Opening a Tattoo Shop?
15 Mandatory Moves for Artists and Owners by Amanda PeukertMay 10, 2022
Here are our tried & true methods to get your tattoo business up, running, and raking in cash.
Be familiar with the industry
Though all 15 components on this list are integral to opening a tattoo shop, familiarity with the industry is primary.
For professionally-trained tattoo artists looking to open their own shop, industry knowledge is somewhat inherent.
However, be careful not to rest on your laurels as there’s always more to be learned, researched, and improved upon.
What’s more, it would be wise to acquire a firm grasp on your craft before delving into opening your own shop as the quality of your work will likely dictate the success of your business.
Linework also suggests enrolling in business courses to become better versed in the facets of proprietorship that aren’t naturally acquired as a gig worker/tattoo artist.
For potential non-practicing shop owners, consider partnering with an experienced tattoo artist and/or immersing yourself in the tattoo community to better understand its specific nuances and needs; possessing an abundance of industry knowledge is paramount when seeking to establish legitimacy.
Have a business plan
Contrary to popular belief, a business plan isn’t just a well-thought-out idea.
In fact, a successful business plan is a relatively thorough document that is sometimes required in order to secure financing when opening a tattoo shop.
Clean, concise templates and step-by-step instructions can be easily found online, as well as resources pertaining to what to include in your business plan.
In short, a successful business plan generally includes a strong mission statement, details about your services, impressive plans for growth, and information about necessary finances.
Though a tattoo shop’s success is typically tried & true because of the popularity of the tattoo industry, it’s important not to let this affect the effort that goes into your specific plan.
Approach your tattoo business plan with confidence while remembering to remain comprehensive.
Find a location
Location scouting is exceptionally important when opening a shop as the location will undoubtedly dictate the success.
Just because an available venue is attractive or seems to be in a bustling area doesn’t always mean it will bring in customers or invite business.
In fact, the venue is likely vacant for a good reason.
That’s why it’s important to research the location’s previous undertakings and ask pertinent questions:
Is the location available because the previous business went under?
Is it available because the previous business upsized/downsized?
What are the local regulations?
It’s also wise to observe the foot traffic and demographics in the surrounding area, as well as how difficult or effortless the destination can be accessed from the street, whether in a car or on foot.
Some of these questions can be easily answered by talking to local business owners.
Obtaining this data and allowing it to direct your decision-making will ensure you don’t end up with a dud.
Select a name
Though this might be one of the more creative and thus exciting aspects of the process of opening a tattoo shop, it can definitely be more challenging than you’ve anticipated.
In the last decade, tattoo shops have seemingly multiplied exponentially.
This means the available shop names have decreased, and landing on an original yet meaningful name can be a tricky task.
Linework suggests keeping it simple, whether that be a location-specific name (i.e. the city, neighborhood, or region where your shop resides), alliterative or assonant names (e.g. Saints & Sinners Tattoo; Mad Rabbit Tattoo), or names involving personal details like your last name or nickname.
To avoid disappointment and potential legal issues, take thorough measures to ensure the name you select hasn’t already been snagged.
Opening a tattoo shop is much like opening any other type of business because you’ll likely need to acquire a loan, find investors, and/or contribute a substantial personal investment to get started (some of which can be raised through self-funding and/or partnerships).
It’s also important to consider the ongoing costs associated with tattooing and accrue savings as you won’t be making a profit for a hot minute.
Fortunately, however, the cost to open a tattoo shop is comparatively lower than your typical business, especially if you’re already a tattoo artist with supplies, equipment, and industry connections.
In addition to having a solid business plan, it’s important to build your credit before applying for a loan.
For this reason, financing should not be a last-minute endeavor or an afterthought.
In fact, preparing to apply for financing and/or accumulating funds to open your shop should start long before you draft your business plan; securing the financial aspect of your business goal will allow the additional steps to flow more easily.
Make it legal
Ensuring that your business is legally organized to operate is exceptionally important in the process of opening a shop.
There are four business structures to keep in mind: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC) – and, like most things, each of these structures possesses a unique set of pros and cons.
For example, the corporation option typically involves an immense amount of administration and can be more expensive than the other options.
Conversely, the sole proprietorship option is usually the least costly but leaves room for high risk and liability.
Be sure to thoroughly research the details of the four primary business structures to properly identify which one suits your current situation and best benefits the future of your tattoo shop.
Depending on where you open your tattoo shop, certain licenses may be required in order to legally open a tattoo shop.
However, finding and following these legal protocols can be quite confusing as the information varies geographically.
In America, for instance, tattoo shop regulations and requirements differ from state to state.
For example, in Michigan, the Department of Health and Human Services must issue a license to a compliant facility; in Delaware, artists are not required to be licensed at all; and in Connecticut, artists must complete 2,000 hours of training under the supervision of a tattoo technician before they can legally tattoo.
For this reason, it’s important to thoroughly investigate your location’s requirements so you can be and stay compliant.
Taking care of these covert yet complex necessities will not only make your life easier, it will also allow your tattoo shop to operate as smoothly as possible.
Like licenses, permits are extremely important to the opening of a successful and compliant tattoo shop. And also like licenses, required permits tend to vary from place to place.
One of the most common permits necessary to open a tattoo shop involves the completion of an OSHA-approved Bloodborne Pathogens course by every employee.
Another common permit required for tattoo shops is a public health permit and a Body Art Practitioner Annual Registration Application.
Again, identifying which specific permits you’ll need depends upon the location of your business, and this information should be thoroughly researched before opening your tattoo shop.
Obtaining business insurance is important for a number of reasons, especially when opening a shop as you’ll be dealing with body modification (i.e body piercing, implants, and scarification), a large rotation of clients, expensive equipment, and the well-being of several employees.
For this reason, it’s wise for shop owners to consider the types of business insurance available, such as general liability insurance, worker’s comp insurance, and commercial property insurance to protect their professional and personal assets.
Each of these policies can absolve you of different liabilities, like legal fees and medical bills should a customer or employee incur injuries within the shop or on the job, respectively, or property damages should your building flood or catch fire.
While insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense, it’s a reliable catchall if any unpredictable, unexpected, or absolutely unfortunate events take place. Better safe than sorry.
Furnish your shop
Though this can be an expensive endeavor, furnishing your newly-opened tattoo shop is where the fun starts.
The aesthetic of your new tattoo shop is quite important as it will dictate the energy within the shop and, subsequently, the frequency at which customers come in.
If you’re a tattoo artist and/or collector, you’re very familiar with the ceaseless sonic buzz within a tattoo shop and the way the flash, furniture, and fumes blend together to create an alluring ambiance; it’s part medical, part magical.
Before you begin shopping, consider the color scheme, theme, and/or energy you want to perpetuate.
Are you interested in the old-school shop aesthetic, flush with antique flash and hand-painted signs? Or are you seeking a more modern, surgical aesthetic with sparse, white walls and all-chrome equipment? Do you love the look of organized clutter with collectors’ items everywhere? Or would you rather have warm walls and ambient music mixing with the buzz of machines?
Have fun with this part of the process and remember to make it a place you want to be.
Staffing up may seem like an easy undertaking, but it can be trickier than anticipated with the number of artists already employed at other shops or running their own studios.
For this reason, it’s important to begin scouting in the primary stages of the process, recruiting artists whose work you admire, who are looking for a fresh start, and who would like to contribute to the overall success of your new tattoo shop.
In addition to deciding on the aesthetic of your tattoo shop (see above), you should also decide if your shop will offer an array of artistic styles or be predominantly black & gray, color, traditional, Japanese, etc.
Deciphering your shop’s dominant genre will allow for cleaner marketing, especially when it comes to advertising on social media.
Define your brand
Once your tattoo shop is furnished and staffed, you’ll need to publicly define your brand. This requires the creation of merchandise, business cards, stickers, and any other vehicle that will stealthily and stylishly promote your product.
Ironically, a tattoo shop is no longer a place to just get tattooed – they are also cultural symbols. With that said, shops and their retail have become fashionable and aesthetically significant, and it’s important to use this to your shop’s advantage.
The more defined and distinct your brand, the better.
Market your brand
Your ability to successfully market your brand can make or break your business.
For this reason, it’s important to be and stay social media savvy throughout all of your social media platforms. Posting frequent photos of fresh tattoos, offering behind-the-scenes content, and even showing the step-by-step process of your shop’s completion are excellent ways to remain relevant, market your brand, and inspire excitement around your shop.
What’s more, tagging artists, suppliers, and other brands can reap sponsorships and create intra/inter-industry connections.
Track your finances
Setting up an accounting system is of the utmost importance once your shop is open. In order to boost cash flow to your business, you have to stay on top of taxes, ensure artist and shop rent is paid on time, and streamline & track clients’ payments.
Keeping a close eye on the shop’s finances will also allow you to track trends and implement adjustments based on financial patterns.
We cannot stress this enough: Carefully maintaining your shop’s administrative duties will maximize your business’ success.
Invest in tattoo studio software
Now that your shop is operating efficiently and your artists are keeping a steady client base, you’ll be busier than ever before.
From maintaining multiple calendars to keeping track of customers, the minute details of running your own shop can quickly turn from molehill to mountain.
That’s why we recommend investing in an excellent tattoo studio software, one made specifically for the industry.
Linework is committed solely to the tattoo community and consolidates your administrative duties so you can stay highly organized and on top of your finances.
With Linework, almost every clerical task can be taken care of right from your phone or laptop without confusion or the need for multiple apps.
Bonus Advice: According to Memphis Cadeau, co-owner of the largest studio in Canada, you should never have an exit strategy.
In fact, he says of his own shop:
"We never had a 'Well, if this doesn’t work, we can just walk away' plan. We have always had a backup plan for our backup plan, which backs up our other three backup plans. It’s like if we do something and it doesn’t work, we can do this, this, this, or even this. We always think everything through and refuse to give up without a fight, but it’s also important to know WHEN to fight for something versus when to let something go."
Q. What are the best cities to open a shop in?
A. These ten cities have the most tattoo shops per capita:
- Miami Beach, FL
- Las Vegas, NV
- Richmond, VA
- Flint, MI
- Portland, OR
- Austin, TX
- San Francisco, CA
- Honolulu, HI
- Kansas City, MO
- Los Angeles, CA
Q. What are some of the struggles of opening a shop?
A. There are many, and some of them involve the company you keep.
Because of the industry's popularity, some artists have enlarged egos.
Dealing with bad attitudes amongst your staff can cause stress and ultimately become bad for business.
We recommend ridding your shop of any negativity, no matter how talented the artists are.
There will also be slow months in your business wherein customers just don't seem to be coming in. You'll have to make up for this through savings, promotions, and marketing. Don't expect business to always be booming.
Q. How much money does a shop typically bring in annually?
A. That will vary depending on a number of factors, but tattoo shops typically have low start-up costs and are relatively lucrative.
For that reason, with a lot of hard work, you should expect to cut a decent profit after only a couple of years.