In a business that revolves around showing some skin, summer is always busy.
That’s certainly true for local tattoo studio operators, who see an uptick in new and repeat customers in the warm months of May through September.
Jason Evans, owner of eight-year-old Neon Dragon Tattoo and Body Shop in Hiawatha, has seen customers ranging from 18-year-olds who come in on their birthdays to more mature clients.
“Our clientele varies — from college students to lawyers,” Evans said. “Most turn out to be return customers, but we’re always welcoming new clients through the doors.”
No matter what their background, each person comes in looking for the same thing — artistic permanence, said Mark Bell, owner of Indigo Body Art Gallery, which opened its doors in Coralville in 2010.
“Name me one other thing you can pay for once and have for the rest of your life,” Bell said.
Bell works under the mantra that quality always beats out quantity.
“Customers who are shopping around tend to look for cost and speed — it’s an instant-gratification type of purchase for a lot of people,” he said. “What should matter is whether you feel comfortable with the artist and the shop.”
And with plenty of tattoo businesses in the Corridor, customers do have the option to shop around.
“I don’t really see other shops as competition because every artist has their own style,” Evans added.
Pictures from Pinterest
Both Neon Dragon and Indigo Body Art see the majority of business come in through referrals. And they have each seen a growth in customer knowledge and interest over the past few years.
“TV shows have done wonders for this industry,” Bell said. “These shows have educated people a bit more about what goes into tattooing, and they’ve also created more interest.”
Bell also admitted that websites such as Pinterest have had an effect on many customers who now come in with a picture or idea they found online.
As an online market for ideas and inspiration grows, many tattoo artists take note of the trends as they come and go.
“When I first started tattooing 15 years ago, it was all tribal arm bands, and females got dolphins and flowers,” Evans recalled.
Today, he sees more symbols and birds, and noted that fads typically last from six months to a year.
“Now we do a lot more realistic designs, like portraits. There’s really no telling what we’ll do next,” he said.
Bell noticed that the younger crowd tends to lean more toward the trendy, while older customers make much unique and meaningful choices. Some customers come in with a solid description — sometimes even a picture — of exactly what they want, but others who walk through the door with only a vague idea of what they’re looking for.
“We really try to give the customer what they want — the idea is what’s important to the person, so it’s our job to capture that,” Bell said.
An eye toward safety
Neon Dragon’s staff includes four tattoo artists and two piercers. Customers can choose the artist they want, and often that depends on how long they’re willing to wait.
“I’m typically booked out for three to four months at a time. But we also have artists who are able to schedule appointments within two weeks,” Evans explained.
Indigo has a full staff of four, each of whom was hired by Bell based on personality and ability to fit into the environment he’s created.
With various staff members who all work at different speeds, these shops charge by the piece, instead of hourly.
“Pricing works on size, detail and placement,” Evans said.
According to Bell, the industry standard is around $100 to $150 per hour, but he also chooses to charge by the piece.
The studios also keep an eye toward safety.
“There’s a general lack of interest and outcry for safety concerns in this state,” Bell noted. “The licensing process is so lax. People think it offers credibility, safety, or ability — but it often doesn’t. It’s very much buyer beware.”
Both Neon Dragon and Indigo Body Art are state licensed and the artists take all precautions necessary. But Bell also advocated that customers do their homework and research the shops they visit.
“I’d like to see some of the stereotypes of the industry go away, and that’s where the need for education comes in,” he said.