I had a few tattoos before, but when I moved to London in 2010 from Northampton, I started going to local tattoo shops. I was always fascinated by this industry, even though I used to work in finance for 8 years. I have always had this dream to open a tattoo parlour, but since I’m not a tattoo artist, it seemed very risky. It all changed when I had a conversation with a friend of mine who had done couple of tattoos at a studio in Northampton. That studio owner was not a tattoo artist, and his several studios were a success. This really inspired me to start thinking about opening my own studio and gave me the confidence that I could do it without necessarily being a tattoo artist. I had approached one of my friends, who was the owner at the time, to partner up, but that ended up with us agreeing for me to run the business individually. The studio started with one artist in 2018, and now SG Tattoo has six tattooists, one piercer, and two managers (studio and SMM).
When establishing the studio, I implemented quite a lot of base values from finance and restaurant management industries. My approach was to concentrate on customer service & art equally - I refurbished the studio and, first and foremost, assisted the guys in their approach to the client, without jeopardising their art and freedom of expression. At a glance, some tattoo parlours can seem unwelcoming, and some artists can be rough around the edges, and I wanted to avoid that at Southgate SG Studio. Eventually, this strategy and the team effort paid off, so both the studio and the team started expanding. It is surreal to think that in the beginning, there were only two chairs on the small ground floor! And now, we’ve taken over the lease for the whole building, expanded the studio over 2 floors, started having guest artists over, and even tattooed celebrities (i.e. Anthony Joshua). So far, so good!
In addition, an idea I brought from my previous "life" had a bit of gambling to it - "Lucky Dip" tattoos, which are random tattoos picked by a client from the machine. Southgate SG Tattoo was one of the first in London to start doing that. It became quite popular- we had 3 to 4 people a week asking for it. I suppose that is also a peculiar reflection on how nowadays people have changed their opinion and approach to tattoos.
I am grateful for my past experiences in very competitive industries and customer front-facing roles, as they gave me a foundation and understanding of a sound business approach. Customer communication and consequential experience satisfaction are big parts of success, and in the case of the tattoo industry, they are often lacking. People don’t just come for a great piece of art - they can spend up to several days at the studio with a person (artist) they don’t know. Because of that, you must make sure their experience is comfortable and special from the beginning to the end - from the point of them coming into the studio up until the door closing behind them.
I love dealing with people and being surrounded by people - this is what I understood working in finance, staring at a screen Monday through Friday, where a lack of communication really didn’t suit me. Then suddenly you get into this business, which brings you real joy, challenges you, and exposes you to a variety of people, growing your connections within the industry and in general.
Moreover, I enjoy dealing with the artists. They’re extraordinary - not particularly easy to handle, but you learn a lot from them. I’d say their brain works completely differently from mine - I’m mathematical, too straightforward, and I'm dedicated to other things, whereas artists' minds work in a different way. That difference is eye-opening, challenging, and the success that comes from this fusion is mind-blowing.
Plus, making incredible art is a great deal as well - you see a lot of smiling faces throughout the day, which is ironic considering that this happiness comes out of pain in our industry. Well, I know from personal experience. Sometimes I wonder to myself, "What am I doing in this tattoo chair?" (I’m quite covered), but when the end result makes you happy, it’s always worth it. This process is something special - it’s not like a haircut that you get on a monthly basis. Tattoos stick with you for the rest of your life (well, most of the time). It's a special bond between the artist and the customer - in a lot of cases, they become friends. You'll never forget the tattoo parlour where you got your first ink. In my opinion, this is something that makes this business special, and it brings me joy.
I try, through failures and successes and with a lot of help from everyone involved, to make this place as happy as possible. The team here became a family. In a lot of studios, artists come and go, but in this one, a lot of guys have been working from the start. When your hobby becomes a business - you’re a lucky man.
It is quite difficult to say how the industry will change, as I think it still holds a traditional edge. If you were to compare it to the others, you can’t really do tattoos "remotely" in the same way or automate them. I was approached a couple of years ago by a start-up and was asked about the futuristic idea of "How would you feel if they built a robot that does tattoos?" I suppose, for basic stuff, it’s possible, but in general, I don’t think anything of the sort will happen in the near future. Tattoos are first and foremost - art; they should follow and complement the shape of your body, and it is impossible to remove an artistic eye and craft from the process; therefore, I don’t see it changing fundamentally.
Although we have crossed out one year from our lives because of the COVID situation, we are going to celebrate our fifth anniversary on May the 1st 2023! Southgate SG Tattoo changed my life completely, and I’m really grateful that it happened, grateful to my friend who brought me into this industry, and the future holds many exciting plans, one of which is expansion.