When Ron and Melanie Gregory reopened their tattoo removal shop during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs expected business to be painfully slow. “I was like, nobody’s going to want to get lasered anymore,” said Ron Gregory, founder and certified tattoo removal professional at Reno Tattoo Removal. “Everybody’s panicked right now, nobody’s doing anything; they’re going to just be happy to get back going to the grocery store comfortably, not worried about getting tattoos removed. “I didn’t know if we were going to survive after the pandemic. I expected to come back and for it to just be dead.” Turns out, he was dead wrong. As soon as Reno Tattoo Removal turned their lights (and lasers) back on, the Gregorys saw a flood of booking requests from old clients and consultation inquiries from new customers. “We knew as soon as we can start taking appointments, we’d have old clients that were already mid-session and needed to finish up,” Gregory said. “But we didn’t prepare for the influx of new people.” While the pandemic triggered a boom in people getting tattoos — whether to embrace a new form of self-expression after months of social isolation or because remote work removed the corporate stigma against visible body art — it also drove many others to get old ink removed. Perhaps driving the trend, Gregory said, is that people working from home had more time to look in the mirror and were inspired to make a change. “There was a lot of self-reflection going on during the pandemic,” Gregory said. “(It) gets you out of your normal day-to-day routine and maybe makes you look at the bigger picture differently — ‘I don’t like this about myself’ or ‘I need to get this old stuff out of here’ or ‘it’s time for something new.’”
Since reopening after a months-long closure early in the pandemic, Reno Tattoo Removal in Midtown Reno has been flooded with bookings, says owner Ron Gregory. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW
As a result, Reno Tattoo Removal has been busier than ever over the past year and a half. Gregory said he is seeing an average of 12 clients a day, and appointments on Saturdays are consistently booked out multiple weeks. Each session lasts about 20 minutes, with costs ranging from $100 to $300 per session. Complete removal can take anywhere from six to 10 sessions, depending on the size, spaced out roughly six weeks apart, he noted — meaning it could cost someone up to $3,000 to fully remove a tattoo. Some clients may want to remove a name inked on their arm or a gang-related tattoo on their face, Gregory said. Others simply want to get rid of older body art that looks amateurish compared to their newer ink. As of late September, Reno Tattoo Removal’s year-over-year revenue is up 20% compared to 2020, he said. The demand is so strong that the Gregorys — who have been running the Midtown Reno shop by themselves since opening in 2014 — hired their first employee, who is apprenticing to be a technician. “It was a big challenge to realize this might outgrow the two of us,” Gregory said. “There’s just not enough hours in a day with me and my wife running the business and having three kids.” ‘EMBRACED BY THE TATTOO WORLD’ It should be noted: the Gregorys have tattoos themselves. In fact, while some might assume a tattoo removal business is a tattoo shop’s nemesis, it’s quite the opposite. The Gregorys have strong relationships with Reno-area tattoo artists, who will refer people that want a cover-up — inking over a previous tattoo with a new one — to their shop. “It seems like in the last couple of years, a lot of artists only do cover-ups unless it’s been lasered,” he said. “It’s really cool to get embraced by the tattoo world. It’s a tool for them to be able to do amazing work. And the client’s happy because they get a cool tattoo, the artist gets to do something they’re proud of, and I’m happy because I got to be part of that.” Even before the pandemic, Gregory said, the tattoo removal market had been growing rapidly because of the advancements in technology and increased awareness that removal can be a safe option for many who are rethinking tattoos they’ve been wearing for years. So much so the global market for tattoo removals by dermatologists, medical spas and laser technicians is projected to grow to $4.8 billion by 2023, according to market research firm Kenneth Research. MAKING A MOVE
One Northern Nevada business that has not yet capitalized on the tattoo removal boom is Reversible Ink Tattoo Removal. The shop was housed inside European Fitness Center in Reno, which was shut down for three months early in the pandemic. “We went from probably 150 to 200 clients that were seeing us on a regular basis during their treatments to not being able to be open at all,” said owner Jessica Raney. “It was devastating.” While closed, Raney said she was receiving “lots of calls” for consultations. When restrictions loosened and European Fitness Center reopened in June 2020, Raney decided to remain closed. The Reversible Ink owner also decided, for what she described as personal reasons, to relocate her business from Reno to Carson City. Currently, Raney is in the process of opening a 700-square-foot space on Lone Mountain Drive in the capital. Raney added that she is waiting on approval from the state health department and hoping to open Reversible Ink by the end of October. And she expects to be busy once her business is back up and running. “We’ve already talked to some of our regular clients that are looking forward to us reopening and are willing to make the drive from Reno,” Raney said. “We’ve probably managed to save maybe 50 out of 200 of them.”
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