We never like to sit still at Black Hat Tattoo even during times of lockdown and pandemic. Recently we chatted with Rock Radio’s Gary Brennan. He hosts The Fast Lane show and we told him all about why life in the fast lane for our studio means expanding into a new store in the southside of Dublin.
Here’s how our conversation went with Lena, one of our co-founders.
Gary: Hi Lena, you’re very welcome to the show. I always love these chats about tattoos. Now tell me what’s going on with your studio, you have a lot going on at the moment I believe?
“It’s great to be able to allow our artists to make people happy again by giving them amazing tattoos.”
Lena: Hi Gary. Thank you, yes there is a lot happening.
Firstly we reopened with a huge amount of customers waiting to get tattoos. The pandemic has been quite long for us, like all artistic business retailers. And I’m sure it was long for our clients too. So it was great to be able to allow our artists to make people happy again by giving them amazing tattoos.
At the same time, we realized that our current venue has a maximum number of artists working with us. But applications from other artists were still coming in. So as we know there is both a customer demand and talented new artists looking to get involved, we have decided to expand by opening a new shop in South Dublin.
Gary: Great – that’s a very exciting time for Black Hat Tattoo. And it’s a great complaint to be so busy. I’d say there was a huge backlog of people wanting to get tattoos throughout the lockdown. So I’m sure the queues must be out the door now?
Lena: Well yes, but not quite. Customer interest is definitely up but it’s not a case of them queueing outside. The reason we are busy is not so much because more people want tattoos, it’s more that they want to get a tattoo from a certain artist. It’s really the reputation of our artists that will create the demand. Sure the overall reputation of the tattoo studio and experience are factors too of course. And the location of the premises is another factor. But the tattoo artists within a studio are the major factor as to why someone will travel to us. Our location in Dublin helps of course. For example you wouldn’t go from Belfast to Cork to get a tattoo. But we do have clients who come from Belfast, or Cork, from Galway to get tattooed here.
Gary: Sure, that makes sense. So does that mean you have strict criteria on hiring your tattoo artists then?
Lena: Well yes to an extent, but our studio is not about simply judging artistic quality. We welcome artists who want to learn, work and create in a qualitative space. We want them to focus on developing their art and this is really our mission of purpose.
It’s very difficult for an artist to find a proper space that is well equipped and well managed. We wanted to create a place where there are good vibes and a great atmosphere, so they can really focus on what they love.
Gary: That’s a great thing about Black Hat Tattoo. This culture comes across every time I talk to a member of your staff, they’re all happy, they’re all looked after. And they’re all free to express themselves in an artistic way. And that’s really important to you as an owner, isn’t it?
“It’s really important that artists who want to explore and keep progressing are empowered with a space that gives them the freedom to grow.”
Lena: Yeah, when you work with artists, you tend to realise that most of them just want to keep growing. Once they reach one level artistically, they want to push to reach another one or learn a different skill. For example they may want to try different colour designs or switch to a more realistic design, or they like to blend everything. They do love to reinvent themselves and this is a prime quality of talented artists to be able to reinvent themselves over time. So if you are empowered with the right environment, which means the right art gallery or the right tattoo studio then you have the space to do this.
If they are not free to do that, then yes customers might like you for your unique style. But that can also close you off a little bit too much. And you can see that in the music and art industry as well. So it’s really important that artists who want to explore and keep progressing are empowered with a space that gives them the freedom to grow.
Gary: I have to say, it’s refreshing to hear that because you freely admit that your greatest asset are the artists that work in The Black Hat tattoo studio. And that bleeds over into the quality of work. It’s a way of managing a company that just excels. You must be very proud.
“If it’s good for the artist, then they in turn will be good with the client. And if it’s good for the client then we’re all in the good vibes business together.”
Lena: Well yes I’m proud of the artists but really it’s very simple. If it’s good for the artist, then they in turn will be good with the client. And if it’s good for the client then we’re all in the good vibes business together. It does work actually like if customers feel great they tell us this.
There are some tattoo shops where you come in, and tattoo artists don’t speak to each other at all. Each of them have their own space, and you can feel the tension and the pressure between them.
Even as a customer, you can easily notice if the atmosphere creates a bitchy environment. And conversely if they see our team is laughing with and supportive of each other, they will notice it too. Our clients do love their experience and come back, because the atmosphere is collaborative and supportive. It’s not as bitchy as it can get in some businesses.
Gary: And it breeds loyalty, doesn’t it? Because Irish consumers tend to do that when they find something good, they’ll continue to stick with that brand. They’re quite a loyal consumer base. Have you noticed that with your background coming from France? Have you seen a lot of repeat customers come into Black Hat Tattoo?
Lena: Well it depends. First, you might note that most of the people that will get a tattoo might have between one to three. So it’s not like they’re going to pop in every month like they would to a beauty salon.
But what is great is that we’ve been in business for six years now and we have customers from six years ago coming back three years or five years later for a second tattoo. So the time between tattoo number one and number two might be quite long. But we do have lots of people coming back or more importantly sending their friends, and supporting us on social media. And that means a lot, especially during COVID – their support was amazing.
Gary: Great, and the atmosphere must be fantastic at your studio now everyone’s back to work?
Lena: Yeah, like I do love it. It’s really peaceful. You know, it’s a good vibe. And you don’t find that very much often in workplaces.
Gary: Excellent – so we have a specific question from Andrea. Her 16-year-old daughter wants to get a tattoo and Andrea’s okay with that. But she wants to know what the process is to have it done by Black Hat Tattoo. I assume she just goes in with her daughter?
Lena: That’s great. For someone that age, well for anyone really, we do think it’s better for them to book a consultation first. If you’re 16, it’s your first tattoo. So it’s very much a big deal but your body might not be finished growing either. For example, if your father is very tall and you’re still small at 16, your tattoo might not stay the same place on your arm if you start to shoot up in height. So we’d advise you to take your time over it.
When you get your tattoo at 16 years old, your parents play a huge part in your decision anyway because they will be signing the contract for you. We always advise not to rush things and not to get too visible a tattoo either. Because your taste can easily change from 16 to 18, so you might not like it any more two years later.
So try to get a consultation to engage first. We have the time anyway, we will be there in two, three years for you. And we’d be happy to have you at 16 or 18. But what’s important since it’s your first tattoo is to have a very positive experience. We want you to be happy to come back.
Gary: Ok great. Now let’s talk about your Black Hat Tattoo studio expansion. It’s a wonderful thing to hear, because all you hear on the news is, you know, inflation and all this kind of stuff. It’s great to see an Irish company, just going from strength to strength. You must be really happy with this?
“I love this African proverb that says ‘Don’t wait for the storm to pass, learn to dance in the rain.’ So we’ve been dancing out in the rain for quite a while. And we’ll keep dancing.”
Lena: Well, yes we are happy. But this expansion is still a risk. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had some great people help us along the way. We’ve had to create this opportunity and have been preparing for this second opening for quite a while. So we’re pretty sure about it at the same time. You need to be brave to face the risks in this difficult time.
I love this African proverb that says ‘Don’t wait for the storm to pass, learn to dance in the rain.’ So we’ve been dancing out in the rain for quite a while. And we’ll keep dancing.
Gary: Excellent – I think I’ll get that as a tattoo. ‘Don’t wait for the rain to stop to start to dance.’ I love it. Before we wrap up today, is there anything else you want the listeners to know about your expansion?
Lena: Well, we’re not ready to share the exact location of our second studio yet because there is still a bit of paperwork to get through. But we’ll be letting you know on this station and on our social channels too.
Gary: Hah – you’re holding your cards close to your chest. You won’t even give us a little hint. It’s exciting though, your clients will love it when the new studio opens. And you’re going to be taking on more staff, aren’t you?
Lena: Yes we are still in the process of hiring new artists. We don’t want to move our current artists out of their existing studio, I mean it’s their choice if they want to. But Sergy is moving with one other person. And for Sergey that will be a very big change as we built Parnell St together. But I think starting afresh with new people can be very very interesting as well. So we’re really very confident that we can make it a success there.
Gary: Well congratulations and best of luck. We’re delighted for you. Just quickly before I let you go – if people want to book an appointment? They get in touch via the website, Instagram, Facebook, all that kind of stuff right?
Lena: Yes, the choice is yours, whatever you’re most comfortable with? We are on Google My Business as well. I think you can email us directly now. But on the website you can pay a deposit as well to secure your appointment. Or contact Laszlo, our studio manager. He’s always happy to help.
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