If you’re working as a tattoo artist in a studio, chances are you enjoy putting your creativity to work and helping customers to bring their ideal tattoos to life. But if you’re ambitious and have an entrepreneurial drive, the next natural step is to start thinking about starting your own tattoo studio. When you own a studio, you’ll have control over its creative direction and even hire other tattoo artists and support their careers. Before you start planning out your studio, make sure that you understand everything that will go into your new business venture.
At tattoo studios, professional tattoo artists both design and apply permanent tattoos at customers’ requests. Some customers come in with a hand-drawn design or sketch, which a tattoo artist can then redraw and develop into a template. In other cases, customers can select from a portfolio of existing designs. Depending on the complexity of a design, a customer may come in for one session, or the tattoo may be completed over the course of multiple sessions.
Many studios offer complementary services, too, expanding their potential income. Tattoo removal services and tattoo cover-ups are a natural fit for any tattoo studio. Branching out into body piercings and permanent cosmetics is another option.
The tattoo industry has experienced significant growth over the last several years. According to IBISWorld, the tattoo industry experienced a 2.4% annual growth, reaching $1.6 billion in annual sales. As of 2023, the number of tattoo studios is 26,418, and employ 38,183 people.
This growth was driven by the growing popularity of body art. As the stigma over tattoos has been reduced, demand for them has increased, with nearly 30% of the population having tattoos. Tattoos are highly popular among millennials, with nearly 50% of millennials having tattoos. This has resulted not only in increased business for tattoo studios but a wider customer base, as well.
The tattoo industry is constantly evolving, and tattoo studios need to keep up with changing demands to appeal to customers. Some of the latest trends in the tattoo industry include surrealism, anime culture, micro realism, portraiture, and black and white tattoos Watercolor tattoos will go out of style, but they’ll be replaced by tattoos that make bold use of color. This trend of big, bold colors is also likely to merge with traditional tattoo styles, essentially reinventing traditional tattoos.
The demand for 3D patterns is also growing significantly among men and women alike.
Careful planning is also becoming more popular. People are making the decision to go big with their tattoos, rather than getting many small pieces, and they’re planning out the work in great detail. Some customers are having large projects completed with one tattoo artist, while others take the route of having multiple smaller projects completed by artists with complementary styles. There’s more thought going into the art and effect of tattoos today.
Tattoo studios market to adult audiences who enjoy tattoos (and sometimes body piercings). An ideal target market has the disposable income to invest in tattoos, and tattoo enthusiasts who could become repeat customers are particularly valuable for tattoo studios. Price is often not a factor; however, the shop’s reputation for quality work is. Because millennials are so enthusiastic about tattoos, they make up a large portion of a studio’s target market.
Checklist To Start A Tattoo Shop
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If you’re thinking about starting your own tattoo studio, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Here is a checklist of the essentials to get started.
Step 1: Research market demand
Researching whether there’s a sufficient customer base for a new tattoo shop involves several steps. Here are some strategies you could use:
Demographics Analysis: Start by identifying the demographics of people in your area who are likely to be interested in tattoos. People of all ages get tattoos, but it’s more prevalent among certain age groups (generally 18-40). Knowing your target demographic’s age, income, lifestyle, and interests will help you determine the size and characteristics of your potential market.
Online Surveys and Social Media Analysis: You could use online surveys or social media analysis to gauge interest in your potential tattoo shop. For instance, you could create a survey asking about interest in tattoos, preferred styles, and willingness to try a new shop, and distribute it through platforms like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms.
Competitive Analysis: Look at existing tattoo shops in your proposed location. How many are there? How busy are they? What do reviews say? If there are many shops with good reviews and regular customers, there’s likely demand. However, be aware that high competition can also mean that the market is saturated.
Tattoo Industry Trends: Understanding current industry trends can also be helpful. You might look at tattoo publications or online forums, or use a tool like Google Trends to see if interest in tattoos is increasing or decreasing overall, and what styles or designs are popular.
Local Economic Data: You can also look at local economic data at sources like Census.gov. This might include things like average income (to see if people can afford your services), population growth (which could indicate an increasing customer base), and the unemployment rate (since people are less likely to spend on non-essential items like tattoos if they’re unemployed).
Events and Community Involvement: Participating in local events or online communities can also give you a sense of whether there’s a market for a new tattoo shop. This might involve attending tattoo conventions, art shows, or other relevant events, or becoming active in online communities related to tattooing.
Test the Waters: If you’re a tattoo artist yourself, you might consider starting by doing private sessions or pop-ups to gauge interest and build a client base before investing in a full shop.
Remember, this is not an exact science, and it may take some time to gather and analyze all the information you need. However, doing this kind of research upfront can save you a lot of time, money, and stress in the long run.
Step 2: Develop a business plan
Writing a business plan is essential for any business, including a tattoo shop, because it helps you outline your business idea, objectives, strategies, and financial projections. It’s particularly crucial for securing loans or investment, but even if you’re self-funding, a business plan is a useful tool to guide your business’s growth and measure your progress.
Specifically for a tattoo shop, the following sections might be particularly crucial:
Executive Summary: While this is a standard section for any business plan, it’s your opportunity to explain what sets your tattoo shop apart. What unique styles or services will you offer? How will your shop’s atmosphere or approach to customer service differ from competitors?
Market Analysis: This section is critical for a tattoo shop. You need to demonstrate a thorough understanding of your target customers (who they are, what styles of tattoos they prefer, how often they get new tattoos), and your competitors (who they are, what they do well, where they fall short). Also, illustrate any trends in the tattoo industry that your shop will capitalize on.
Marketing and Sales Strategy: With so many tattoo shops out there, how will you attract customers? Maybe you plan on showcasing your artists’ work on social media, partnering with local businesses for cross-promotion, or offering discounts for referrals. You also want to address your sales strategy – how you will convert interested people into customers.
Financial Projections: Many people don’t realize just how expensive it can be to run a tattoo shop. From the cost of inks and needles to rent and utilities to liability insurance, it adds up. Provide clear, realistic projections for your costs, revenue, and profitability. If you’re seeking investment, potential investors will want to know when they can expect a return on their investment.
Remember, every tattoo shop is unique, and your business plan should reflect your specific vision and strategy for your shop. A well-written business plan can help ensure that your tattoo shop is successful and profitable.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Find a location for the shop
Finding the perfect location for a tattoo shop requires careful consideration of various factors.
Start by identifying areas that cater to your target demographic to ensure that your shop is easily accessible to potential customers. High visibility locations with good foot traffic are ideal but also take into account the availability of parking or proximity to public transportation. Finding a good location for a tattoo studio can often be the most difficult and time-consuming part of starting this type of business. According to Tattoo.com, some landlords are unwilling to rent space to a tattoo shop, and some retail centers consider tattoo studios to be nuisance businesses and won’t rent to them. Visibility is important to increasing awareness of your new shop, so be patient and look for a location that works.
When you have a short list of properties, research local zoning laws and regulations to ensure that you can legally operate a tattoo shop in your desired location. Most local laws will require that you outfit the studio with a handwashing station separate from the bathroom. You’ll probably need to invest in non-porous floors that are free of tears and rips.
When you’ve narrowed down your options, take into account the cost of potential renovations. It’s essential to thoroughly inspect each potential location and estimate the cost of bringing it up to code, creating a welcoming and stylish atmosphere, and adapting the space to fit your needs – everything from installing proper lighting to creating private areas for tattooing. You might need to hire a contractor to help with these estimates.
Step 4: Secure financing
Starting a tattoo shop can be an expensive endeavor, and there are several common ways to secure the necessary funding.
Personal savings are often a primary source, as using one’s own money doesn’t involve any obligations to lenders or interest payments. However, personal savings alone are not always enough. Many tattoo shop owners turn to bank loans, with some banks requiring a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantee in order to reduce the lender’s risk.
While it won’t help with other costs, equipment financing is another option, where lenders provide funds specifically to purchase tattoo machines and kits and have monthly payment plans.
Many tattoo shop owners also turn to friends and family for financial support. This option can be beneficial as it may offer more flexible repayment terms and lower (or no) interest rates, but it can also come with its own set of challenges, as mixing personal relationships with business can often be complicated.
Step 5: Register the business
Starting a tattoo shop is more than just finding a great location and getting the right equipment. It’s also a legal entity that needs to be properly set up and registered before you can legally start operating. Every area has different rules, but here are some of the key steps to take:
Forming a Business Structure: Most tattoo shop owners opt for a Limited Liability Company (LLC) business entity. An LLC combines the simplicity and flexibility of a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. This means that if your business were to face legal trouble, your personal assets are protected. The exact rules for forming an LLC vary by state but generally involve filing articles of organization with your state’s Secretary of State office and paying a filing fee.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Register Your Business Name: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
Related: Tips and ideas for naming a tattoo studio
Obtain Business Licenses and Permits: Each state has its own tattoo regulations and permit requirements, with the most common including passing an OSHA-approved Bloodborne Pathogens course. Compliance is generally administered by the Public Health Department and each artist to complete. Tattoo shops will likely be subject to regular inspections to ensure they practice safe sanitation, sterilization, and other health and safety laws.
Some states like New Jersey require an apprenticeship under the direct supervision of a tattooist practitioner for 2,000 hours before they can be licensed, while only 1,000 hours of being an apprentice are required for body piercing.
In addition to tattoo parlor specific licensing, depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, sign permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Always remember to check with your local city and state regulations, as requirements can vary widely. Having a lawyer or professional advisor to help you navigate through these processes can be highly beneficial.
Step 6: Acquire the shop and begin working on the layout
Now that the funding and licensing are in place, it’s time to acquire the property and begin getting it ready for customers. A few steps to consider:
Plan the layout: Consider the flow of the shop, the placement of workstations, waiting areas, reception desk, and any additional amenities like restrooms or break rooms.
Consult local regulations: Before making any renovations, work with your local authorities to discuss the plans to ensure that the location will meet all health and safety requirements.
Order and install signage: Display clear and visible signage both inside and outside the shop to help customers easily locate and identify your business.
Organize supplies: Set up storage areas for tattooing supplies, including inks, needles, gloves, and other equipment, ensuring easy access and proper organization.
Consider management software solutions: Explore tattoo shop management software or appointment scheduling platforms to streamline operations, manage client information, and track inventory.
Step 7: Purchase equipment and supplies
Starting a tattoo shop requires a significant investment in equipment and supplies. The primary pieces of equipment you’ll need are tattoo machines (also called tattoo guns), which come in various types such as coil and rotary. Choosing the right machine depends on the style and technique of the artists working in your shop.
Tattoo machines will need proper power supplies to run the machines and foot pedals for control.
Other essential equipment includes sterilization equipment, like autoclaves, for keeping your tools clean and safe, and a variety of needles for different tattoo techniques and designs. In addition, you’ll need a substantial supply of high-quality tattoo inks. It’s recommended to purchase ink from reputable manufacturers to ensure they meet safety standards and provide consistent results.
Other supplies you’ll frequently need are disposable gloves, cleaning supplies, disposable tubes, and other safety equipment to maintain a hygienic environment.
When it comes to furniture, comfortable chairs for your clients and artists are a must, as well as workstations for each tattoo artist. Remember, the initial investment may be quite high, but purchasing quality equipment and supplies will lead to better tattoo results and higher customer satisfaction. It’s a good idea to establish relationships with reliable suppliers and consider bulk purchases to reduce costs over time.
Step 8: Develop marketing and advertising strategies
Marketing a tattoo shop effectively requires a strategy that highlights the unique aspects of the shop and the talent of its artists.
One effective method could be leveraging social media, especially visually oriented platforms like Instagram, where artists can showcase their work. High-quality images of different tattoo styles and designs can draw attention and engage potential customers. Beyond just posting images, engaging with followers through comments, messages, and sharing testimonials can help build a community around the shop.
Additionally, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be crucial for a tattoo shop’s online visibility. By optimizing your website with relevant keywords, you can attract local traffic looking for tattoo services.
Special promotions and discounts for referrals can incentivize current clients to recommend the shop to their friends and family.
Also partnering with local businesses or influencers can also boost visibility. For example, a coffee shop might display art from your tattoo artists, or a local influencer could get a tattoo at your shop and share the experience with their followers.
Step 9: Hire & train staff
Hiring the right employees is a crucial step in the successful operation of a tattoo shop. The staff you bring on board not only need to be skilled in their respective roles, but they also need to fit into your shop’s culture and uphold its values. Most tattoo shops have three main types of employees: tattoo artists, piercers, and shop managers or receptionists.
Tattoo artists are the heart of your business. They’re typically paid either by commission, receiving a percentage of the cost of each tattoo they do, or by booth rental, where they pay a flat fee to use the space and keep all the profits. The median pay for a tattoo artist in the U.S. is approximately $100 per hour, but it can vary widely based on location, experience, and the artist’s client base.
Piercers, if your shop offers piercing services, are typically paid similarly to tattoo artists. Their income can vary based on the number of piercings they perform and the complexity of the piercings.
Shop managers or receptionists handle the administrative side of things, including scheduling appointments, managing customer queries, and maintaining the cleanliness of the shop. Shop Managers are often paid an hourly wage or salary, which can range from $23,000 to $91,000 a year based on their duties and experience.
When hiring for a tattoo shop, it’s essential to consider the following:
Experience and Portfolio: For tattoo artists and piercers, you should consider not only their experience but also their portfolio of work. This will give you an idea of their artistry, skill level, and the styles they specialize in. Make sure their style fits in with your shop’s aesthetic.
Training: Ensure the staff you hire has received proper training. Tattoo artists and piercers should have completed apprenticeships. They should also be trained in bloodborne pathogen safety and cross-contamination prevention. It’s a good idea to have all staff trained in basic first aid as well.
Personality: Given the intimate nature of tattooing and piercing, it’s essential to hire staff with good interpersonal skills. They should be able to make customers feel comfortable and at ease.
Professionalism: Look for employees who demonstrate professionalism. This includes respecting appointment times, maintaining a clean and organized work area, and adhering to all health and safety regulations.
Remember that ongoing training and professional development can help your staff stay updated on the latest techniques and trends in the industry, helping your shop maintain a competitive edge.
Step 10: Prepare to launch
Starting a tattoo shop can be an incredibly rewarding endeavor, but it requires careful planning and preparation. Each person’s journey will be unique, but by taking the time to properly set up your business, you’ll be setting the foundation for a successful and profitable tattoo shop. A few other critical details to consider before opening may be:
Develop a cleaning and sterilization protocol: Establish thorough cleaning and sterilization and tattooing procedures to maintain a safe and hygienic environment for both artists and clients.
Business Insurance: This is an absolute must to protect your business from various risks. Tattoo shops specifically should consider general liability insurance, professional liability insurance, and property insurance. Be sure to shop around for the best rates and coverage.
Bookkeeping: It’s essential to set up a bookkeeping system from the start to keep track of income and expenses. This can be done manually, but using a software system like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks can simplify the process.
Contracts: You’ll need several types of contracts, including employment contracts for your employees and lease agreements for your space. In the tattoo industry, you’ll also need client consent and legal guardian forms for tattoos and piercings, which outline the risks involved and protect your business from liability.
Business Bank Account: Open a business bank account separate from your personal one. This will help you keep track of your business finances and make tax time much easier.
Setting Pricing: Setting pricing can be tricky. You need to consider the cost of your supplies, the time and effort involved, and the prices of competitors in your area. Remember, quality work often justifies a higher price point.
Payment Methods: Nowadays, many customers prefer cashless transactions, so it’s essential to have a system to accept credit cards. Explore different merchant services to find one that offers the best rates and service for your needs. Popular services include Square or Stripe.
Conduct a soft opening: Prior to an official grand opening, consider hosting a soft opening event to test operations, gather feedback, and generate buzz within the local community.
This material is property of StartingYourBusiness.com
Common Questions When Starting A Tattoo Shop
How much does it cost to start a tattoo studio?
The cost to start a tattoo shop can vary significantly based on numerous factors, including location, size of the shop, equipment needs, and renovation costs.
Starting a smaller tattoo studio with one tattoo station is relatively affordable and can be done for about $15,000, while larger shops require larger investments and can cost as much anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to get a new shop up and running.
The major costs involved include:
Lease or Purchase of Premises: The cost will largely depend on the location and size of the space. You could expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per month in rent for a decent-sized shop in a good location.
Renovation and Setup Costs: Converting a space into a tattoo studio can cost between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on the extent of renovations needed.
Equipment and Supplies: The initial investment in tattoo machines, chairs, sterilization equipment, inks, needles, and other supplies could add up to around $5,000 to $10,000.
Licenses and Permits: The cost for these varies by location, but it could be a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.
Marketing and Advertising: The cost to design and launch a website, create business cards, and conduct initial marketing efforts can add up to a few thousand dollars.
Working Capital: Additionally, it’s recommended to have operating expenses saved as a buffer. These costs include rent, utilities, salaries, insurance, supplies, and advertising. A safe estimate is to have three to six months of these expenses on hand before opening. For example, if a tattoo shop had monthly operating costs of $5,000, this would mean having $15,000 to $30,000 set aside.
Keep in mind that these are estimates, and the costs can be much higher or somewhat lower depending on various factors. As you plan your business, it’s wise to get quotes and estimates that are tailored to your specific situation.
Are tattoo shops profitable?
The income of a tattoo shop owner can vary widely based on several factors such as the shop’s location, number of artists, pricing, and overall reputation.
Generally, tattoo shops make money by charging clients for tattoo services, with the shop taking a percentage of each transaction and the rest going to the tattoo artist. The average cost of a tattoo can vary depending on several factors such as the size, complexity of the design, and demand for the artist who is creating it. Pricing for tattoos can vary widely, but $150 to $450 is a typical range for a medium-sized tattoo, but in this example, we will go with an average of $200.
A common split is 60/40, with the artist taking home 60% and the shop getting 40%. So, if an artist charges $200 for a tattoo, the shop would make $80.
If a shop has four artists, each doing two tattoos per day, six days a week, the income for the shop could be calculated as follows: 4 artists x 2 tattoos/day x $80/shop per tattoo x 6 days/week x 4 weeks/month = $15,360 per month or about $184,320 per year.
However, this is gross income.
After subtracting overhead expenses like rent, salaries for non-artist staff, utilities, insurance, supplies, and advertising, the net income (or profit) would be less.
If the shop’s monthly operating expenses were $5,000, the annual net income would be $184,320 – ($5,000 x 12), which equals $124,320.
In addition to tattoos, additional revenue can be found by offering skin care solutions and piercings.
It’s essential to remember that this is a simplified example, and actual earnings can be significantly higher or lower. Factors like local competition, the skill and reputation of the artists, the local economy, and the shop’s marketing efforts can all impact revenue. It’s also important to note that a new shop might not achieve full capacity immediately and may have additional costs related to startup and growth.
What skills are needed to run a tattoo studio?
Opening and running a tattoo business doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can increase the business’s chance of success.
Tattooing experience: Tattooing talents and experience are necessary when starting a studio. If studio owners have previously worked as tattoo artists themselves, they may bring an existing customer base to the studio.
Artistic talents: Artistic skill is a must for any tattoo artist. A studio owner should have artistic talents and artistic knowledge, which is important in evaluating others’ work and hiring more tattoo artists.
Awareness of trends: Customers often want tattoos that represent the newest trends, so a studio owner needs to be aware of evolving trends to ensure that the studio can deliver those types of tattoos.
Creativity: Many customers are looking for tattoos that are new and fresh. Studio owners need to constantly rely on their creativity to provide the unique designs customers seek.
Customer service skills: Shop owners engage with customers daily. Strong communication skills are needed to understand what a customer’s looking for and to keep the customer relaxed and engaged during each session.
Management skills: If a studio brings in additional artists, the ability to hire, train, and manage staff is important. Recruiting and interviewing potential hires, as well as evaluating their portfolios, is another important skill to have.
What is the NAICS code for a tattoo studio?
The NAICS code for a tattoo studio is 812199, which is classified under Other Personal Care Services.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
Related: What is a NAICS code?