How To Open Up Your Own Tattoo Shop - A Complete Guide

Written by: Pete
Last Updated:

Opening up a tattoo shop is not something that can be done on a whim. While it allows you more creative control over your career, it requires quite a large financial investment. It also demands careful business planning and clearly defined professional parameters.

Understand the Related Costs for Opening a Tattoo Shop

There are numerous factors that must be considered when planning to open a tattoo shop. The first should be the financial investment that it will cost. This will help you better define your business plan for loan requests, as well as help you more clearly understand what will be needed out-of-pocket.

Here are some items that will require an upfront business expense:

  • Your professional website
  • Your personal portfolio
  • The rental or purchase of a location, and any renovations needed
  • The signage required for your storefront
  • The decor and furniture for the interior, including a receptionist space, waiting area, etc.
  • Tattooing equipment, such as tables, artist chairs, tattoo ink, needles, machines, and power supplys
  • Shelves and cabinet space for inventory
  • Advertising costs
  • Sanitation equipment and cleaning costs
  • Licenses, certifications, insurance, and meeting state health regulations
  • The salaries of additional employees

Get to Know the Ongoing Costs and Expenses

While there are expenses that will be an upfront cost to starting your business, some of these costs will be required on a month-to-month basis. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Rental costs - can range depending on the size of the space
  • Equipment costs - which may be around $1,000 a month
  • Salaries of your employees
  • Sanitation supplies cost - can include antiseptic and antibacterial materials, as well as items such as gloves and paper towels
  • Monthly marketing campaigns
  • Business insurance

You must also be ready and have set aside any money for surprise costs that may arise. This could include renovation requirements, additional certifications, or insurance deductibles.

What Can You Charge Your Customers?

Determining the fee for your clients can be up to you as a store owner or up to each individual artist you have in your shop. You can charge according to a few factors:

  • Hourly rates
  • Size and design flat rates
  • Charging according to the experience of the artist

The experience of the artist may also influence the hourly or design-determined rates. More experienced and popular artists usually charge more for their services.

In general, the cost of equipment for one session is around $60 to $80. This includes the needles, time to clean and set up the station, and the cost of ink. As such, fees should be set above this cost, but fees can range depending on the location you are situated, so have a look at the cost for competitor shops.

Some apprentices tattoo clients at cost, for practice; remember that the time lost on a non-paying client may impact your profit for the month.

How Else Can a Tattoo Shop Make Money?

Sometimes tattoo shops can rent the chairs in their space, meaning that artists come in and pay to use their space and gain access to their client base. But this also means that you will not make a profit off of the work that this artist is doing on their customers, as the money goes directly into their pocket. Rent for a chair varies on the popularity of the shop and the location.

Some other ways in which tattoo shops can make money are:

  • Through offering piercings as well as tattoos
  • By selling items such as tattoo aftercare items or jewelry
  • Featuring local artists’ art on their walls and making a small profit on the sale of these items
  • Hosting charity or flash tattoo events
  • Hosting guest artists in their shop

It is estimated that opening up your own tattoo shop can cost $50,000 to $100,000. Remember that profit in your first year may be very small due to this starter expense.

How to Start a Tattoo Shop

how to open a tattoo shop

Now that you have some idea as to what it may cost to start up your own shop, here’s how to go about doing it.

Step One: Know the Industry

You cannot hope to open up a successful tattoo shop without knowing and studying the industry and the art. This requires having the proper training to tattoo, yourself, as well as having studied all the health care and sanitation regulations that come along with tattooing. Even if you are non-practicing and are merely owning the shop, these are all essential items you need to study and understand in order to run the shop safely.

Step Two: Create a Thorough Business Plan

Any entrepreneurial venture needs a thorough business plan, and this requires a clear map of factors such as expenses, your target market and ideal client, your pricing plan, and marketing details such as your name and advertising plans, just to name a few items.

Starting a business requires asking a lot of difficult questions, including preparation should the business fail. You need to narrow down operations and management plans, all the financial factors involved, and even a summary of your business and goals should you wish to rent a space or pursue a loan.

Step Three: Choosing a Location

Narrowing down a location will be a part of your business plan but it’s definitely one of the most important parts of opening up your tattoo shop. You need to be aware of the need for your shop in the area, the costs of operating in the towns or cities you choose, and the competition in the area for your business.

Will you rent or will you own the shop? Will you open up the shop in your own apartment or home? Is it legal to do so? Do you need to fully renovate the space? How many artist chairs will you require? Do you have a right to alter the face of the shop, if you are renting? Your storefront will be the face of your business, so remember to invest some time and money into making it beautiful.

Step Four: The Legal Stuff

Before you can even begin to focus on developing the exciting parts of your business, you need to prepare all the legal and banking items. You have to:

  • Register your business and business name
  • Open up a business banking account and get a business credit account
  • Register for taxes
  • Register for the necessary permits and licenses
  • Apply for health certifications
  • Organize liability and contracting regulations with a local lawyer
  • Get business insurance specific to a tattoo shop

Every state has its own tattooing rules and regulations and certification requirements, so be sure to do thorough research depending on your location.

Step Five: Build Your Brand Identity

Building a brand means defining a vision and a goal for your company that sets you apart from the competition. This will be how the public sees your tattoo shop and how they remember you. You need to create a logo for the shop and begin to invest in marketing.

A successful marketing campaign turns an audience into paying clients, so you need to consider how you are going to distribute your content and gain attention. This should begin 30 to 60 days before your shop even opens, so you have interest on the first day. Social media marketing may be the best way to reach your demographic, so consider connecting through relevant hashtags and location points.

You can share event information, artist portfolio work, or examples of work done on clients to gain traction. And the most amazing way to build your brand identity is through testimonials and clients recommending others to your shop. The best way to encourage this is to work on relationship building skills and demonstrate kindness to every customer in your shop, even those who do not build up the nerve to get tattooed.

You must also take the time to build your shop website, as a business website shows the legitimacy and professionalism of your tattoo shop. Beyond social media pages, you need a dedicated web address for your business. It may be valuable to invest in a developer at the beginning, so you can create a page that is relevant for a long while.

Step Six: Buying for the Shop

Now is when you can pull out the checkbook and start to furnish and decorate your shop, as well as purchase equipment for it. You will need a designated waiting area, a receptionist’s space, massage tables and artist chairs for each artist space, as well as art and decoration for the walls. You may also need display cases and shelving for materials or items you sell or store in the shop.

In addition, you will need to be fully stocked with all the equipment your artists will need. Even if your artists bring their own tools and ink, you will need some on hand in case of emergencies. Shops usually supply needles, cling wrap, paper towels, gloves, spray bottles, and sanitation products.

Step Seven: Hire Qualified Staff

Whether you rent your chairs or hire your artists and pay them a salary, you need qualified tattooists representing your business. You will also need a receptionist who is able to manage administrative tasks, and may also require a cleaner for the shop after hours.

You should take the time to fully evaluate any potential artists you intend to bring on board, because they could make or break your business right from the start.

Step Eight: Open Your New Tattoo Shop

There is nothing more exciting than investing the time and energy into creating a tattoo shop from the ground up and then being able to celebrate that “opening day”. Use your marketing to hype up the event, and perhaps offer opening day specials to clients. While everything may not be perfect from day one, you will continuously learn from having your own shop and can adjust strategies or expenses as you go along.

Many tattoo shops make very little profit in their first year due to the wide array of expenses, but see continual growth as they maintain client satisfaction and commitment to their business.

Our Final Thoughts

Breaking into the tattooing industry definitely comes with its own challenges, and opening up a shop is a process that is not meant to be rushed or an idea that should be taken lightly. It may benefit to have a mentor on hand, or to open up a shop with an experienced professional who knows the business.

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