Photographer: Belyjmishka/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Now Everyone’s Getting Tattooed, This Startup Is Digitizing the Industry

More adults than ever have tattoos and the market is showing no signs of slowing down, so one startup has a plan to digitize the conservative industry

With about a quarter of all adults now having a tattoo in the U.S. and the U.K., one Swedish startup intends to become the Expedia for getting inked.

Fredrik Glimskär, a heavily tattooed Swede with a financial education and a career in digital advertising, launched online comparison and booking service Inkbay in 2016, after receiving 1.5 million Swedish kroner ($173,000) from Swedish VC firm Zenith. After linking to tattoo studios in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, he now has additional 4 million kroner in financing to expand to London this summer, with the U.S. and Berlin to follow.

In the U.S., tattoos are estimated to be a $1 billion industry according to research house IBIS World. In 2016, there were about 38,879 tattoo businesses registered in the U.S., where the market grew 13 percent between 2011 and 2016. A Harris poll published in 2016 concluded that 3 in every 10 U.S. adults have at least one tattoo—as have nearly half of all American millennials. A separate study conducted by YouGov concluded that 19 percent of all British adults have at least one tattoo.

Fredrik Glimskär,
Source: Inkbay

Although the tattoo industry is lucrative, it remains fragmented, with customers seeking out tattoo parlors via personal recommendations, and increasingly, social media. Inkbay's platform invites studios to centralize their designs, where customers can then book via a flat fee, rather than the more typical hourly rate studios charge in person. The average price paid for a tattoo on the site is about 250 pounds ($322). Inkbay takes a 15 percent cut of this, payable with credit cards—something uncommon to the predominantly cash-only ethos of most studios.

“The tattoo industry has always been a word of mouth sort of thing,” said Glimskär. “There's a bunch of customers making good things for the industry, huge blogs, tattoo directories. But no-one is tapping into the actual transaction.”

Matt Lodder, a lecturer in contemporary art and visual culture at the University of Essex who studies the tattoo industry, believes the market may be too conservative to adopt a disruptive business model.

“Tattoo studios haven't changed a huge amount since the late-1980s in this country,” Lodder said “Most tattooists don't take credit cards; it's still very much a cash-in-hand business. So I'd be really surprised if anyone seized on this.”

The internet has had a major effect on the tattoo industry though, he says. As brick and mortar stores increasingly vacate premises to sell online, opportunities for a physical presence have increased for businesses who simply cannot conduct business online, such as tattooists.

“It’s the same reason we've got this influx of barber shops and hairdressers,” Lodder says. “It's one of those things you can't buy on the internet. You'll find a lot of old shop spaces being taken up by tattoo artists because that's the sort of business that still needs premises. You can't send a tattoo over the internet.”

In the U.K. in 2017 there are about 2,524 registered tattoo and piercing studios according to data compiled by the Local Data Company, up from about 1,800 in 2012, representing a 40 percent increase.

Inkbay, which currently has 60 Swedish studios on its platform, anticipates receiving 500,000 monthly visitors to its website from U.K. users by September 2017, following a launch “before the summer”, according to Glimskär. It currently has 40,000 monthly visitors for its Swedish studio listings. The company plans a Series A round of funding later this year.

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