- Tattoo and piercing studios are seeing a swell of customers as the pandemic subsides.
- Shop owners told Insider they’re seeing lines out the door and they’ve had to turn customers away.
- They attribute the surge to clients wanting to memorialize lost loved ones or to feel alive again.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Paul Collurafici is busier than he’s ever been in 44 years in the tattoo industry.
Collurafici is the owner of Tattoo Factory, a piercing and tattoo studio in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. The shop was closed for about five months during the pandemic – since it reopened, Collurafici estimates he’s seen a 30% spike in customers.
“We open at 10 in the morning. There’ll be 20 people waiting out front…figuring they could be the first one in,” he told Insider.
Tattoo and piercing shop-owners like Collurafici told Insider they’ve seen a spike in business since many states relaxed COVID-19 safety protocols for personal care services. IBIS World analysts expect the $1.2 billion tattoo artist industry to increase its market size by 6.6% in 2021.
Paul Stoll, the owner of a piercing shop called Body Manipulations in San Francisco, said he’s also noticed a major influx of customers – and a change in their behavior, post-pandemic.
Stoll started working at the shop in 1995 and later took over as owner. He compared what he’s seeing right now to what he witnessed in the 1980s amid the AIDS epidemic: People are feeling, maybe for the first time, their own morbidity. Now that life is beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy, they want to celebrate being alive in ways big and small.
“I believe that the surge in demand, whether people realize it or not, they’re seeking out exactly what our product actually is: It’s a moment of being human. It’s a moment of being raw. It’s a moment of feeling your body actually go through something,” he said. “It’s different than shopping online and buying that thing you always wanted. It’s different than a splurge. It’s more permanent than that.”
“I think that what people need is hope, sensation. They just need to know that they’re still alive and this isn’t all a bad dream.”
Stoll opened a new 4,500-square-foot location during the pandemic, a decision he says was born out of either “the foresight to create something big or the stupidness to create something big.” He said he ran out of money three times and drained his savings in order to keep paying his employees, but now that the new shop is open, he’s already seen a 50% increase in sales.
He said his business grossed $1.5 million in 2019 when it was operating out of 900 square feet, and he expects that will double in 2021.
“It’s really busy and it’s hard to manage how busy it is,” he said. “We’ve turned people away.”
Like Stoll, Miya Matsui opened her Santa Barbara tattoo studio during the pandemic.
Since opening in February 2021, Matsui said she’s been backlogged with appointments for both new clients and those who had to reschedule during the pandemic. She said a portion of her clients have gotten tribute or memory tattoos commemorating family members lost to COVID-19.
“I think when you experience losses like we have over the past year and a half, it’s something that causes people to think on how they want to show up and not waste time showing up in an inauthentic way,” Matsui said.
Carl Kuo, who owns Mission Ink Tattoo & Piercing in San Francisco, said that even though his shop was closed for most of last year, he still received a barrage of emails from customers who wanted to come in. Since the shop reopened, he said, people have been coming out in droves.
Kuo said he’s seen slightly higher demand for piercing services than tattoos, for two reasons: For one, piercings are less of a commitment and more of a social event for a group of friends to do together. But Kuo also said that there’s been pent up demand for facial piercings, such as nose and lip piercings, which shops couldn’t previously perform due to mask mandates.
Among those customers who are seeking out tattoos, Kuo said a lot of his customers are also asking for ink that memorializes loved ones they lost during the pandemic – one client recently asked for a “1964” tattoo in honor of her mother who died from COVID, he said.
“I think it’s a time for self-reflection for a lot of people, and grieving,” Kuo said.