Introducing i/U Ink and its founder, Nick Howard-Lanes. Is this the beginning of the end for shoddy tattooing?
What's The Big Idea?
The big idea, is i/U Ink. Now, tattoo related websites are a dime a dozen (I should know, I own one) surely every angle has been covered. Well, you would think so, but there are holes, gaps in the market, so to speak. i/U Ink aims to fill one of these gaps.
As popular as tattooing has become, tattooing is largely unregulated. Anyone can buy a tattoo machine from the internet for not a lot of money and be tattooing within minutes of its arrival. A lack of training, an absence of talent and poor hygiene are not obstacles to some, they unplug the kettle, plug in the tattoo machine and happily get to work ruining the skin of anyone stupid enough to let them. In fact, all you need to open a "legitimate" tattoo studio is a certificate from your local council to say that your premises are clean (or at least they were on the day they were inspected).
My hope is that one day anyone wanting to tattoo will need to prove that they can, so that they can obtain a licence to tattoo and only using that licence will they be able to obtain a tattoo machine. Until this day, and I'm not going to hold my breath for it to happen, the minefield that is the world of tattooing will still exist. However, Nick's idea could and should provide safe refuge from the minefield.
i/U Ink will provide a database of participating tattoo artists, complete with bio's, location, examples of their work, their preferred style and vitally, for the customer in search of the perfect artist for their next tattoo, the capability to contact and even book with their selected artist. Once the work is done, the customer can then leave a review and a rating. Over time these ratings ensure that the cream rises and, shall we say, the less gifted don't go anywhere.
How does i/U Ink work?
Using the site is just about as easy as it can be. You register as customer (or as a tattoo artist looking for work), you can do this with the one click, Facebook registration or the more traditional quick registration form. Once registered, you log in and away you go. Finding what you're looking for is pretty straight forward, too. Simply type in a location, style or artists name and all the relevant results are returned. These results can then be filtered by distance or by rating and further trimmed by selecting a radius in which you are willing to travel, up to 200 miles.
Once you are happy that you've found the right artist for you, you can contact them, enquire about availability, get a quote for the desired work and ask any other questions that come to mind. Once you're satisfied and you are happy to proceed, you can then book the appointment via the i/U Ink website.
After the tattoo has been done, the clever bit kicks in, only now can you leave a review. As the reviews pile up a real picture of how good that tattoo artist actually is, is created.
Can't I Trust Google or Social Media Reviews?
Most of the time, social media is a great way to gauge how good or bad a business is but, you do need to be aware of some of the tricks that are used to slant reviews and ratings.
Bad reviews can be negated by what I call "friends and family" reviews. One unhappy customer leaves a genuine, justified one star. Friends and family leave five stars and, hey presto! One star becomes four, a bogus score but the stars will not reflect that. Likes and follows can be bought, images can be photo-shopped, cleaned up and out and out stolen from other tattooists. It would take me three days to build a website that suggested I was an amazing tattoo artist, a little longer to get the five stars but in 12 months time, who would know? Until I did a tattoo for them and they saw with their own eyes how not amazing a tattoo by me would be.
Be careful, read the negative reviews first. Are they genuine causes for complaint? Has the studio responded and how did they respond? If they have 20 people complaining about time keeping and response times to enquiries and ten raving about the work, I'd be happier than if they five people complaining about the work and hygiene and 25 unsubstantiated five star reviews.
It's this aspect of i/U ink I perhaps like the most. No tattoo, no review. We are still at the mercy of one individual's opinion but at least it will be a genuine opinion based on an actual experience.
To summarise, I think this is a great idea, I think the tattoo industry needs something like this to help legitimise the good and eventually wash away the bad. The real winners are the customers, a means of finding what they want, where they want it and with real reviews to support their decision which ever way they decide to go.
I wish Nick well with his venture and genuinely hope that one day i/U Ink will be as important to the tattoo world as Trip Advisor is to travellers, it just won't be as funny.