Piercing European market

Fashion industry: Regan Roulson with stocks of tattoo ink at Barber of Sheffield's Chapeltown HQ. P
Fashion industry: Regan Roulson with stocks of tattoo ink at Barber of Sheffield's Chapeltown HQ. P
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One in five British adults has one and, if you are aged between 16 and 44, it’s almost one in three.

It is a tattoo and it’s big business for Barber of Sheffield.

The Chapeltown medical products specialist is the biggest UK distributor of tattooing and piercing products and is opening up new markets abroad after its recent acquisition of Montpellier-based Northstar Tattoo Supply.

Barber has also clinched a deal with a Spanish distributor, is on the lookout for potential partners in Italy, Germany and Holland and is keen to find a distributor in Russia.

The company is even looking towards India where the market is growing fast and there are reported to be up to 400 tattoo studios in Delhi alone.

It all began with an order for some cannulae –hollow needles normally used for intravenous infusions, but also used by body piercing studios – and has grown rapidly from there.

Today the company supplies tattooing and piercing studios with everything from piercing products and jewellery to tattoo machines, inks, aftercare products and medical gloves and is the European distributor for leading brands like Tattoo Goo and Eternal Ink.

“It’s a fashion industry,” says Barber’s Stephanie Crane. “The key thing with something like tattooing and piercing is people want to feel different.”

New, vibrant inks and the arrival of designer tattoos created by graphic artists who can charge a fortune for their work and still have people queuing at exhibitions and special events has further emphasised the fashion element.

Tony Crane says even if you have a tattoo removed with laser treatment, there is a one in three chance that it is to have a newer, brighter tattoo put in its place.

Barber puts its success to bringing a commercial business approach to a supply chain which was almost a cottage industry.

“There were hundreds of different people, supplying only one or two things each and no one in this country offering a one stop shop,” says Stephanie Crane.

Barber sells to studios by ‘phone and also gets callers at its Chapeltown headquarters, but the growth area has been online sales.

It can be challenging. Tony Crane says Amazon has set the standard for online traders and companies like Barber do their level best to reach those standards too.

“We take orders at 4:30 in the afternoon for next day delivery and we do free delivery off the Internet site,” he adds.

On the plus side, people accept with that sort of set up that payment is by credit card only, and that means instant payment and no risk of bad debts.

“One thing we have started to realise is that we are not a medical business, we are a logistics business.

“We are very good at creating an online presence, catalogues and customer service and we recognise that we can take that formula and apply it to another market place,” says Tony.

Growth remains strong and set to continue for the firm which has increased its workforce by around 50 per cent in the last 18 months.

But, in addition to further expanding its tattooing supplies business, Barber is now eyeing possible expansion into supplying other specialist markets such as doctors’ surgeries, physiotherapy clinics and beauty salons.