Ed Schaffer, owner of Diversified Ink, is still getting used to the idea of being an employer. His tattoo studio employs four tattoo artists, two piercers, and two part-time employees to manage the books and web site. Business has never been better.
Wearing a worn Carhartt jacket and jeans while sitting at his desk, Schaffer explains how he started out 11 years ago with a storefront on Hammond Street, working long hours by himself to make ends meet. His piercing blue eyes, set above a graying goatee, wander around the small office and settle on his beefy hands. He resembles Mark Ruffolo, the actor who plays the Hulk on the Avengers.
“I love what we’re doing, but it’s a struggle to balance it all out,” Schaffer observes.
Diversified Ink moved to Harlow Street after spending five years on Hammond Street. Schaffer also opened a shop in Bar Harbor, but it didn’t work out. He found it difficult at that time to manage two locations.
“If somebody doesn’t like something we’ve done, it affects me,” explains Schaffer, who wanted to be too involved in the day-to-day operation of both locations. He had yet to find that balance between artist and business owner. He observes that it’s his name on the sign outside his Bangor shop.
Last October, Diversified Ink moved to a location between Hero’s and Dunnett’s in the Penobscot Plaza. The 5,000-square-foot space allowed Schaffer to give each employee a studio and to sublet space to a massage therapist.
He has also created a fine art studio where he and others take art classes and practice figure drawing. Recently, with several other artists, Schaffer has been learning to draw in the Renaissance style. In his office is a pencil and charcoal study of a head and hand, work of which Schaffer is proud.
Unlike most tattoo parlors, at Diversified Ink not only does each artist have a private studio, there is also a spacious, comfortable waiting area and a number of smaller rooms that Schaffer hasn’t quite figured what to do with yet. He is excited to grow Diversified Ink into its new home.
Most tattoo artists work as independent contractors and rent the space that they use. The state government has studied the legal difference between independent contractors and employees, whether in tattooing, hairdressing, the building trades, or other fields.
Diversified Ink was among the first businesses that state contacted about redefining the relationship between workers and business owners. A little more than a year ago, Schaffer designated his artists as employees.
Even though nothing changed in the day-to-day operation of the studio, the decision changed the relationships among the artists. Even though the change cost the business money, according the Schaffer, he feels it helped him grow as a businessman and as a person.
“None of us likes change,” he says, but it’s necessary to keep growing.” He now feels that the change was good.
In 2012 the Better Business Bureau gave its first award for tattoo studios to Diversified Ink. “I was very proud of that fact, because we work super hard. We work hard to do right by the clients and take a lot of personal time with them,” Schaffer says.
He plans to continue growing the business by filling out the space it occupies and buying the building next year. Schaffer plans to grow as an artist and businessman at the same time by training in classical art forms and becoming a better boss. He says that he already has the most satisfied customers in the state and plans to keep it that way.