Opening a Tattoo Shop: How to Turn Your Dream Into Reality

Published on May 16, 2017 by Elisha Neubauer
Tattoo shops seem to be a dime a dozen these days. They’re on just about every corner in every town. Even the smallest counties have a half dozen at any given time. So, you’d think they’re relatively easy to open, right?
Well, you’d be wrong.
On average, it can cost up to $15,000 to start a tattoo shop. For some—mainly artists who have already accumulated equipment and a portion of supplies during their career—this number can be substantially lower, but by no means is it cheap. Tattoo shops are meant to be sterile environments, so purchasing qualified, approved materials and supplies is a must. But, even before you can begin purchasing the bulk of supplies, there’s a world of paperwork and research required.
When you get ready to open a business, any business, there is a lot of research involved. And, with most of that research, it will only lead you to further questions, as every county, city, and state have their own sets of requirements and rules that have to be followed. This means reaching out specifically to the city/county in order to find out what types of permits and licenses are required to open. Some locations have strict rules for tattoo shops, not allowing them within city limits or in certain areas of the community. Others have a much laxer view on these profitable and popular businesses. There are zoning permits, occupational licenses, and business tax applications to worry about...and that’s just for the county/city. You’ll need to decide what format of business you will be operating—LLC, S-Corp, etc—and file an application with the state. Don’t forget to register your fictitious name, or DBA, while you’re at it. Tattoo shops are also required to go an extra step... you’ll have to get in touch with the Department of Health and find out who your tattoo program coordinator is. Once you’ve established contact, you’ll need to review the rules and regulations for owning a tattoo shop and be able to meet or exceed these requirements when you find your location.
Speaking of location, finding one of these can be troublesome. Not all landlords and/or property management companies are willing to lease space to a tattoo shop. In fact, some centers may even have certain corporate businesses that have a clause in their lease banning “nuisance businesses” from being allowed entry into the center while they are occupying a space. These nuisance businesses include things like bars, smoke shops, and tattoo shops. As a new tattoo shop, you’ll want to focus on finding a location with visibility, since word of mouth advertising is generally the most successful when it comes to tattooing. Finding a sufficient location that is within a decent rate and allows tattoo shops can actually take the longest out of the entire process.
Once you secure your location, now the fun starts. Okay, maybe fun is the wrong word—but it’s rewarding in the end. You’ll have to set the location to fit your local laws. You’ll need a separate hand washing station (not the bathroom) that is within range of your stations. You’ll need biomedical waste removal containers that are state approved, sterilized stations and equipment, and nonporous flooring with no tears, rips, or breaks in the seals. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Don’t forget establishment insurance! When you sign your lease, be sure to check with your landlord or property manager about the liability limits which are required to operate a business in their building. Using a tattoo-specific insurance policy will also help cover your business in the scary event of any mishaps.
In order to keep up with the accounting aspect, you’ll need to decide on a POS—Point of Sale—system. There are many services available for this. Some are more complicated than others and include scheduling, mobile apps, and credit card capabilities, while others are simplified versions with no additional features. Some shops, although very few, rely on handwritten processes. If you opt to go this route, you’d better make sure you’re an organization freak as mistakes in the accounting can be dangerous at tax time. You also need to decide if your artists are going to be hourly, W2 employees or if they’ll be 1099 and what percentage their cut will be. Don’t forget to figure out who will be supplying inks!
When it comes to tattoo shops, they are more than meets the eye. While you may think it’s just a fun environment, they’re actually highly structured with severe rules that must be followed in order to open and remain in operation. As with any business, there’s so much more than what you see when you open the door. The level of detail and scrutiny that goes into the opening stages of a tattoo shop is impressive, regardless of what the shop looks like or behaves like in actuality.


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