Finally, a new blog! Happy New Year ! Been that crazy, busy, and it’s difficult finding time to write, I need to be alone, when I write, free of distractions , and that’s not happening with twin 5-year-old daughters at home, and with clients, and the day-to-day-operations in the duel role of owner/artist of 71 Tattoo. A lot has transpired since our last blog, I was coming off being re-charged, and inspired form The Duke City Tattoo Fiesta, excited about the upcoming NFL season, and slightly concerned about the upcoming presidential elections, but figured we as a country would make the smart choice. That didn’t happen in my opinion , and it’s affected what has transpired the last few months in my business, to some degree. However, this is not a political blog, although, I am feeling the need, more and more, to express my opinions on politics, sports, and culture, via a blog, just not this one.
So, the shop ended the year on an OK note, business wasn’t bad, despite, the annual winter-time-slow-down, AKA ” that time of year” we seemed to be steady, if nothing else, which is all one can ask for during the winter months. Insecure tattoo artists, fearful of being perceived as ” slow” or ” not booked up” will ALWAYS claim they’re busier than they are, even in the dead of winter, typical conversation : Me : ” so, how’s business, we’re pretty slow since it’s that time of year ” Random/any tattoo artist ” Bro, I’m slammed, I’m booked out 6 weeks” sure, you, are, whatever you say buddy…
In any case I lost a guy, who quit, I wont name him by name, but those that know my shop, or follow this blog will note his absence from every corner of this website, I scrubbed it clean of him, as well as the 71 Tattoo Facebook page, 71 Tattoo Instagram page, 71 Tattoo Twitter page, ect ect ect..
He spoke of not being fulfilled at 71 Tattoo, wanting to ” travel” , not wanting to bum me out when he wanted to take a week to go guest somewhere, or having to stress out on covering his shift, on the one day we would need it, how, somehow artistically he wasn’t stimulated, despite the fact myself, Danny V, Devo, and Rabbit are constantly drawing/painting/creating,example, Rabbit wanted to learn how to do wood burning artwork, and simply taught himself how to do it! His stuff is actually really awesome, you can check him out on FB and Instagram as Rabbit The Taco Master http://www.71tattoo.com/tim-rabbit-cochran/ I routinely give out ” homework” or I should say we agree on a design motif , lets say Reapers, and we, as a shop will all draw, paint a design , actually any medium is fine, pen & ink, watercolor, charcoal whatever, the idea is for all of us to create the agreed upon image, create in in whatever medium we want, and check out what everybody did/critique it. It’s an idea I actually stole from Aaron Bell at Slave to the Needle in Seattle http://slavetotheneedle.com/ it’s a fun exercise, and the point is to work on designs one knows, or to challenge them with designs they normally don’t do as much. So, in any case, I found the ” I’m not artistically fulfilled” excuse to be lacking, as was the idea of being the martyr and leaving , so his artistic and traveling desires didn’t mess up the vibe of my shop. I’ve heard it all before, the last 23 years, so, I’m not easily fooled. That being said, my man, worked hard, was always on time, stayed late, made the shop money, and was good with the clients, it just wasn’t a good fit for either of us and sometimes that happens.
In reality, I believe that what went down with him, is something that is happening all over our industry : artists not wanting to work on a percentage, but pay rent instead. What has happened in ABQ, and I’m sure nationally, is there’s now a movement for the tattoo artist ” employee” to pay rent to the owner ” employer” . What has happened in ABQ is there were 3-5 shops, recognized as good shops, mentioned in the ” best of” lists that suddenly employed 10-15 artists, all making 50, 55, 60% thus making the owners of these shops a ton of money. When the artist wanted a raise, in most cases it was over due, these owners found every excuse to NOT give them a raise, so, the artists basically said ” fuck you, I’m outta here ” ( I’m not those exact words I’m sure ) meanwhile, another shop sprung up, with a few new-to-the-business , shouldnt-be-owning-a-shop-this-early-on guys, who offered theses tattoo artists $400-500 a month to work at their shop, thus boosting their income as owners, and certainly their reputation. If suddenly these killer artists want to leave these well know , established shops, and come to your, shop, it boosts the reputation and volume of these newer shops. Gives them a higher profile. So, again, not naming names, but you essentially had two well known artists from two established well known shops, walk out, head to these new, random spots, and it started a mass exodus, a chain reaction, suddenly these shops lost 5, 6, 7 people, and were scrambling.
It’s created an un-sustainable atmosphere in my opinion, and one that could’ve been easily avoided. You can’t treat your artists un-fairly, you have to give them periodic raises, its more about respect than it is the 5% pay increase in my opinion. If you treat your artists shitty, or unfairly, don’t pay them well, refer to them as ” my prized piggies” they’re not going to be happy where they are, they will build crazy resentments to the owner, and the shop, and start looking for a way out, and if some new-jack kid, who just opened up, comes along and offers some insanely inexpensive rent option, obviously the disgruntled artist is going to take the offer. It’s a no-brainier. Especially if, as usually happens there’s no communication between owner and artist, resentments build, and it gets ugly. This is a part of what has happened in my opinion, you add this into the fact that there’s WAY TOO MANY SHOPS and the market is OVER-SATURATED we have a problem. The bubble has officially burst here in Albuquerque. It’s not sustainable, I’ve been saying it for years.
So in my going on 24 years , the way I’ve always understood the financials, is by the artist paying a percentage to the shop. Always been like that. A new tattooer, fresh off an apprenticeship could expect to pay 50% to the house for at least a year, then with experience, loyalty and the skills getting better, the artist could expect a raise, up to 55, or 60 % which has always sort of been the going rate for a standard tattooer. 65, is getting up there, and most guys would cap out at 70-75%, and at that point, the idea of rent comes in. However, to only have a few years under ones belt, if that, and to expect/demand to pay rent is fucking ludicrous in my opinion. Not the way I came up at all. I know the ” industry” has changed, but these new jack artists cannot expect to demand to pay $500 a month no matter what, sorry, doesn’t work like that, and these greedy-ass owners can’t expect their guys to work at 55-60% forever! It’s like greedy owners, have led to greedy artists, so now, any potential guys that would come to me for a job , I’m going to have to deal with the rent thing, never mind the fact my shop COSTS ME minimum of $4,000 a month between rent, utilities, phone, Internet, taxes , tattoo supplies! It’s like ” fuck you bro, I wanna pay rent I don’t care how much your overhead is” ! Ridiculous! Then, its like, ” fuck you back, you little shit” and mr. new-jack tattooer goes and opens another shop, with more apprentices, and the cycle repeats itself.
Greedy owners, have led to greedy artists, and here we are…..
Look, I don’t proclaim to run the best shop in the world, but I do my best, I pay my artists fairly, based on how long they’ve been tattooing, how long they’ve been with me, where their loyalties lie, and what their skill level is. I try to communicate the best I can why paying me rent would be impossible, I try to encourage dialogue, so my artists aren’t disgruntled, and resentful, looking for a way out, or easily swayed by new-jack shop down the road offering to let them pay $400 a month to c’mon down. You have to treat your artists fairly especially if they treat you fairly. Owners cant own a shop without artists, and artists need a place to work, it has to be beneficial to both, and there’s always a compromise. Again, I’m not claiming to be perfect or to have all the answers, but I’ve owned two tattoo shops in two parts of the country for 17 years, I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about. Now, if the artist is a junkie, stealing from me, shitty to customers, obviously we’re not even having this conversation, they’re bounced out on their heads, but to hard working, legit ,tattooers, paying them fairly in a way that’s not going to bankrupt the business doesn’t seem to complicated.
Yet here we are..
So, back to my guy, come to find out he wasn’t happy with the financial arrangement at my shop, despite me giving him a raise once in the year he was with me, he grumbled to the other guys, behind my back, wanting to pay rent, claiming working for me COST him money, he felt he should be able to pay rent, come and go as he pleased, not have to answer for anything, do as he wanted, but work at my spot. I briefly considered letting him pay rent, thought about it over the weekend, and came in the next week, and was like ” fuck this” no way, I mean, if I’m letting any of my artists pay rent it isn’t this guy, it’s someone like Danny V. http://www.71tattoo.com/danny-v who has been with me 8 years, been loyal as hell, proved time and time again that he can be trusted, has busted his ass to be one of the best tattooers I know, and is totally down for the cause, and the shop, not some dude who had been here barely a year, that felt entitled to all this shit, no way, doesn’t work like that.
Now, to this guy’s credit, coming out of his apprenticeship he got started at an extremely high percentage, not the usual 50% to compensate for being slow business-wise, then ,the next shop he moved to let him, of course, pay rent and come and go as he pleased, so coming to 71, I felt I was paying him a fair percentage but because of how he came up, he felt he deserved more than I offered him.
So, therein lies the dilemma: everyone wants to pay rent now regardless of experience, skills and loyalty without any thought to the owner, who has to pay all the rent and bills. I get shitty, greedy owners, but, the owners who do not treat their artists un-fairly, who don’t take them for granted, who don’t stuff the shop with mediocre tattooers, to make even more money, who provide a private office, a good reputation ect, are now held hostage to the whole rent thing. It kinda sucks, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in. Again, I’m not the expert this is just my opinion and observations of what’s going on in the business in my city. I’ll try to update the blog/website every few weeks, moving forward, thanks for reading this.