BE­HIND THE SE­CRET DOOR BOOKSHELF

Adam Coo­ley and Alex Heart are rid­ing New Zealand’s tat­too in­dus­try wave with Shop Nine and Three Quar­ters – a stu­dio spe­cial­is­ing in pop cul­ture.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - BY GLENN BAKER

You don’t have to look far to see ev­i­dence of the tat­too craze sweep­ing the na­tion. Peo­ple of all ages and oc­cu­pa­tions are get­ting ‘inked’. The stigma is fad­ing; al­most overnight it seems tattoos have be­come main­stream. The in­dus­try is grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially. Stu­dios are up­grad­ing tech­nol­ogy, at­tract­ing more cre­atives and tar­get­ing niches to separate them­selves from the com­pe­ti­tion.

Check the stats. New Zealand has one of the world’s high­est rates of tat­tooed peo­ple. One in five Ki­wis now sport at least one tat­too. A UMR Re­search poll of over 18 year olds reveals that 19 per­cent have been tat­tooed – ris­ing to 36 per­cent for all adults younger than 30.

In the US, an­nual tat­too spend­ing ex­ceeds $1.65 bil­lion – and that’s not in­clud­ing the laser re­moval mar­ket.

The name of Adam Coo­ley and Alex Heart’s new tat­too stu­dio on Auck­land’s North Shore pro­vides a clue to the par­tic­u­lar niche they cater to. Shop Nine and Three Quar­ters comes from the Harry Pot­ter books and refers to the se­cret plat­form that al­lowed Hog­warts stu­dents to travel from the real world into a mag­i­cal one.

A mag­i­cal world is ex­actly what Adam and Alex in­tended to cre­ate with their busi­ness, which opened in early May. It spe­cialises in pop cul­ture. At the top of the stairs there re­ally is a se­cret door bookshelf!

The two busi­ness part­ners nav­i­gated very dif­fer­ent ca­reer path­ways be­fore meet­ing for the first time at the North Shore’s Blue Lo­tus stu­dio in 2012.

Twenty-eight year old Alex grew up in Mil­ford, ex­celled in art at school and is the daugh­ter of en­tre­pre­neur­ial par­ents (Mum dis­trib­utes hair prod­ucts; Dad’s an ac­coun­tant).

She got her first tat­too aged 18 in Mel­bourne, at a time when fe­male tat­too artists were rare in the in­dus­try.

More tattoos fol­lowed. Ini­tially she con­cealed them from her fam­ily. Her grand­mother was ini­tially hor­ri­fied when the tattoos came out from hid­ing on a Gold Coast hol­i­day.

How­ever, to­day, with the busi­ness, gran’s one of her big­gest fans. As are her par­ents.

Alex was quickly hooked on the art, but de­ter­mined to build a ca­reer prop­erly, based around de­sign. She stud­ied graphic de­sign and on­line mar­ket­ing.

When Blue Lo­tus ad­ver­tised for an ap­pren­tice on Face­book, she ner­vously rocked up with her port­fo­lio and got the job.

Adam, who is 31, also had a love for art and draw­ing from an early age.

“In my spare time I’d lie on the floor in front of the TV and draw all sorts of things for hours and hours,” he re­calls.

Un­for­tu­nately Adam didn’t get the cre­ative sup­port he wanted at high school and ended up in var­i­ous cus­tomer ser­vice roles be­fore be­ing head-hunted by SkyCity.

But de­spite busi­ness train­ing and the cor­po­rate lad­der beck­on­ing, he felt torn be­tween two worlds.

Adam’s love af­fair with tat­too­ing had al­ready started; he could see its ca­reer po­ten­tial and be­gan spend­ing Satur­days at Blue Lo­tus ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing. That led to an ap­pren­tice­ship, which he com­pleted in 2009.

His par­ents were a lit­tle shocked by his ca­reer re­boot. To­day they’ve ac­cepted the fact that their son is a pro­fes­sional tat­too artist and they’re proud of achieve­ments.

NEW BE­GIN­NINGS

Ar­maged­don – the science fic­tion and comics con­ven­tion held each year around the coun­try – has proved to be a ma­jor mar­ket­ing plat­form for Adam and Alex.

Last year in Auck­land alone 65,000 fans rocked up. The pre­vi­ous year the com­bined shows at­tracted more than 130,000 peo­ple.

The duo hosted the only tat­too “nerdy booth” at the 2015 Auck­land Ar­maged­don.

Alex had fin­ished her ap­pren­tice­ship. The booth would prove to be the ge­n­e­sis and test­ing ground for Shop Nine and Three Quar­ters.

Their rep­u­ta­tion quickly grew – for the 2017 Auck­land event the Her­ald ranked them among the top five ‘ must see’ attractions.

“At Ar­maged­don we both talked about how we loved the en­vi­ron­ment,” re­calls Adam. “It got us think­ing about the fu­ture. We were still work­ing un­der the safety net of our tu­tor, and re­alised we were both on the same page.”

Adam and Alex got on well. Both agreed that if they were to open their own stu­dio it would be a “nerdy shop”. Bet­ter to have one com­bined shop where they could bounce ideas off each other and pool fi­nances, rather than two separate ones com­pet­ing.

Pop cul­ture-based material from comic books, movies, anime (a style of Ja­panese film and tele­vi­sion an­i­ma­tion) or car­toons is their com­bined spe­cialty – al­beit with in­di­vid­ual style and strengths. Adam’s more into re­al­ism and black/grey im­ages from comic books; Alex fo­cuses on Dis­ney char­ac­ters and anime tattoos.

“It’s great be­cause we’re not stand­ing on each other’s toes when it comes to clients’ needs,” ex­plains Alex.

Although they had to deal with the at­ti­tudes of some land­lords over tat­too stu­dios while search­ing for suit­able premises, things hap­pened quickly once they found the right place.

There was an­other rea­son to get the busi­ness rolling too – Adam’s nup­tials are hap­pen­ing in Septem­ber, and Alex’s the fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary!

IN CHARGE OF THEIR DES­TINY

With their own stu­dio, Adam and Alex are now not just pro­mot­ing their own ver­sa­til­ity and tal­ents, but their own stu­dio brand. Mar­ket­ing is based en­tirely on Face­book, In­sta­gram and word of mouth.

They’ve re­ceived back­ing from their re­spec­tive par­ents to help launch the busi­ness, and Alex’s Dad has been em­ployed to do the ac­counts.

The stu­dio is a fun and re­laxed place – they’re happy for clients to “hang out” in the wait­ing area – to catch a movie or utilise the PlayS­ta­tion while Adam and Alex set up.

Adam ex­plains how tat­too­ing has be­come as much a science as an art­form, with new tech­niques, new tech­nol­ogy and in­creased em­pha­sis on health and safety and associated med­i­cal as­pects. The in­dus­try now de­mands a higher level of train­ing and is at­tract­ing a dif­fer­ent breed of prac­ti­tioner.

“It’s no longer at­tract­ing peo­ple who just see it as an easy pro­fes­sion to make some good money, but gen­uine art school grad­u­ates – peo­ple trained in dig­i­tal me­dia, clas­si­cal paint­ing and all types of art­work.

“They re­gard tat­too­ing as an ex­cit­ing me­dia to work in, and are pro­duc­ing in­cred­i­bly re­al­is­tic im­ages.”

REAL MEAN­ING

The pop cul­ture fo­cus of Shop Nine and Three Quar­ters gen­er­ates many cool sto­ries.

Adam and Alex say im­ages can hold real mean­ing for clients. For ex­am­ple, a par­tic­u­lar Dis­ney char­ac­ter may evoke strong child­hood mem­o­ries.

Alex re­calls one client in the po­lice force who de­scribed how her tattoos pro­vided a use­ful dis­trac­tion for chil­dren dur­ing a tense do­mes­tic si­t­u­a­tion.

No mat­ter what su­per-he­roes and char­ac­ters you iden­tify with – it may be Harry Pot­ter or Star Wars, The Simp­sons or Poke­mon – rest as­sured so does Shop Nine and Three Quar­ters.

It’s the tat­too shop where even nerdy peo­ple feel com­fort­able.

Where clients can see the magic and feel the love be­hind their tattoos.

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