The ink industry: A booming niche for retail
Tattoo parlours, once a haven for blokes with bad reputations, are now a fast-growing retail niche.
The sector is essentially immune to online competition and increasingly willing to pay top dollar for the right address, with industry insiders saying growth is unlikely to slow anytime soon.
Full sleeve Celtic Warrior tattoos kicked off the trend in the 1990s but it was the popularity of the TV show Miami Ink which stamped tattoos as the distinguishing mark of a generation.
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What and where?
There are now 1,000 parlours in Australia, according to IBISWorld, with turnover approaching $100 million a year.
Large studios are a common sight along major thoroughfares like Sydney’s Parramatta Road and in holiday spots like the Gold Coast – featuring up to 10 cubicles, display murals and week-long guest visits by overseas artists.
Large studios are common along major thoroughfares in Sydney and the Gold Coast.
There is also a growing number of ‘hole in the wall’ studios housing sole artists in areas like WA’s Fremantle.
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Tattoed baristas are a Newcastle mainstay.
Tal Wolf of Wolf Tattoos in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda came to Australia 12 years ago and has watched the industry grow exponentially.
“In Israel where I’m from, the industry is small as most people still think large tattoos are a sign of someone with a taint of criminality.
“It was always more prominent in Australia but nowhere near as popular as it is now. My studio now regularly does work for discerning people from professional backgrounds like doctors and lawyers, clients from their early 20s to 50s and older; even policeman.”
In 2013 McCrindle Research found 12% of adult Australians had tattoos. Of them, 40% first went under the needle at the age of 26 or older, with one in 10 getting their first tattoo in their 40s or later.
12% of Australian adults had tattoos in 2013.
Back in the 1980s, the style set was limited and clichéd, with swallows, dagger-hearts and bulldog designs prominent. Today, popular genres include Japanese Yakuza, Realism and Geometric, with the Sacred Art-style made popular by hip hop musicians.
Hardly surprising, rework and laser removal is a fast growing proportion of the industry too.
Retail success in the tattoo industry
So how can a retail property owner know if their shop will be attractive to this growing industry?
Wolf says smart operators concentrate their search on retail strips with high foot and vehicle traffic to maximise their exposure, then investigate available leases for suitability.
Both tourists and locals in the Gold Coast have a healthy appetite for body art.
“For a sole operator, a space of five by five metres is sufficient with each additional artist requiring a minimum of three by three metres.
The parlour experience must be welcoming, comfortable and safe.
“We operate under conditions laid down by the Department of Health and this requires our premises us to have a hot water system, separate sinks (for hand-washing and tool cleaning) and to have preparation and treatment areas tiled to keep the workspace sanitary and clean.
“Most important of all, a successful studio can no longer appear grungy. We are essentially a hospitality business and with increasing numbers of women and older people looking for tattoos, the experience must be welcoming, comfortable and safe.”
As more and more Australians opt for permanent body art, expect to see more of this fast growing niche at a retail strip near you.