Unkindness Art and their Tattoo Shop Manager Extraordinaire
Tattoo shops used to be hard to find. A large city may have offered a handful of shops and smaller cities and towns maybe sported a single shop – if any. No more. Rough estimates say there are currently 21,000 tattoo shops in the US. 21,000. That’s about 420 shops per state. With over 40% of adults in the US having a tattoo you can see how this explosion of shops works hand in hand with a huge upsurge in the number of people getting tattooed. Two great tastes that go great together.
But of course not all tattoo shops are the same and as a consumer it behooves you to search out the best shop and artists for your tattoo style and budget. My favorite shop is Unkindness Art in Richmond Virginia. Co-owned by tattoo legends Teresa Sharpe and Erin Chance, Unkindness is packed full of talent and resonates with a cool, artistic, and professional vibe. Teresa was the winner of Best Ink Season 2 and Erin, along with Unkindness resident artist Doomkitten can currently be seen on Ink Master Season 9 – Shop Wars – you can guess who I am rooting for.
Unkindness is such a great shop and one of the reasons they are so great is their Guy Friday, their ace in the hole, their indefatigable shop manager – Brandon Williams. As shop manager Brandon is the grease on the gears that keeps such a sizable shop running smoothly. He makes it look easy – casually strolling around the shop chatting with clients and artists, helping out with everything from getting clients ready for their session, scheduling, organizing conferences and conventions, or even setting up a live stream on Twitch. His phone never far from his hand – ready to perform a million tasks both large and small so the artists can focus on creating amazing tattoos. Brandon is the unsung hero that keeps this top-notch shop humming along.
Brandon took time out of an insanely busy schedule to chat about his job and give us a glimpse into the life of a tattoo shop manager. Take it away Brandon…
Tattoo Tourist: How did you come to be the shop manager of such a high-profile tattoo shop?
Brandon: Well it is really a funny story on how I came to be here in my role with Unkindness Art. I met Teresa a few years ago when she started work on my arm sleeve, and we became really good friends over the first few appointments. We spent a lot of time talking about my real estate projects and what it was like owning my own business, which should have been a sign of what was to come. Over the next year she had me help with the business plan, selecting a location and even getting the shop remodel work all handled. She asked a bunch of times if I wanted to move and run things, and I just kept saying no… But Teresa is pretty persistent and it really became clear how awesome the experience would be to work here. So on a few weeks notice I packed up and moved halfway across the country.
TT: What is the biggest surprise about the job? What is the most challenging aspect?
Brandon: The biggest surprise to me was how many artists attempted to do their own schedule, ordering, sponsorship commitments and travel planning. When we got into what I would be helping out with I think it caught a lot of them off guard how much easier their lives could be, and definitely how much more time they could have to work on projects that they never had the time for previously.
TT: What does a tattoo shop manager do exactly anyways?
Brandon: From shop to shop the term manager definitely means different roles. For myself my daily tasks are ever-changing, but the core of it is to handle all the non-art related tasks at the shop. My job includes scheduling, product ordering, travel planning, payroll, accounting, taxes and really anything else that I can work into a regular day. Just this month I made an overnight trip to Connecticut and Rhode Island to grab some furniture that the shop found for sale online… So for me my role is much more a labor of love versus job.
TT: Do you think having a manager is essential for a shop to run smoothly?
Brandon: Most definitely! Artists are awesome people, but for the most part they have spent their lives and careers focusing on becoming better artists, not being business owners. A successful shop takes more than great art to run smoothly, so having someone in the role as more than a receptionist is absolutely a must have. If you just break down the amount of time that an artist can save by handing off scheduling, payroll and ordering supplies easily makes up 10-15 hours a week… That is 10-15 hours a week that they can spend doing anything else that they enjoy versus the monotonous tasks that I find joy in doing. Also at least here, a lot of those hours end up being spent painting or designing more pieces that end up keeping them busier on the tattoo side, which in turn comes back to help make themselves, the shop more income. Most artists and shops that I have come across that don’t have somebody handling all of these things are afraid that bringing somebody in will be too expensive, but in all honesty it is exactly the opposite!
TT: Unkindness is literally the only shop I have been to where I signed waivers and consent forms – why is this?
Brandon: Coming in to the tattoo community this was the most confusing thing to me… I have no idea why a small business owner wouldn’t do everything necessary to keep themselves in full legal compliance. We use a website called Stabpad that allows us to have every client sign their waiver electronically, from there all the information is saved and easily sorted if you need to review anything. It keeps us in compliance with the state, but also has built up a customer database that allows us to look for client information in the instance that we need to reach out to a client and don’t have the information saved anywhere else. This has definitely bailed us out a few times.
Above and beyond that we carry insurance on not only the shop, but also the artists to cover any possible workplace accidents. It is required in most states, but I would guess that over half the shops that I have visited do NOT have any form of insurance. Without insurance a business owner is just asking for problems and risking their livelihood over a potential accident. Insurance is not that expensive and is definitely a must have for every business!
TT: What are some potential pitfalls for “working without a net” i.e. No manager, no insurance, no waivers etc.
Brandon: Artists that live without the safety net really are living on the edge and I think in a lot of cases they just don’t realize how inexpensively and easily that they could be protected. Most quality managers can implement the waiver system in a single day, and can price shop the insurance options over the course of a few days. Insurance honestly is pretty cheap, and could easily be covered in less than a days wages from one artist!
TT: What is your favorite part of your job?
Brandon: Hmmm this is a tougher question than I would have thought. I love almost all of my job, but I have to think so far my two favorite parts are international travel and being able to make each artist in the shop’s life easier. The travels are pretty awesome and we average 4-5 international shows a year, which just in the last year or so has included Scotland, France, Luxembourg, Canada, Italy and all over the United States. I am definitely extremely fortunate to be able to tag along and work all of these events and can’t wait to see what is next! As for the second part, and probably more rewarding, I really enjoy being able to take an artist is completely used to doing everything themselves and just start simplifying their life a little bit at a time until they don’t even realize they’ve handed over most of the behind the scenes tasks. Believe it or not most artists have a tough time doing this, even after seeing how well it works for the others, so I think that just adds to the enjoyment when things finally go right.
TT: How much time are you able to devote to your personal tattoo collecting?
Brandon: I’ve been fortunate enough to have some super cool pieces including an arm and leg sleeve by Teresa Sharpe, a full thigh by Erin Chance, and the biggest project I’m wearing is a collaboration between Teresa and Jeff Gogue. I’d love to say that I’m super active in getting everything done, but to be honest I find myself giving up days booked for myself to clients pretty frequently. It’s pretty tough to turn down helping out a client, even if it does mean that I have to miss out on some tattoo time myself. Having said that over the next few months I do plan on being super active in getting things moving along. Believe it or not as I’m filling this out I’m getting ready to hop in the chair for Erin 🙂
TT: What is coming up for Unkindness in the next year?
Brandon: Unkindness Art has some great things lying just ahead including an expansion in the merchandise and apparel lines of the company. We understand that not everybody can make it out to score a cool tattoo even if they’d like to, so being able to present people with the option of hanging some cool print art, or wearing Unkindness Art gear is the next best thing. Also we are really working towards bringing in an extremely talented group of guest artists over the coming year, including some artists that I am extremely stoked to see out… even if I won’t say their names in this interview! Plus keep an eye out, who knows maybe we will add another artist or two in the next year or so?
Thank you Brandon for giving us an inside scoop on what must be the coolest job around and explaining what it is you do exactly – you make it look easy. Also you promised me that picture of you in a kilt – which you never delivered – so this one is for you buddy.