Franchise Opportunity: Celebrity Ink™ CEO on the Emerging Tattoo Industry

What does the Celebrity Ink™ franchise opportunity look like?

Luigi from Celebrity Ink™ HQ interviewed our CEO and one of our top performing franchisees to learn more…

Luigi:

I’m here to guide you through a conversation to allow you to walk away with an understanding of the Celebrity Ink™ franchise opportunity, and how it’s helping people like Natalie achieve her business goals.

And if there is an interest for you to learn more about the franchise opportunity that’s available, we’ll share with you some details of who you can connect with and where to.

Before we get into today’s exciting session, I want to welcome Manuel Campos, who is the CEO of Celebrity Ink™.

He has an incredible career working in the finance area of the business and has also managed a number of businesses before joining Celebrity Ink™ as the CEO.

He has guided the business through an incredible growth period that’s seeing territories and sites being opened up all over the world.

And I’d also like to welcome Natalie Kington who has joined the business and opened her first franchise, who’s also a mother of two and a very successful business owner.

We’d love to learn a bit more about you, Natalie.

So tell us a bit about yourself and what led you down the path of becoming a franchise owner.

Natalie:

I have other franchise businesses outside of Celebrity Ink™ which I came into seven and a half years ago, primarily for the reason that I think you can be quite limited as an employee.

I was frustrated by those limitations from a lifestyle perspective, from a finance perspective, from a satisfaction in my job perspective.

I was looking for more responsibility so that I didn’t run into a ceiling effect.

And to me, I’m big on brand confidence.

So when you buy into a franchise, you’re buying that brand confidence.

You’re investing into that.

You’re asking potential consumers to invest into that.

I feel really comfortable with that which is why I have multiple businesses, and they were all a franchise opportunity.

It gives you enormous amount of satisfaction in your role.

You have a higher level of responsibility but you have a lot higher level of satisfaction and financially you’re much better off if you are willing to take the risk and to put in the hard work.

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Luigi:

How long were you in your previous role and what was the level of seniority that you had in that particular role before becoming a franchise owner?

Natalie:

I was in my previous role for two and a half years but I was in the industry for 14 years, which was sales and marketing in the medical and pharmaceutical world.

I worked for a company called Allergan, which is a company that makes BOTOX, and a number of other different things.

I was a regional manager for Queensland and New Zealand, with around 23 million dollars worth of sales in my portfolio and a team of about 20 that I ran.

It was tough, hard work as anyone in a reasonably senior level of a corporate understands the demands are huge.

You never work a 38 hour week.

At times was largely unfulfilling but I learned a lot.

So it was actually a great basis for moving into being a business owner.

Luigi:

What triggered you to go from that point?

You mentioned you were unfulfilled, where you said, “Hey, I’m in a corporate role here, I’ve hit the ceiling. I’m not fulfilled.”

What triggered you to go, “Right, it’s time for me to become a business owner.”

I was just sick of making other people money.

Natalie:

That just comes down to opportunity, in this case a franchise opportunity.

I think if you are interested in being in business, most people feel it for quite a long time before they make the jump.

Because it’s a big risk and I think sometimes it comes from just getting to the bottom and just being really unhappy with where you’re at or what it’s taking from you.

For me, I was just sick of making other people money.

I’ve always been very successful in every role and I’ve always exceeded expectations.

But you actually don’t necessarily get that back equally.

Whereas in business, it’s more of a level playing field.

And I just saw an opportunity.

I first saw an opportunity in the aesthetics world and I needed to jump on it.

So, it was a combination of the opportunity coming along and being at that right level of, okay, now I’m really starting to not enjoy my life.

I wanted to see improvements across the board and took the plunge.

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Luigi:

Before I go to Manuel to ask him a bit about the business model and what attracted you to the business model, I’d love to know how your life has changed since you’ve made that transition from employee to business owner?

If you’re a resilient person, you should take up a franchise opportunity.

Natalie :

Well, for me it changed in every respect.

One of the biggest things for me was starting a family and I couldn’t do that in my previous role because I was on three to four flights a week, never at home.

There’s lifestyle changes and then there’s financial changes.

And then there’s just, I guess the importance, the impact of you becomes huge because you are the business owner.

How you operate defines how your staff operate, which defines the success of your business.

So there’s a lot more emphasis on you.

It’s been incredibly positive because I think when you take ownership and you take accountability for your own results, the world’s your oyster.

And you are not having to work in parameters such as what you are held to in corporate.

So in terms of satisfaction, your results are your results.

It’s definitely one of the best things that have happened to me or that I’ve ever done and I would highly recommend anybody who’s been thinking about it.

If you’re a resilient person, if you’re a persistent person, if you’re a high achiever and a high performer, then there’s no question.

You should absolutely take advantage of a franchise opportunity.

The tattoo industry has immense potential.

Luigi:

Manuel, we’d love to get your input around what makes this particular business model so unique that its disrupting a market so quickly.

Manuel:

Look, it’s an interesting question because I worked in listed companies before in industries that have large players, very successful players.

When I joined this business, I found an industry that is extremely profitable, that has been growing for many years, that is forecasted to continue growing 8% in the long term.

But there were no big players.

So, as someone with a business advisory mindset, I started to look into it on why there were no major players in this industry.

And that’s when we together at Celebrity Ink™ found what were the tweaks that we needed to make in the business model to make this to become the largest player and the leading brand in the tattoo industry.

It’s an immense industry, it’s an industry with huge potential.

One of the things that was and is limiting this industry is the availability of the core people in an industry like this, which are the artists.

The tattoo industry was made with a scarce pool of talented tattoo artists.

And because of that, it also came with a very unprofitable way of remunerating these artists.

Of course, like everything in an economy, you have supply and demand.

When the supply is a lot shorter than the demand, then the supply takes a lot more.

So, we started working on those variables.

We started looking at ways to creatively think outside the box to disrupt the industry in that sense.

That’s when we came up with several initiatives; among them creating our own academy of tattoo artists.

The world is full of amazingly talented artistic people but for some reason or another, this industry was not attracting them or was not giving them room to come to the industry, express their art and make a good living out of it.

That was one of the first initiatives we launched that made the business model a lot more profitable.

And then of course, seeing the potential in this industry, we have been investing and we continue investing very heavily in technology.

Because what we’re trying to do as a brand is move away from an industry that wasn’t putting too much emphasis on the customer experience and focusing solely on that, on providing an amazing customer experience.

Its about providing feel good experiences to every single customer and not just when they get the tattoo but throughout the whole customer journey.

That’s why we’re investing extremely heavily in technology, the best in the world, to make sure that our customers receive an amazing experience leaving them feeling better about themselves.

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Luigi:

Historically, if you think about tattoos, you can picture what a tattoo parlour might look like.

It certainly doesn’t scream franchise opportunity!

Natalie, tell us a bit about why this unique experience is attracting so many customers to come through the doors and actually get their tattoo for the first time.

Celebrity Ink™ has filled a gap.

Natalie:

I think because a tattoo previously was taken up by the market in a minority.

Say you walked down the street anywhere really now in Western society, I think once upon a time, maybe you saw one in 20 or one in 30 people with a tattoo.

I think if I walk down the street now, I would see maybe one in 20 or one in 30 that doesn’t have a tattoo.

The traditional business model was catering to the minority, but the consumers moved into the majority, so you need to be able to service that majority.

That means you need to mainstream the experience for people.

You need to make it predictable.

You need to make it consistent.

You need to make it approachable and pleasant and all of these things, the tattoo industry is not known for.

When you think of a tattoo parlour, maybe you think of dark doors and windows, maybe some skulls, it’s certainly not somewhere most people would say, “Yeah, I feel 10 out of 10 confidence going in there.”

Now it’s consumed by so many people, and these people want a good experience but they want to go somewhere where it’s acceptable.

Putting a tattoo studio into a shopping centre really goes a long way to making that acceptable in the mainstream market.

Just by seeing it there, people go, “Okay, that’s acceptable now. It’s safe. It’s clean.”

And that’s where Celebrity Ink™ has filled that gap.

Luigi:

The business essentially has been created to be inviting and accessible, removing that stigma or that fear of going into historically traditional tattoo parlours.

Natalie:

People who want that are the minority.

They might call themselves the diehards or whatever it is but at the end of the day, they are the minority.

The majority of people are like me and you, they’re professionals, they’re moms, they’re dads, they’re 18-year-olds, everyone basically.

You need to cater to that.

There’s no one else doing that in the market.

You actually need to look at what that experience looks like because people don’t want just a tattoo.

They don’t just want good art.

They actually want to enjoy the experience from the moment they walk in, the entire part of it and when they walk out.

I would say in my studio, probably 80% or more have meaning behind the tattoo.

So yes, we do absolutely have the people who walk in.

At least five, six times a day, I’ll get bookings of people who are just walking in.

Did they wake up this morning and think I’m going to get a tattoo?

No.

They’re in the shopping centre.

They go, “I want a tattoo,” but there’ll be meaning behind that tattoo.

When it’s meaningful to them or it’s personal or it’s sentimental, then the experience is really important.

They want to connect with the person they’re getting the tattoo from and they want to look at that tattoo and feel good about it because they’re going to be looking at it for a long time.

And that’s where the Celebrity Ink™ franchise opportunity is hitting that spot for people.

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How does the Celebrity Ink™ franchise opportunity stack up?

Luigi:

Has the business met your expectations from a return on investment perspective?

Natalie:

Absolutely.

I’ve got other franchise businesses as well, so I’ve got something to compare against.

I’m looking at paying my initial investment back within 18 months.

By anyone’s standards, that’s a good return.

What you’re always looking for when you open a business is the response from the market.

Generally it’s a big flow initially.

The only reason it’s not quicker than 18 months to be honest is that initially I didn’t have artists because they were still in training.

But the consumer uptake and the consumer interest was there from the day I opened, making it an excellent franchise opportunity because that’s what you want.

That’s what you need in a business because if you don’t have that, you have to spend money to get that.

And I’ve spent next to no money on marketing in this business so far.

I don’t actually intend on spending anything because I’m not going to need to, which is great because it’s more money for me!

“I’m not afraid of spending money, I just don’t need to.”

Luigi:

How are customers coming into your studio if you’re not doing any paid marketing?

Natalie:

I think it’s just a reflection that that gap was there to be honest.

When you actually fill a gap that well, it’s just how the market responds.

When you put something in a shopping centre space, people deem it to be safe.

They deem it to be clean.

They deem it to be acceptable and they get that brand confidence obviously from Celebrity Ink™, which is huge as well.

It’s like osmosis, they just come through because they’ve been wanting it.

And that’s a really lovely position to be in.

I’ve also got another business in the same shopping centre, seven and a half years old.

It does very well.

I spent $100,000 in marketing in the first 12 months of opening in that business.

I’m anticipating maybe I’ll spend $10,000 in this business in the first 12 months.

So that’s a direct comparator.

And it’s not because I’m afraid of spending money.

I just don’t need to.

And that’s a genuine market response.

That’s just what I’ve seen so far, and I’m pleasantly surprised.

Pleasantly surprised and also not surprised because that’s why I came into the business because I thought this is an emerging market.

The best thing I’ve seen in the tattoo world so far is that business is built by referral.

So, because you’re not investing in getting your client base, you’re doing a great job with them, giving them a great experience, they go and tell 10 of their mates.

Then their mates come in because they want that experience.

It’s very poignant in the tattoo world.

And it’s a visual.

It’s on someone.

They’re getting tattoos in obvious places because they want people to notice it and they want to talk about it.

From a business perspective, usually you have to spend a lot of money to make that happen whereas that happens by itself in this industry.

It can work totally against you if you don’t do a great job.

There are tattoo parlours that aren’t doing a great job and therefore even that works for you because then people learn to seek out a brand, a brand like Celebrity Ink™.

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How does Celebrity Ink™ HQ contribute?

Luigi:

Obviously Natalie has come into the business, achieved incredible success, and there’s probably learnings from every new franchisee that comes on board.

How is HQ enabling the success of these new studios to achieve the results that Natalie has achieved?

Manuel:

We are laying the path towards being a big player, bringing the tattoo industry from underground to mainstream.

We are tapping into franchisee’s feedback constantly.

We use technology to be constantly communicating with each other, communicating learnings, communicating mistakes that we make that we don’t want to repeat.

We are very open at head office, open to their ideas and we have implemented several ideas that came straight from our franchisees and that’s enabling us to grow exponentially instead of everything coming from head office.

If you have the right attitude, you’re going to do very well.

Luigi:

What are the characteristics that you’re looking for in a people looking to invest in the Celebrity Ink™ franchise opportunity?

Manuel:

People like Natalie are great franchisees to have in the brand.

She has experience in franchising; she knows what a franchise opportunity looks like.

She has business acumen.

But if I have to put it down to something – because you don’t have to have experience with franchising, you don’t have to have business experience altogether – it’s about the attitude.

If you have the right attitude, willing to put in the work, willing to be open to learning, and follow what we have implemented based on experience from other studios, you’re going to be fine.

You’re going to do really well.

Natalie:

I think people often make the mistake of thinking you need technical skills in the franchise opportunity that you are proceeding with which I don’t necessarily agree with.

In fact, I think it’s an advantage not to have the technical skill because you stay off the tools and work on the business, which is key.

People make the mistake of looking at other people and going, “You’ve done so well. You must be incredibly smart,” or whatever it might be.

I don’t think that’s the case.

I don’t think you have to be the smartest person in the room.

I think you just have to be very resilient and you have to be persistent.

And if you can nail those two things, it’s incredibly hard to fail.

You hire people who have technical skill.

Luigi:

What’s one of the learnings you took away from your first few months in the business that you’d love to share with others who might be about to start this journey?

Would you have done anything differently?

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.

Natalie:

Have you got three hours?!

Look, its not just about taking advantage of the franchise opportunity.

You have to invest in yourself.

You have to manage yourself and invest in yourself.

That’s the key.

Like Manuel said, it’s around attitude and mindset.

None of that comes naturally; remember when you’re in business, you are dealing with all the high level stuff, good and bad.

Initially, you have more challenges than you have financial wins.

You may have business debt and a lot of things riding on this.

So the pressure’s on.

Get a mentor, find someone who can help you and keep you going for that first 12 months.

And really that’s probably the biggest thing that’s taken me from being a business owner to being in the top of the fields that I’m in.

I manage myself well.

I manage my teams very well.

I hire very well.

My expectations are on point and then you just hit goals.

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Recruit early for faster return on investment.

Luigi:

Tell us a bit about the talent gap that you faced and what you did to overcome that.

Natalie:

The tattoo industry has grown phenomenally quickly.

There is a lack of supply of artists in the market.

And then further to that lack of supply, there’s a lack of supply of suitable artists for what we are looking for to give the customer the experience that we want to give.

So you need to actually create that for yourself as an owner.

A lot of people might go, “Well, how am I going to find tattoo artists for a start. If I can’t find them, how am I going take someone and train them when I have no idea about tattoos.”

Valid point.

So you have to allow yourself the time.

If I had my time again, I would’ve started my recruitment six months out and I would’ve opened my studio with the team that I have now, which is around 11 artists.

The art coming out of the studio is great because I went and recruited people who have amazing art ability, but they haven’t been able to make a living from art.

The field of arts, whether it’s acting, singing, dancing, or actual art, is a labor of love.

There is a whole pool of people out there with amazing skill that just can’t find a way to make a living out of it.

And that’s what we can offer them.

Manuel mentioned the academy, it is an absolute lifesaver, and integral to a successful business in the tattoo industry, particularly this franchise opportunity.

Run your artists through the academy, get them licensed, then get them into your studio.

Luigi:

If you had your time again, you would’ve probably started to recruit earlier in the process so that you could’ve fielded a more rounded team which would’ve allowed you to see a return on investment even sooner.

What you’ve hit on there, is you’re not just taking tattoo artists and bringing them in, but you’re actually breeding tattoo artists through the academy.

This is a real differentiator and one of the things that really allows studios to unlock that growth as quickly as they can.

How did that academy form and what does HQ do to bring in that pool of talent and develop them?

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The talent is out there, you just have to find it.

Manuel:

As I mentioned, the main reason why this industry doesn’t have big players is because of that barrier of entry: access to talented tattoo artists.

There’s tons of talented artistic people out there.

And what we do is we give them the opportunity to be able to, instead of working in jobs that they probably hate and gives them no satisfaction, be able to make a really good living out of expressing who they are.

It’s a win-win because we bring in these amazing, beautiful people doing what they love and making good money out of it.

It gives us the opportunity to grow and it improves our business model financially by increasing that pool of tattoo artists.

The tattoo artists don’t have to do anything other than sit there and do amazing art, which is what we cannot do at the head office.

They just need to focus on what they’re great at, and we look after everything else for them.

Natalie:

I think that’s key to any business, actually breaking down the strengths of the people in your business and allocating roles so that everybody’s doing something that they are productive at and enjoy.

That results in retention and the byproduct is they make money.

An unexpected, but really pleasant side effect of it all, is it’s really fulfilling.

The gratitude that these staff have for you giving them a platform to make money is overwhelming.

They’re doing what they love and they’re making money.

These guys haven’t had this for a long time.

And they’re in a studio and a team of 10 people that also have this love for art and tattooing.

The culture that you’re able to run in this business is rare.

When clients walk in, they feel this and they’re like, “This is a great place to be. There’s so much passion. I’m going to get a great tattoo here.”

I make commercial decisions mostly but fulfilment is a very nice side effect.

Luigi:

You’re not just creating a unique experience for your customers but you’re also creating a unique experience for the artists and really connecting both to create an incredible brand proposition.

Culture and experience make a business successful.

Natalie:

Outside of Celebrity Ink™ is the opposite of all that.

Traditionally if someone wants to be an artist, they’re looking down the barrel of 18 months to two years of not being paid, while still working full time.

Some of my artists have been apprentices elsewhere fell out of their apprenticeship because they just couldn’t take it.

They were cleaning the cars of the senior artist they were meant to be learning from.

One guy did it for six months and was treated terribly with no guarantee of actually being an artist.

So, not only what we’re doing is structured, predictable, great, meets a financial requirement, good culture and humanistic, it’s just so much better than what is offered in the market.

As a business operator, you have the ability to secure the best artists because what you’re offering is so much better than anywhere else.

Luigi:

Culture and the experience, and all those items and elements that you mentioned is what makes a really successful business.

For anybody looking at investing into a Celebrity Ink™ studio, it’s not a tattoo parlour, it’s far from it.

It’s a completely different model.

What advice would you have for people looking to change from their careers to business ownership?

Natalie:

I get asked this question quite a lot and across different industries.

And my answer is always just do it because if you are thinking about it, and you’ve got to this stage, that burning yearning inside of you is not going to go away.

So in my opinion, do it now and enjoy it for the rest of your life.

Do it in 10 years and then you’ve got less of your life left to enjoy and think, “I should have done this 10 years ago. ”

Back yourself.

At the end of the day, you have to back yourself.

What you get with Celebrity Ink™ is brand confidence and support.

Whatever gaps you think you have, that’s why you buy into a franchise so you can close those gaps with the network that you’re in.

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What does the future of the Celebrity Ink™ franchise opportunity look like?

Luigi:

Manuel, from a CEO’s perspective, what’s on the horizon and where do you expect to see the brand over the next 12 to 24 months and beyond?

Manuel:

We’re growing rapidly and you will be shortly seeing Celebrity Ink™ in big countries and other smaller ones around Europe and Americas.

And we just continue growing, growing at a pace that we can manage, we can control.

Our main business goal is the return on investment for each and every franchisee.

That’s my mentality.

That’s how I look at this business, being able to be sustained in the long term.

If the franchisees earn a very good return on the money, then our return will follow.

And that’s how I will always do business.

Luigi:

And obviously the brand growth will continue to drive organic customers through the studios so that it can enable Natalie to continue to acquire customers without having to spend a significant amount.

This is one franchise opportunity to get in on while you still can!

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