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Fancher

How will the strong survive the many?

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Seems like everyone is wondering how we will survive/adapt to what reality television and the Internet has turned tattooing In to. It's no secret that EVERYONE you meet either tattoos or want to learn how. Honestly every 3rd person I meet with a tattoo is some form of a self proclaimed tattoo artist. What people haven't realized is that the recent rush of new tattooers is putting tattooing in a dangerous state. It's simple economics...supply and demand. When 100 customers in one city want a tattoo in a day and there are 200 tattooers in that city..well half the artist are going to starve. This isn't anything new...we all know the mass media has glorified tattooing and made it accessible to every kid that can sign his name. This won't change but what can we do about it.

2 years ago I moved to a city of 15,000 people and opened the only shop in this city. I assumed lowering my bills and cutting out all the extra expenses would be the answer. It may still be but at this point I'm not sure. I enjoy not having to tattoo in a scene. I really love tattooing people that have no expectation of what their tattoo should look like. If they come in for an eagle they don't try to micromanage what the eagle looks like. The clients in small city's just truly appreciate the time and care that I put in to the tattoo. My problem is I've worked hard since 1992 and I'm still sitting on my hands most the week. It's really got me thinking if this was the right choice and if I can survive what tattooing has become.

I have thought of two scenarios that may help those of us that have put in the hard work and want to survive.

1. Take tattooing underground.. (private studios..no signs and make customers find us)

2. Create power shops...( gather the top 5-6 tattooers in one area and open 1 shop)

Sorry Power shop sounds cheesy as shit. Larger cities already seem do this. Let's just take a city like Reno as an example. With out mentioning names there are really good tattooers there. For the most part each shop has a decent tattooer in it and a bunch of hacks. If all the legit guys got together and rounded up all the best talent In Reno you would defiantly see some shops losing clients and closing doors. The mediocre tattooers that were left would more then likely get a majority of their work at the "power shop". It would be a force to be record with. Since there are so many people trying to do tattoos and getting I to it most of them would want to go to these big shops to be tattooed.

Shop owners are hiring one good tattooer and filling the rest of the spots just to line their pockets. We can stop this. If all the good tattooers left these types of shops and banned together and took control of tattooing we could make a difference. I know too many great tattooers that are broke and bouncing from shop to shop or working for piercers. It shouldn't be this way. We honestly need to take some responsibility and take back tattooing. Strong shops can and will survive. But if we are all spread out it's going to destroy the market for tattooing.

Sacramento is a great example of this. There are under 3-4 great shops in Sacramento out of almost 200. Most of these shops are dog shit. There are a handful of decent tattooers that opened their own shops and just filled 3-4 stations with hacks. Why are we doing this!?! This only promotes that more people become tattooers.

I know this isn't ground breaking or a new idea. But I do think that there is a large percent of good tattooers that haven't had the opportunity to work In A shop like this. And let's be honest once shops like this are made people tend not to leave.

Bottom line is we have to use the thing that has put us In this position. Take advantage of the Internet and stay united. We are the ones that have to set the standards and come to gather to take back what we love and what was once sacred.

Sorry about the rant...there aren't too many people to discuss thing like this wish in mid Missouri. It does feel good to get it out though.

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i think an underground network would have lots of advantages. the ability for everyone in the network to be mobile to some degree and could make little circuits to the other private studios when things are typically slow in one area. i think with the power shop or even the network concept the biggest thing is everyones ego and their "right" to have an opinion. it used to be people gathered together because they had a like minded world view and now so many people feel the need to be self righteous that it causes a lack of unity. this isn't the case every time but i've seen peoples egos destroy something good. plus there is such an overwhelming fear and lack of trust amongst people that it is a huge obstacle towards making a cohesive movement towards something sustainable.

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1. Take tattooing underground.. (private studios..no signs and make customers find us)

I know of a few shops like this, don't publish their address anywhere and don't have street frontage. Not sure I'd call it underground, but it does attract a certain kind of customer - people who have looked you up, and are willing to go on waiting lists, pay a decent rate etc.

This kind of setup really benefits from:

Bottom line is we have to use the thing that has put us In this position. Take advantage of the Internet and stay united.

You make a really good point here, for 2 reasons:

1) There's the education part of it. There are blogs, forums etc. dedicated to "good" tattoos. With those resources at hand (and with more experienced people encouraged to get involved, like here), the taste and discernment of people wanting tattoos can grow. If you spend any time on one of the numerous forums or blogs, you quickly learn that fly-by-night operations are not worth it.

2) As a relatively "young person", every single time that I have been tattooed it's been at a studio I found online. Looked through their work before even going near the place. Word of mouth is one thing (and very valuable), but it makes sense to be able to be found online. There are some people who deliberately stay away from the internet, and if they can survive on name alone that's great. Everyone else should be considering that if their work is visible, people will travel. I have, and would again. Makes a lot more sense than relying on foot traffic.

(all from a customer perspective, so take it with a grain of salt if you like)

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Fancher, I feel like if you are sitting on your hands now in a shop with a front that people can find and see, then you will be even slower when you have no walk-by traffic, no advertising(assuming you are no longer going to be in a phone book or professional listing online) and losing other factors you have going for you in a street-level shop.

If you have established clients that are willing to seek you out (even when they cant easily find you) then they will come see you if you are in a shop or not. Basically, unless you have a big name that commands people to come find you, a regular shop setting is wiser. IMO.

There are blogs, forums etc. dedicated to "good" tattoos. With those resources at hand (and with more experienced people encouraged to get involved, like here), the taste and discernment of people wanting tattoos can grow. If you spend any time on one of the numerous forums or blogs, you quickly learn that fly-by-night operations are not

For every 1 client that spends time online looking at portfolios and reviews and researching info, there are easily 30 other clients that walk into a shop looking for a tattoo, no prior online research involved. To exclude those people because they can only find you online is a big mistake. To rule out normal people like that will involve even more sitting-on-hands. IMO.

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For every 1 client that spends time online looking at portfolios and reviews and researching info, there are easily 30 other clients that walk into a shop looking for a tattoo, no prior online research involved. To exclude those people because they can only find you online is a big mistake. To rule out normal people like that will involve even more sitting-on-hands. IMO.

Yeah, I didn't mean the internet should be used instead of foot traffic, it should be used as well as foot traffic. I also don't think the "underground" model described above is suitable for all (or even most) shops.

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There are a ton of fantastic artists and operators out there these days, overwhelming.

30 years ago the general public didn't want to know and for the most part shunned the cultures/lifestyles of tattoos, bike builders, dumpster divers, bug exterminators, hog hunters, truckers, pawn brokers, storage container buyers, bounty hunters,and most of what "reality TV" and their marketing expertize has generated into "good TV consumer ratings" that generates BIG BUCKS logically or they wouldn't have pursued such.

These things all come from evolution and these things will evolve to a degree that overpopulates these areas, because now a person who searched storage containers can't show up without being outbid buy dozens whom figured they could do the same and profit, same goes for truckers, more people taking CDL tests now than ever before, the home grown bike builders are everywhere, much of these areas have grown to insane proportions like everybody and their step nephew being "professional tattoo artists".

It is much more complicated now with todays technology, the "Tattoo Directory" went the way of the phone book and if ya can't find it on the net it doesn't exist attitude is overwhelming. As to the "niche shop" from yer designated area of your home? Why not? Coney Island Freddy Grossman did better after they banned NYC tattooing and going into his gated community tattooing underground, was it legitimate? not so, did he get away with it for many years? Yep, but Freddy really didn't have a choice in his location and we do. Also in some ways with the shops popping up everywhere you can expect that tattooing's rep may get burnt by the shortcomings of the "fly by night" shops and drag us back to 1975. But the parallel I want to draw to the question posed is this;

The consuming public knows that McDonalds food is garbage but there are many more Mickey D's around than the Mom & Pop restaurants that buy select cut meat and farm fresh vegetables yet the public will continue to feed on the trash while the smart seek the better meal. Both business's come and go but the truly good eateries build a more lasting clientele and reputation for good cuisine. Now to think you can sit in the front yard and attract drive by patrons for a slab of ribs off the smoke from your grill or set up a more eloquent dinning area in a large home will not lend much for any lasting legitimate business reputation. The point being is this;

We have come a very long way in becoming "recognized" as an art form, "legitimized" by all forms of media and to expect that going "underground" might lend to the area that has come to be considered part of that which will burn the rep., operating costs today in tattooing is greatly increased from 30 years ago and it's difficult to compete in the consumer market against all the people who settle for lesser for cheaper but I say hang in there, keep the lights on, give the public a place to drop into and keep your work to the best of your abilities and the highest standards and you will survive. When times are at their worst you can pick up work in other ways in the way of art or a second job, I know that sounds difficult but it's what it may take and others did it before us. Take Walter Cleveland for example, went to work at a lumber yard to keep his doors open and cut cost's by sharing the same location of a surplus shop and non the less he is today still revered as "Walter Cleveland, Master Tattoo Artist, innovator and Legend" and he's been dead since the 60's, check it;

The Cleveland's

Whatever direction ya choose, just keep a good rep and do the rep and public justice. If ya have to take it home and State and local regulations are met and that is what it takes for you to survive then do it and have no shame in it as it's been done before in the history of the tough times in tattooing. As for myself, I am on third generations of Families that are devout and maintain steady work enough to keep me evolving as a business of over 32+ years on paper and legit and I will be there till I drop out of my chair chucking up a tube and needle.

Don't mean to sound so serious but when I started I knew that I NEEDED to get legit with a shop and a shingle to start changing up the rep of tattooing as it was then, now it has come so far that a chump with a 50 dollah tattoo kit has come between me and feeding my family and I don't want to give up on the image/rep that I helped build by allowing myself to be compared in my home to the guy scratching "live laugh love" on a chick in his back bedroom as the general public won't see or distinguish the difference between the ones that do it right and professionally.

Customers are going to become a harder and harder sell when there are soo many out there but reputation, word of mouth and most importantly the quality and customer treatment will be what builds a lifelong customer base, Bert Grimm knew that and he had three shops runnin at one time but Bert Grimm was "The Name" and his main shop was the legacy that cranked out many more legendary tattooers.

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hawk, well said!

I'm only a beginner to the tattoo world, so I'm going to speak on a strictly business mindset. It's funny that hawk mentioned McD's as I was going to make the same comparison. No matter how "mainstream" tattooing becomes, there will always be a demand for high quality work from reputable artists. The best thing you can hope to do to survive is be open to all and build a solid reputation. Tattooing is small business. It's no lie that the majority of small businesses (in USA) fail. You have to put the time and energy into it. You can't give up or lose hope because of scratchers and low quality work.

I'll draw a parallel too. I make home brew beer and I give it to my friends and family, it's good stuff. No matter how much I brew though, I, my family, and friends will always be buying from other craft breweries because of solid reputation and selection.

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"Skilled tradesmen and women" might be the better term as we are that. Plumbers, carpenters, roofers, masons, they all have to be skilled but we know for certain that there are far more "not so skilled tradesmen and women" out there takin money but the ones who do good the name and honor the field have the rep and staying power.

Keep on makin that home brew Cork, hope to have some someday!

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the blogs and all that, how easy it to see everyones work, is cool for all of us. it's also good marketing for the artists. i feel like it might water down the ideas of the artists a little bit though, i kinda feel like i start seeing the same thing all the time. maybe guys are using each others work for influence or maybe i'm just seeing a vast amount of people's work so it just seems like i'm seeing the same things done pretty similarly.

there is something to be said about the artists that still don't really put their work online and just rely on word of mouth. it's kinda a double edged sword for the artist like that unless they have a large client base built up. kinda hate to put those artists work on the internetz but hate to see 'em sittin around with no work too...but i kidna doubt puttin their work in a forum post or two really does anything to help 'em get work anyway.

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the talent pool is ever expanding and if we dont reach out to expand the client pool we will all drown. tv exposure, be it nonsense or not, was the inevitable. with a growing industry we need the clients. dont worry about how tv molds their expectations, get the people in the door and educate them. make them believe in you and your shop.

i remember watching the sailor jerry documentary and it touching down on his distaste for lyle tuttle. he didnt like how tuttle was putting himself out there on main street but the truth of the matter is that if guys didnt do that then the business would of never grown and most of us probably wouldnt be tattooers.

just be thankful that in an economy that has finally effected our industry, that were all still here and doing what we love. tattoos are a luxury at this point so you kinda gotta put yourself out that as the guys/girls that will provide you with the best this luxury has to offer.

of course its always nice to hold onto our roots and be true to the ways of old... we certainly stand on the shoulders of giants but if you dont recognize the path ahead, your path will end

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the biggest thing is to focus on a goal and create the plan towards the goal and not in reaction to the negative elements that can be observed. as an example, i think really great restaurants are focusing on who they want to appeal to rather than worrying about how many mcdonalds there are on the same block or town. i don't claim to know much about anything but i've removed negative influences from my life. i don't watch the news, i don't search craigslist or ebay for stuff regarding tattooing, i don't watch youtube videos of scratchers (made that mistake somewhat recently from a referring link to one), and i don't engage in conversation with the local folks regarding what shops they hate etc. all i can do is to work towards the things i want to do and be kind and generous when given the opportunity and hope that the work i put in will one day pay off.

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the talent pool is ever expanding and if we dont reach out to expand the client pool we will all drown. tv exposure, be it nonsense or not, was the inevitable. with a growing industry we need the clients. dont worry about how tv molds their expectations, get the people in the door and educate them. make them believe in you and your shop.

i remember watching the sailor jerry documentary and it touching down on his distaste for lyle tuttle. he didnt like how tuttle was putting himself out there on main street but the truth of the matter is that if guys didnt do that then the business would of never grown and most of us probably wouldnt be tattooers.

just be thankful that in an economy that has finally effected our industry, that were all still here and doing what we love. tattoos are a luxury at this point so you kinda gotta put yourself out that as the guys/girls that will provide you with the best this luxury has to offer.

of course its always nice to hold onto our roots and be true to the ways of old... we certainly stand on the shoulders of giants but if you dont recognize the path ahead, your path will end

Very Profound, every word well put and full of truth

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Strong artists will continue to survive, as there are thankfully still enough people out there who know good tattoos from crap tattoos. It also boils down to self-promotion. If an artist doesn't do any self-promotion, how do they expect anyone to find them, and see how their work clearly stands above the dude's down the street?

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