Learning Curve | Bay tattoo artist makes his mark

Owner of Sailor Joe’s Tattoo Parlour in Uitenhage, he has left his mark on clients

His love for art blossomed into a career in graphic design – but Justin Main found his true passion in another art form.
As the owner of Sailor Joe’s Tattoo Parlour in Uitenhage, he has left his mark on clients – in more ways than one.
Can you give me some background on yourself and the business?
As a child I always had a love and passion for art. I would sit and draw for hours.
My mother always encouraged my drawing and would enter me into many art competitions.
As I grew up, my interest in art still continued and I pursued a career in graphic design, but after about seven years the itch came along.
I found I was being limited in the work that I was doing; I wasn’t able to express myself creatively enough.
I always had a love of tattoos and was offered the opportunity to be an apprentice part-time, which I jumped at.
Just like that, a whole new world opened up to me.
My friend Carel owned a studio in Uitenhage, called Crawling with Ink, and taught me most of what I know today.
Our paths parted a few years later when I decided it was time to venture out on my own.
Sailor Joe’s Tattoo Parlour was established in 2014. What is your core service? Most people would guess my core service is tattoos, but I don’t just “do” tattoos.
I design, that is my core service.
I take people’s ideas and turn it into something, be it the art that they wear on their bodies, or digital art [like] vehicle wrapping, branding and clothing – so Sailor Joe’s also functions as a design house.
Where was the idea born?
The idea wasn’t born, it was like destiny.
Deep down I always knew I would be doing something creative.
I worked at an engineering company in my early 20s and absolutely hated it (I always had a fear that I would hurt my hands).
It wasn’t what I had envisioned for my life.
Having said that, it took me quite a few years to build up the courage to do something as drastic as leaving my full-time employment and to follow my dream. I’m loving it so far.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
Firstly, they would need to have a love for being creative.
Secondly, one would need some talent and proper training along with being adaptable, because not everyone shares your vision; and thirdly, don’t be afraid to take a risk.
Never stop learning new things.
We are all making this up as we go along, and starting from the bottom means your only way is up.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced in the beginning?
Finance was the hardest part of it all. We had to save and build as we went along, but after four years, it has paid off.
I started off tattooing out of a room, but today I’m the proud owner of an actual studio, which I have put my blood, sweat and tears into. I did everything in there with the help of good friends.
What are some of the biggest challenges in your industry? In the beginning it was learning about skin types and the depths at which to tattoo.
Also trying out new techniques, products or different healing procedures – most often these practise sessions would take place on oneself or a friend or family member.
How do you define success in your business?
The majority of tattoos are memorial pieces. It’s a reflection of a person’s love for another, and the fact that they have chosen me to portray this love, is a very humbling feeling.
To be able to give someone something special and lasting that makes them happy is how I measure success.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Just being a place where people can come and feel relaxed and comfortable. I’m an easy-going person and I get along well with people.
I also have a huge toy collection, so that also adds to the hype about Sailor Joe’s.
What kind of advertising do you do?
Most of my advertising is done online on Facebook and Instagram, but I think a lot of my advertising is actually done by word of mouth.
Uitenhage is a very small town and I have a pretty good reputation with the locals, so that’s a definite blessing.
What are some of the highlights of running your business?
I get to connect with people – really truly connect with them.
I meet so many unique people with interesting stories and pasts, and I get to be somewhat of a healer to people by giving them comfort through the art form of tattooing.
Can you tell me more about the anti-bullying campaign you are involved with?
On October 27, we are hosting an anti-bullying campaign at my new studio in Uitenhage.
We are co-hosting with JustEllaBella and Rob Taylor from PE Bully Busters to create awareness that bullying is happening and is on the increase, and that we can do something to help.
People can show support by purchasing a ticket, which includes a micro tattoo, a free coffee and a goodie bag.
All profits will then be donated to PE Bully Busters, who will sponsor a primary school in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas to enlighten our youth of the consequences that can be incurred by either being bullied or being a bully yourself.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business?
I’m hoping to add the service of piercings to my business in the not-so-distant future – you would be amazed at the amount of requests I get on a daily basis.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
I’ve tattooed people from all walks of life.
Each person at some point in their lives will experience great loss, which is mostly the reason people get tattoos.
So regardless of race, religion, age or wealth, we all share human emotions. Love one another.
How important has mentorship been to you?
Very important.
I have a very strong safety net of people, including my mom and dad, who encourage me to always do what makes me feel happy and to keep doing what I am good at.
They have faith in me, and for that I am thankful. It drives me to succeed even harder.
How do you motivate staff? Sailor Joe's is still fairly new, so since the beginning it has just been myself and my fiancée Lisa.
It’s safe to say Lisa has been my source of motivation and encouragement.
She is the one who has all the great ideas for the business and who keeps me in the loop of what's happening on social media, and what’s trending in the tattoo world.
What do you wish people knew about your industry? That getting a tattoo is not as brutal and painful as it’s made out to be, it’s actually more along the lines of a spa day or mental and physical therapy [because it’s] a release.
Tips for budding entrepreneurs:
Always take the positive and negative criticism with an open mind...

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