Tattoos, and tattoo parlors, are booming. Those who study such things estimate that more than 40 percent of Americans aged 18 to 40 have at least one tattoo. And at some point, many of those people will want to enter the conservative mainstream work force, or stop dating someone named “Turk.”
And so now tattoo removal is getting big. In this area, it’s done mostly in doctor’s offices, at doctor’s offices prices and hours. So Christian Slavin, a Harvard MBA with vast experience in real estate and investing, has decided to open a retail, walk-in tattoo removal parlor in Ballston, on Wilson Boulevard across from a Gold’s Gym, with much lower prices and hours that include nights and weekends.
Slavin has done his homework, as you’d expect from a former Sunrise Senior Living chief investment officer who made enough money to retire before he was 50. He was looking for a new project where he could run the show, and one night in Great Falls some friends were over and one of them commented that his daughter had come home from college “tatted up.”
Slavin had the idea for a retail chain of laser tattoo removal parlors right then, and declared it should be called “Zap a Tat.” “Everybody laughed,” Slavin recalled, but the name “seems to stick with people.” Now it’s a corporation with its first location set to open next month.
Here’s a quick video of Slavin talking about the concept in his still-under-construction shop, and more about tattoo removal and Zap a Tat after the jump:
As Slavin began researching tattoos and their removal, reading everything he could and visiting tattoo parlors and tattoo conventions, he was surprised not only by how many people have tattoos, but how evenly distributed they are across economic and racial classes. He also learned, in part because both the Pew Research Center and Harris Interactive have done studies on trends in tattoos, that about 20 percent of all tattooees regret their body art, but only about five percent actually go through the removal process.
Now, there are different kinds of regret. The studies show some people remove because they have the “wrong name,” and about a third remove so they can get another tattoo. Some flaming skulls just don’t have the right je ne sais quoi, know what I’m sayin’? So by Slavin’s calculations, that leaves a lot of people — somewhere between seven million and 20 million — who don’t remove their team logos at all. In the economics world, they call that an underserved market.
There are also myths about tattoo removal — the pain, the effectiveness, the permanence, the side effects — that have been eliminated by advances in laser technology. But the places that do tattoo removal are “high priced,” Slavin said, and the only real concentration of retail tattoo removal parlors is in Los Angeles.
Slavin also researched the technical aspects of the lasers that remove tattoos, which is done by pulses of laser light which pulverize the ink molecules in the skin, and target certain colors by wave frequency. Slavin then went out and purchased the HOYA ConBio RevLite multi-wavelength Q-switched YAG laser, for a mere $120,000. It fires short duration laser pulses which vibrate and shatter ink without harming the skin, the documentation says. Slavin also lined up a doctor who has done tattoo removal on gang members in Fairfax County, Martin Morse, for the last 11 years to oversee his operation, and he is looking to hire licensed laser technicians, registered nurses and master aestheticians for his staff.
Next, the pricing: Slavin says Zap a Tat will remove a two square-inch tattoo for $75 per treatment (one local company advertises $100 for one square inch); up to four square inches for $99 per treatment; and $49 per square inch over four. (A credit card is about six square inches.) An average removal takes six to eight treatments, depending on the type of colors used and the depth of the tattoo.
Unlike doctors’ offices, Zap a Tat will be open early mornings, well into the night and on weekends. Sort of like actual tattoo parlors. In fact, Slavin has explored partnering with tattoo parlors. He’s also looking at contracting with places such as for-profit colleges and prisoner re-entry programs, whose participants may be ready to remove a certain prominent naked lady or declaration of loyalty to MS-13.
Coming from Sunrise, Slavin brought some expertise in location scouting. And Ballston is dense with young people, traffic and accessibility. More than 30,000 cars a day zip along Wilson Boulevard, he’s walking distance from two Metro stations, and Zap a Tat has underground parking as part of the apartment building where he’s located (the corner of Pollard Street and Wilson Boulevard). He’s also installing an art gallery of works from local Arlington groups, since the actual tattoo machine doesn’t take up much space, and offering iPads to those in the waiting room.
“We want to bring top quality laser removal to the mass market at a reasonable price,” Slavin said, “with an emphasis on convenience.”
The goal, ultimately, is to create a string of similar removal parlors, where there are currently none, though Slavin doesn’t want to think about that before the first one is open. He is the sole investor. He seems to know what he’s doing. We may be seeing the start of something here.
ARLNow.com first reported the arrival of Zap a Tat, as they do everything in Arlington. Here’s a video from HOYA on how the laser tattoo removal works: