basic pieces of equipment that you’ll definitely need to get started.
First and foremost, you’ll need reliable tattoo machines and various needles. Quality machines start from around $400, while sanitized, disposable needles will be an ongoing overhead cost. Likewise, you’ll need a steady supply of tubes and ink to feed the machines. You’ll also need a load of other basic equipment like shaving supplies for customers, stencils for designs and plenty of sanitary items. Scanners, decent computer software and printers will probably be necessary if you plan on allowing customers to have a say in designing custom art.
You’ll also need to purchase special furniture. Most states have strict rules about the type of furniture used in tattoo areas, and if you do not conform to those standards you could get shut down. Purpose-built beds and chairs tend to start from around $500 each.
Choose the Right Location
Selecting the perfect location to set up shop is difficult for any business — but if you’re opening a tattoo business, you’ll face a few legal hurdles, too.
Quite a few municipal authorities have land use and zoning ordinances that limit where tattoo establishments can be located within a town or city. A lot of those rules end up tossing a high concentration of businesses into a relatively small area of town, which can make competition a real problem. That being said, you may be able to skate past such regulations and open up in a different part of town by paying to obtain various municipal variances and approvals.
Again, you’ll need to check with your local and state authorities before falling in love with any particular location. If your preferred site does clash with current laws, it’s worth seeking professional legal advice to see if you can mitigate existing legislation.
Outside of the dull, regulatory mumbo-jumbo, there are other big factors to consider when choosing a location for your tattoo shop. You’ll want a high traffic area, ideally near night life. You should also keep in mind that your ideal location might need logistical alterations for tattoo work — like adding partitions, sinks or new electrical outlets. If you’re purchasing space, that won’t be a problem, but if you’re renting you will need to obtain written permission from the property owner.
Think About Marketing
Once you’ve gotten yourself certified and permitted and set up your new shop, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to market your business. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful within the tattoo industry — but you’re also going to need a decent web presence.
First and foremost, you’ll need to create a website with a simple and memorable URL. Clearly list your business services, location and key information. But more important still, exhibit your work. Instead of choosing a fancy eCommerce web template, take on a site driven by prominent artwork and aesthetics. It’s also worth maintaining a company blog on your site outlining big or interesting art concepts.
But your single biggest marketing weapon will be social media. Image-based sites like Instagram are a great way to show off your artwork, and Facebook has got a built-in review platform that could help you to generate consumer confidence relatively quickly to earn more work. Be sure to respond to all reviews and engage with any questions or comments that may arise on different platforms.
That being said, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon some more basic concepts of traditional marketing just yet. Printed fliers and business cards still resonate well within the tattoo industry. Don’t be afraid to look at potential advertising opportunities in local media where appropriate, and dare to be different.
Remember: if you aren’t standing out, it will be very difficult to succeed.
Tattoo Photo via Shutterstock
More in: How to Start