Originally published on YoungUpstarts.com
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 has authored the new book, “Brand Renegades: The Fearless Path from Startup to Global Brand“” (Entrepreneur Press, May 25, 2021).
The couple recently spoke with YoungUpstarts and shared their experiences in becoming successful entrepreneurs.
Here’s some of our conversation:
Describe your professional backgrounds and how they led you to create Club Tattoo.
Sean: I was in the music business in a band called Grey Daze that was touring a lot in the 1990s. In 1995 I decided to open my first business, Club Tattoo, so that I could operate and make money while I was on the road.
I didn’t start really understanding the business for several years. Luckily my marketing skills from the music industry and competitive nature pulled me through the early years.
Thora: My background was in sales and marketing for various corporations until I joined Sean in the business in 2001. My ability for organization and process creation brought a different sensibility to the established Club Tattoo business model and upleveled the entire operational experience from the client on up.
I eventually started to integrate a cohesive design with Sean to all of our studios that allowed us to expand in a way that looked and felt like a unique brand. Our studios were structured in a way that our industry hadn’t ever seen before.
What differentiates Club Tattoo studios from other tattoo businesses?
Defining characteristics in our business model not only clearly differentiate who we are as a company but eliminate our competitors from the picture entirely. A few examples include: our touchscreen software that we developed, called interactive Tattoo, and the aesthetic that we’ve created with a female friendly environment that concentrates on safety and comfort for every client.
Traditionally in our industry, the business model consisted of books of tattoo designs and portfolios that were static in nature, easily beaten up and destroyed or stolen, and that accumulated the bacteria from one client to the next 1000 that touched them. Our system eliminated the germ hazard because it’s disinfectable after each use. It also allows multiple users to view the same designs or portfolios at once, and we have the ability to update it across the platform instantaneously and new design additions. The interface switches on a single touch into five different languages as well. It was and is the only product of its kind and it’s a massive game changer for the industry.
What’s a brand renegade, and how is your business an example?
A brand renegade is an entrepreneur that starts viewing normal business operations from a different perspective and who then integrates different approaches and ideas that are generally seen as outside of the industry norm. The brand renegade perseveres without fear of judgment from peers. The person is a visionary within his or her community or industry.
Our resolve to turn the tattoo and piercing industry inside out and build a thriving mainstream business with our six luxury Club Tattoo locations makes us brand renegades.
What do you do to gain customers’ loyalty?
This is part of our business mission statement: Create a unique client experience and deliver an above-standard product. This has held true for our company for more than two decades now. Club Tattoo is all about our clients’ experience, not ours. Many business owners make that mistake in our opinion.
What unexpected hurdles have you encountered along your road to success and how did you overcome them?
Too many to count, but ones that stick out are usually bureaucratic in nature. In many cities, people put laws or codes in place without truly understanding what it is our industry does. Therefore, some of the laws/codes are simply outdated and need major revisions to make them applicable. Trying to educate lawmakers is never an easy task.
A second thing that comes to mind has been getting through the barriers to entry in some of the higher-end properties where we wanted to open a store. Up until recently, our specific category of use didn’t translate to many of the landlords in “luxury” or “high end” areas. We’ve had several incidences where we’ve tried to explain to a room full of bankers or a board of directors why they should do a deal with us and how or why we would make their property a more desirable destination. Those who took a chance on us have seen how our studios have made the property cooler in general for their clients.