Real Leaders

7 Leadership Strategies I Used to Build a $30 Million Tattoo Brand

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What led a rock star and a corporate manager to disrupt the tattoo industry and become brand renegades? A steadfast vision, some bravado, a cocktail of caution and cleverness, and finally, hard work — plenty of it.  

A lot of people in business shy away from that word: disruption. But to be a brand renegade you have to take standard views of your business or industry and disrupt them to create a new brand identity. It means refusing to be swayed by critics, stepping out of your comfort zone, acting without fear, taking calculated risks, and having a passion for your industry. 

In just over a decade, we’ve established six luxury locations of Club Tattoo in two states and manage more than 100 staff members. We not only reinvented the industry, but we redefined what it meant. Taking something that was thought of as dark, dirty, and disreputable and bringing it into the mainstream, rebranding it as cool and desirable, wasn’t easy or straightforward, yet that’s what we did.  

Surviving the Odds 

We built a $30 million tattoo and piercing empire, not only as business colleagues but also as life partners and parents. We survived where businesses and partnerships often fail. It’s estimated that 78 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years, and 50 percent of marriages within that same timeframe. And, depending on which study you’re reading, 25-70 percent of business partnerships also fail. It’d be misleading to say we beat the odds by the grace of some miracle; that would undermine our hard work and struggle. There were a lot of days that weren’t pretty, days that were hard or downright sucked. With our unique perspectives, passions, interests, and temperaments, we mustered the will to power through.  

We had a bold vision yet experienced a lot of pushback. People told us that we’d never make a profit. They said that something that’s never been done couldn’t work and that a tattoo business couldn’t compete with more respected industries. But we suspected there was a void to be filled for experience-based shopping in the immediate market. Las Vegas had the luxury shops but not the immersive experiences that would attract a lot of people. We saw a need for something that didn’t exist and created that space.  

In 2009, we opened after many hurdles inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. Immediately, there was high demand and a long line of people eager to get tattoos and piercings. The location was so successful that we couldn’t keep up with the demand and nearly lost everything before we could become established.  

To overcome these initial challenges, we worked long, grueling hours, multiplied our staff, became well-versed in the differences in laws and code requirements in Nevada, and relied on professional advice while adjusting that wisdom to represent and fit our business model. Expanding our location also ushered in profound success. If we hadn’t acted quickly at the beginning, we wouldn’t have saved our business. If we hadn’t done things in our own way, we would have missed these incredible opportunities on our terms.  

Our Story Can be Told Through Our Failures as Much as Our Success  

As it often happens with profound and immediate success, we also failed — a lot. There were times when our decisions had positive results and times where they cost us millions. 

But oftentimes, deciding to take action is better than not having done it at all and then learning from the experience. Through our failures, we always learned valuable lessons about ourselves and our business.  

Ultimately, we were secure in conducting business, treating our employees well, and caring for customers. While Club Tattoo didn’t approach things conventionally, we were true to our vision and brand throughout, and that’s invaluable. 

Living and breathing the renegade lifestyle is for the brave, innovative, and unique. To be a brand renegade also means that you: 

1. Take action. Brand renegades are essentially action takers, shaking things up as they are and imagining and creating what’s possible.  

2. Remain driven by passion, not approval. Being passionate about the work, not seeking approval, or paying attention to needless criticism are essential qualities.  

3. Accept advice. Disregarding naysayers isn’t the same as discounting expert advice. The latter should always be considered, even if you have to reformat that wisdom to fit your business model and needs.  

4. Take calculated risks. As a renegade, you take ownership of your actions and take responsibility when you’re wrong. You have the knowledge and toolkit to make affordable mistakes and take calculated risks.  

5. Transcend norms. Seeing the big picture yet acting with immediacy, understanding your product or service, and transcending business norms and expectations will contribute to achieving success on your own terms.  

6. Follow your instincts. We could have listened to all the critics who said our dream wasn’t obtainable, but instead, we followed our instincts.  

7. Act on your dreams. Envisioning a future that others are unable to see is the hallmark of a true visionary and renegade. But to get there, you must step outside your comfort zone and not be unafraid to act. If mistakes are made, wallowing in regret and self-pity is never the solution. Learning from failures as much as successes provided the foundation to create something extraordinary, changing the tattooing and piercing industry as we know it.  

Author

  • Sean Dowdell is known as the Tattooed Millionaire, which is also the title of his first book (2017). In addition to his role as founder and CEO of Club Tattoo, he is a drummer with Grey Daze. He is a frequent speaker to a variety of audiences and has been featured in Entrepreneur, GQ, Billboard, and on CNBC, A&E and more. Thora Dowdell was formerly in marketing and sales before becoming a business partner with Sean, initially in the music recording industry and later in Club Tattoo. Thora is passionate about empowering women business owners through her story. Together, the husband-wife team have authored the new book, Brand Renegades: Our Fearless Path from Startup to Global Brand (Entrepreneur Press, May 25, 2021). Learn more at www.clubtattoo.com.

    LinkedIn

Author

  • Sean Dowdell is known as the Tattooed Millionaire, which is also the title of his first book (2017). In addition to his role as founder and CEO of Club Tattoo, he is a drummer with Grey Daze. He is a frequent speaker to a variety of audiences and has been featured in Entrepreneur, GQ, Billboard, and on CNBC, A&E and more. Thora Dowdell was formerly in marketing and sales before becoming a business partner with Sean, initially in the music recording industry and later in Club Tattoo. Thora is passionate about empowering women business owners through her story. Together, the husband-wife team have authored the new book, Brand Renegades: Our Fearless Path from Startup to Global Brand (Entrepreneur Press, May 25, 2021). Learn more at www.clubtattoo.com.

    LinkedIn

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