Welcome to Modern Electric.

So, You're wondering how to open your own tattoo shop?

Starting any new business can be extremely stressful especially if – like me – you are a tattooist first and a businessman second. But also wondering How to open your own tattoo shop. Then this guide should help. I opened Modern Electric 10 years ago, early in 2010 at the end of a global recession under another name.
It wasn’t the easiest first few years and I made many mistakes early on. Being far too trusting and losing the original name of my shop being one of them!
So I’ve written this guide to help you avoid them. Hopefully, by reading this, you’ll understand what it takes a little better if you understand how to open your own tattoo shop. Hopefully you’ll make less mistakes than I did!
This guide is aimed at tattooists looking for real world information on how to open your own tattoo shop. If you are a business owner interested in expanding your portfolio to include a tattoo shop I have written a separate guide about the pros and cons of a non-tattooist operating a tattoo shop here.
My advice is based on opening and operating a tattoo shop in the UK. Remember to check the relevant laws in your country as they may be different!
how to open your own tattoo shop

CHECKLIST

Here’s a simple checklist based on my personal experiences in the tattoo industry for any who wants to know how to open your own tattoo shop? as a real world guide for starting a successful shop. I’m going to call this guide ‘Welcome To Planet Motherfucker you Psychoholic Slag’


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  • Choose the right location for your shop
    It’s not 1920, we have the interwebs man.
  • Get a lease and the right permissions
    Do your research and save yourself money.
  • Get a good landlord
    One that won’t throw you out on you ear at a moments notice is preferable.
  • Get a good Lawyer
    They can save you a fortune.
  • Get trustworthy staff
    The kind that don’t steal from you and then ride on your coat-tails are best.
  • Do great work and share it
    Preferably with the editors of a number of number of international magazines.
  • Don’t compromise
    It’s better to fail as you than succeed as someone else.

Location, Location, Location?

Choose the correct one for your type of business

There are a lot of ‘how to’ guides online but to be honest I doubt that any of them were actually written by anyone who actually knows how to open your own tattoo shop!  Quite honestly I wouldn’t follow any advice. The romantic notion of owning a smokey, neon light tattoo shop between a pub and a brothel that’s frequented by sailors, bikers and hookers may have huge links to the deep and rich culture and history of tattooing. But what applied in 1920 certainly doesn’t apply in 2020!

Most online guides recommend finding a busy location with high footfall to situate your tattoo shop. Whilst this advice remains solid for shops located in busy major cities it no longer applies to the hundreds of small town high streets around the country. It doesn’t take into account the rise of the internet, the proliferation of mobile devices and the changes they have brought to high street shopping.

Today, everything and anything can be purchased on-the-go and our shopping demands can be fulfilled with just a click.

 

High streets around the world are quiter that ever and less traffic means less customers to your new business. Add to this the high running costs of high street locations and you start to see why many tattoo shops fail in these locations.

The High Street is Closing Down

Last year Britain saw over 2800 store closures in the first half of the year alone.  According to Retail Gazette, over 140,000 jobs were lost and we said goodbye to stores from some of the country’s top retailers, including House of Fraser , Toys R Us, Next, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, and many more.  Only 15 out of the 96 sectors showed net growth in store numbers, with the biggest declines felt in fashion, restaurants, estate agents and pubs.
Large retailers have been particularly hard hit with those operating 10 stores or more closing over 5800 branches between 1 January and 30 September last year, a 77% increase on the previous year.
And figures show that older people still go to stores to shop 75% of the over 55’s choose to do their shopping both online and in store. But the younger generation seems to be more inclined to avoid the high street altogether. The younger generation are the core audience for any high street tattoo shop. They get more tattoos. 45% have a tattoo compared to  28% of people over 50.

18% of 25-34 year olds do all of their shopping online.

So, when you’re doing your research on how to open a tattoo shop remember that all These changes mean in 2020 most clients serious about getting a tattoo do their research online, make an appoitment and then travel to their chosen tattooist. Clients getting a tattoo on their local high street are simply shopping based on location and price.

DEAD HIGH STREETS

  • More people are choosing to shop online: “In the retail sector, online spend is almost breaching 20%, with £1-in-every-£5 spent coming through internet sales, which has effected the true value of physical retail stores.”
  • Physical space is expensive: “Extortionate rents for premises and the business rates that straddle them have placed additional financial pressures on those who are already under serious strain.”
  • Consumers are more careful: “Consumers themselves are becoming more conscious spend-wise, with the economic ramifications of Brexit continuing to cause a crisis of confidence in people’s wallets.”
  • Retailers can’t keep up: “Some retailers are suffering natural decline by not offering consumers a reason to shop in their stores, suffering from outdated USP’s, with poor fiscal management and standing still in an environment that demands fast-paced evolution.”

On or Off The High Street?

Choosing a High Street location

Choosing a High Street location comes with a three-fold problem that you will have to face. Current trends predict that these problems are only set to get worse so if you are going down this route make sure you pick a busy city centre.
  1. Competition drives prices down and keeps them there.
    It’s been my experience that the hourly rate of ‘street shop’ work hasn’t increased in the ten years I have owned my shop.
  2. Lower quality clients make maintaining an up to date professional porfiolio almost impossible.
    Endless faded grey roses and infinity symbols do not make an attractive portfolio for higher quality clients. They will look and go elsewhere.

    Quality

  3. Attracting top quality artists to work in high street locations that dont deliver quality clients is very tough.
    If a tattoo shop cannot deliver quality clients for the tattooists they will move on quickly. This will leave your shop An ‘apprentice mill’ with a massive staff turnover and no consistency. This is a huge red flag for good artists looking for a homebase and serious clients alike.

Choosing a location away from the High Street

Away from the high street offers a lot of benefits to your new business especially if you are a tattooist looking to operate your own business for the first time.
  1. The cost of leasing or buying a property in a non-retail focused area is far cheaper.
  2. The internet and your ability to build an online profile negates the need for a shop front. Your website is your shopfront.
  3. Higher quality Clients that are willing to travel because they want better work.
  4. Basing your business on high quality, low volume tattooing is more ressession proof.

Things to consider

Find a location that has good links to motorways, rail and airports. This will make it easier for you clients to get to you.
Make it easy to find your shop. Put your business on google maps and include a photo of the front of the building. If you’re on the first floor or higher put a prominent sign in the window.
The best tattoos in Bromsgrove

Once you've found your shop

Handshakes ain't worth as much as they used to be...

When I rented my first shop I did a ‘handshake deal’ with a friend to takeover the back of his barber shop. At first this seemed like a good, low risk idea. But I hadn’t considered that there was no security in it. So, when my ‘friend’ decided that he no longer wanted me in the back of his shop I was out. No notice, no negotiating, nothing. Just get out on this day.
This meant an enormous amount of stress, financial pressure at a time when the business was still very new and it could very easily meant the end for me. So my advice would to be always get a lease and a contract for your building. It’ll cost you a little more but it’s worth it because, as a tenant, you have rights. Friends don’t, sadly.
I had to move buildings very quickly and fortunately a premises became available very close to my original studio which was perfect. But I had 2 problems; 1. For reasons I will go into later in this article I had had to close my original business (on paper) and start a new Limited company and 2. The premises I wanted was classified as retail A1. If you’re thinking ‘what the hell does that mean’ like I was at the time. Let me explain.

The 'use Class' of tattoo shops in the UK

Change of use

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order categorises uses of land and buildings. Changing the use of a development from one class to another may require planning permission. Because ‘Sui generis’ buildings are those that do not fall within any particular use class. The Latin term ‘sui generis‘ means ‘of its own kind.
Because I didn’t have time to get the correct planning application done before I leased the building I had to sign a 10 year lease on a building that was A1 and then hope and pray that I could get it’s use changed to Sui generis. If I hadn’t been able to I would have had to pay rent for ten years on a building I couldn’t tattoo in! AND because my company was brand new I had to find an enormous deposit as well.
This was a HUGE risk that we had to take because the location meant existing clients could find us easily. It was also a risk I could have easily avoided if I’d got a lease on the original studio and good staff.

And that brings me neatly onto my final piece of advice.

Hire Good Staff!

The main reason I had to close a business only to open a new limited business was because in my original studio I hired bad staff. I was far too trusting and got ripped off blind. This simple mistake cost me thousands of pounds, a great deal of pain and suffering and ended up nearly costing me the business and my livelihood. These days I’m far more careful.

Check, Check & Check Again

  1. Check their credentials
    As the owner of the business you cannot take peoples word. You must protect the tattoo shop and so it’s imperative that you check that their CV is genuine. Call the refernences and get an idea of the person you are hiring. Better now than down the road.
  2. Check their work is theirs
    Have the artist demonstrate that they can do the things they say can and have them perform some studio tasks in front of you. IE: Setup and break down a station, use an autoclave explain aseptic technique and zonal pathogen control. This simple check would have saved me from from hiring a lying ‘scratcher’ who went on to steal anything he could from me.
  3. Check with previous studios
    Call where they say they used to work and ask if they left in ‘good standing’ and if not, then why not?
  4. Put a contract in place
    And then you can sue them when they open a shop 3 miles from yours. I wish I had!