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We’re speaking to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country to better understand how they’re adapting to stay open, how they’re keeping their community safe, and how we can support them now during this time, and beyond. We’re focused on keeping Australia open for business, even if doors are closed. #OpenWeStand
Given the intimate nature of tattooing, tattoo artists around the country were forced to down tools in March due to the current health crisis. Ray Vom, the owner of Markd Tattoo and Pierce, located in Redfern, was one of those artists who had to close the doors on his tattoo parlour.
While this is an obvious blow for Vom and his team, they have been able to pivot and begin work on new things in order to keep busy during this time.
“As of now, no tattooing means no income for any of us at the shop — at least from tattooing,” Vom told TheLatch—. “Being the creative bunch we are, we’re finding other ways to make money while the shop is closed.”
Vom’s attitude on the whole situation is refreshing, given the uncertainty surrounding the current circumstances.
“Who knows what the world will look like after this calms down, if it calms down,” he said.
“To me, this is just a huge pause on the shop, a forced holiday. I know it’s only temporary so I’ve decided to try and make the most of this time doing things I don’t normally get to.”
TheLatch— caught up with Ray Vom to chat about the way he’s changed his business offering and his hopes for a post-coronavirus world.
Alexandra McCarthy: Hi, Ray! Can you please tell me a little about how you came to launch Markd Tattoo?
Ray Vom: Markd Tattoo and Pierce is our shop in Redfern and we opened our doors in August 2019. Just getting to that point was a long journey. Right now (before COVID-19, anyway), working in the shop was me, Tom, Bek and Greg. My wife is the one who takes care of the back end of the business, she’s the adult in the organisation [laughs]. The cool thing is we all specialise in different tattoo styles so, no matter what you’re looking for, chances are, we’ll have you covered (literally).
AM: How did you get into the tattoo industry and how long have you worked in it?
RV: I first started tattooing in my house on Christmas Day in 2009, right after high school. I strongly recommend that you don’t start your career that way [laughs]. I learnt so many things the hard way and the learning curve was crazy steep, especially since I had no one to ask tips from. It didn’t take me long before I realised I had to get an apprenticeship, which I got in June 2010 — 20 shops and 20 rejections later.
“I learnt so many things the hard way and the learning curve was crazy steep.”
AM: Off the top of your head, what are a few highlights you’ve experienced in your career?
RV: Definitely opening my shops. I’ve had one shop in Cairns, QLD which I opened in 2013 and now Markd Tattoo and Pierce. You’d think it gets easier to open a shop but no [laughs], it was every bit as painful as I remember the first one being but on the flip side, the sense of achievement is just as strong, if not stronger the second time around. Other than opening the shops, other highlights are a bit more subtle. There isn’t much of a better feeling than seeing the quality of your own work progressing and another thing is creating good friendships with other artists and clients over the years in my career.
AM: Talk me through your digital presence, does having an online presence helped your business?
RV: To be honest, I feel like my digital presence is lacking at the moment. Having Instagram definitely helps but it acts more like a brochure of my work passed around by clients by word of mouth. I pride myself in looking after my clients and the return business and referrals show that. This is not to say that I don’t occasionally have the odd follow and booking out of the blue but most new clients, I can trace back to another client’s referral.
However, for the shop, the online presence has definitely helped. We get quite a number of queries through our Instagram and Facebook, which usually result in bookings. Rather than just posting the work that we do (like my personal page/portfolio), we also share about our team and show a bit more personality. We’ve found that our engagement has been strong when we’ve gotten personal.
View this post on Instagram
Crazy to think about what is going on the world, and how scary it is to think about how many lives are being affected, including ours. But we are thankful to have our family and loved ones. ? The last photo is of us before we opened. The first two pics are of us as we close the shop until this passes. Hopefully, we’ll be back sooner than later. ❤️
AM: When did your business first start to feel the effects of COVID-19?
RV: Business in the sense of revenue wasn’t affected until the day we closed our doors. There was a weird atmosphere out in public but work never slowed down until we decided to close. We chose to close before the government announced all tattoo shops to be closed because tattooing is a very intimate procedure and we’d hate to be a source of spread. As of now, no tattooing means no income for any of us at the shop — at least from tattooing.
Being the creative bunch we are, we’re finding other ways to make money while the shop is closed. However, we were fortunate that we built up a reserve of cash to get us through this period. As a business, cash is king, and it’s always so important to have cash set aside for a rainy day.
“There was a weird atmosphere out in public but work never slowed down until we decided to close.”
AM: What does it mean for you now?
RV: It’s really hard to know what this whole situation means. I don’t think anyone saw this coming and it’s definitely unprecedented. Who knows what the world will look like after this calms down, if it calms down.
Right now, I’m just assuming one day, hopefully soon, we’ll be able to open the shop again and people will still want to get tattooed. There’s definitely pent up demand because my waiting list for when we open again is the biggest waiting list I’ve ever had.
AM: Have you had to pivot your business or change the way you work?
RV: Most definitely. There’s no chance of tattooing or piercing at the moment but I’m not too worried. To me, this is just a huge pause on the shop, a forced holiday. I know it’s only temporary so I’ve decided to try and make the most of this time doing things I don’t normally get to.
I’m spending more time with my daughter now than ever, she’s about 15 months old. I’m also drawing and painting. It’s quite freeing to be doing art that I just feel like doing, instead of going by client requests [laughs].
My wife and I also started a podcast called “Markd For Life” and we talk about everything from tattooing to business to family. I didn’t want to do it at first but I have to admit, I’m having a lot of fun making the episodes. We’re now looking at other sources of income for the business, which include selling merchandise, artwork and jewellery online. It wasn’t really something we had planned when we first opened, but if similar circumstances occur again, we’ll be fully ready.
AM: Has it been hard to make those changes?
RV: Tattooing is my dream job, I love everything about it, so yeah, it was really hard to close the doors. For the first few weeks, I couldn’t even concentrate on anything. I would bounce from idea to idea. I’m really fortunate to have a great home life, without it, I think I would’ve gone crazy.
I’ve also been fortunate that my wife has been able to help me make the changes I mentioned previously, such as working on our podcast and looking at creating other streams of revenue for the business. So, no, it hasn’t been hard in that respect, and we’ve been able to come up with those ideas and take action fairly quickly.
AM: How can customers support your business in the short term?
RV: The best thing they can do for us is to save their money and wait for us to open up again. We recognise that everyone is not in a position to spend right now. Following and engaging with what we’re doing on social media is always great. It lets us know that our customers are thinking of us!
If clients are in a position to spend, gift vouchers are available for purchase, merchandise and our jewellery, also. Without our clients, we couldn’t do what we do so I’m always appreciative of them. You can bet that when we’re allowed to open up again, we’ll hit the ground running. We can’t wait!
AM: Do you think the way you operate your business will be changed for good?
RV: I think the biggest thing that will change for us is our attitude. We really know now that nothing is promised, and we shouldn’t take it for granted that we can do what we love for a career. I’ve always said that as an artist, we’re more experienced today than we have ever been and that means we have no excuse but to do our best.
This downtime has definitely had us focusing on more of the artwork, so hopefully, our creative side will show more than ever. This whole COVID-19 situation makes this relevant to more areas than just tattooing technique, I think when we are allowed to open again, every artist will appreciate their job more than ever.
On top of that, our business has now created different revenue streams without depending on a physical store. That way, if we ever do have to shut, for whatever reason, we won’t be in a position where there is no income. It’s something we’ll continue once the business is open too, it’s not just for times like this.
“Our business has now created different revenue streams without depending on a physical store.”
AM: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
RV: Focus on the destination and don’t let the speed bumps put a stop to your journey. We’re all in this together and when we get to the other side, we’ll be stronger than ever.
Also, look out for one another, the virus may be separating everyone physically but I think during times like this, lifelong bonds can be formed.
AM: What do you think we will all learn from this experience?
RV: Hopefully, we’ll learn to enjoy the little things. Maybe we learn that we don’t need the fancy car or clothes anymore, maybe we just want good company.
We could learn to slow down and live in the moment, instead of ticking off a checklist to get through the day. And hopefully, we learn not to waste time, the things we were putting off before, might’ve turned into the things we want to do most.