Flagstaff tattoo shops buzz
By Sara Graper
Nick Lawrence has been an artist for Tat-Fu Tattoo in Flagstaff since 2001 and became owner/operator of the shop in 2003. In that time he has seen the shop move from the first floor of the Monte Vista Hotel to it’s current location on Route 66. Also within this span, he has seen plenty of college students come in for their first tattoo or piercing.
“[College students] have this freedom,” Lawrence says, ”this liberation to liberate themselves, you know? I.e. get a tattoo, get a piercing, something that kind of solidifies who they are or at least make an attempt to do so.”
In their attempts to gain this self-knowledge, students of Northern Arizona University (NAU) greatly benefit the tattoo parlors of the area. With only five tattoo businesses in Flagstaff, all the shops see benefits of being located in a college town. Above the smaller parlors, the market within Flagstaff is greatly controlled by Tat-Fu and Burly Fish, due to their advertisement of body piercing as well as masterful tattoos.
Even though there are only a few to choose from, Lawrence explains that “for the population of Flagstaff, the studios in town, in general, we have a really high quality per capa.” In comparison, Phoenix has around two hundred parlors, but the quality may not be as skillful as the tattoos and piercings done in Flagstaff. In addition, shops in Phoenix have a hard time keeping their artists. At Tat-Fu, Lawrence has been working with fellow tattoo artists Josh Nelson, Cameron Chase and Bob V. for many years, along with their body piercer Shayne “Sug” Spyra.
A large portion of Lawrence’s business revolves around NAU students. While he has a loyal customer base that have been coming back to his studio for years, his busy season is greatly based around the schedule of college students.
“I would say there is a 30 to 40 percent increase in revenue between late August,” Lawrence says, ”when the beginning of school starts session, to about the end of October, right around Halloween, is when it starts to taper down.”
When finals and holidays begin and students become busy or leave, Tat-Fu’s slow season begins.
Tat-Fu does well to advertise themselves on campus through the use of the “College-Coupons” booklet and therefore has seen a few hundred students come in, most commonly for piercings, over the past few weeks. Students seem to be drawn in by these coupons and their artists’ positive experience. Lawrence says he sees quite a few returning customers.
Tat-Fu does other promotions throughout the year, including an up-coming $10 piercing with the price of jewelry. But the most important advertisement, according to Lawrence, is word of mouth; which is why he makes sure the studio has a comfortable environment and follows all health requirement.
“Tattooers tattoo. They do it for monetary gain . . . as opposed to artists, who do it for the art,” Lawrence says. ”They have a deep inclining to create, and tattooing is a means of exercising that.”
At Tat-Fu, the average amount students pay for a piercing is between $40 and $50. Tattoos range in price, the bare minimum being $50. A tattoo’s price is based on placement, size, color and, most importantly, how long it takes. Lawrence charges $200 to $300 for a sitting, which can be as long as five hours.
Tattoo artists are generally paid at a commission, so a $50 tattoo could only come out to $10 to $15 for the artist after paying the owner and buying supplies. But on the other extreme, a tattoo could end up costing hundreds depending on if it takes multiple sessions.
Despite the slow season when students have either figured out they’re broke or just don’t have the time, Tat-Fu experiences the newly emancipated looking for some sort of beautification or marking of their body come every August. Lawrence and his fellow artists are happy to oblige, and also serve as what he calls a free high five coordinator.