Tattoo parlours make their mark on Britain’s high streets

Published in The Financial Times

Deptford High Street in southeast London has all the staple shops of our times: a 99p store, a string of bookmakers . . . and a tattoo parlour.

The parlours have become an increasingly common sight across Britain’s towns and cities. Their number has more than doubled in the past four years – far quicker than the expansion of businesses most associated with the changing high street, such as bookmakers and coffee shops.

In 2009 there were 402 of them across Britain’s 650 largest town centres. Today there are 1,014, according to the Local Data Company.

Marcus Broome, who owns the Kids Love Ink parlour in Deptford, believes there is a simple reason that explains why his business is thriving while general retailers have retrenched: “You can’t get a tattoo delivered.”

Now that the internet accounts for about a fifth of all non-food retail sales, according to the British Retail Consortium, the businesses that have prospered on the high street are those that require customers to be there in person.

There is another big factor in the proliferation of tattoo parlours: high street vacancy rates shot up after 2008 and have remained high ever since. This is because general retailers – under pressure from lower consumer spending during the recession and the shift to online shopping – have either gone out of business or moved elsewhere.

The high vacancy rate has provided smaller businesses with opportunities to get a foothold where they could not before, says Peter Cooper, UK retail portfolio director at Hammerson, a property group.

“There [are] opportunities for companies that couldn’t previously get a look-in: local products, local operators, bespoke smaller stores,” he says.

Alongside tattoo parlours, discount stores and betting and coffee shops have been among those filling the gaps.

The increasing dominance of coffee shops, in particular, shows no sign of slowing. There are now about 16,500 of them in the UK, according to Allegra Strategies, a food and drink consultancy. This figure will hit 20,500 by 2018, they say.

The rise of internet shopping does not necessarily mean high streets will end up as parades of endless betting and coffee shops. Retailers will have a future there, in particular if their bet on click-and-collect, where customers buy online but pick up goods in store, pays off.

“[It’s] not about bricks versus clicks – the most successful retailers combine these elements. Digital technology can reinforce the high street,” says Will Roberts, head of media and campaigns at the British Retail Consortium.

Click and collect has been seized on by some in the industry, particularly groups such as Argos, where it accounts for about a third of sales. In the run-up to Christmas last year, almost two-thirds of online orders at John Lewis were collected in store.

There are also some signs of recovery on the high street. In December, the vacancy rate in Britain’s town centres dropped below 14 per cent for the first time since 2010, as new businesses filled the gaps left by retail, according to the LDC. It currently stands at 13.5 per cent.

But despite the growth in tattoo parlours, the future for this line of high street business looks less steady – the increase in numbers has not been matched by a similar rise in demand, says Marcus Henderson, a former president of the Tattoo and Piercing Industry Union.

This has not put off the hundreds who are attempting to forge a career in body art. Diamond Jacks, a long-established tattoo parlour in Soho, said it receives between 50 and 100 inquiries each week about apprenticeships.

There is a worry in the industry that the recent expansion is unsustainable. “Over the past few years it has never been easier for someone to come into the business,” says Mr Henderson. “There is a feeling that we are reaching a breaking point. People want a slice, but the pie is not getting bigger.”



Taking a businesslike approach to social woes

This article was published by The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune

‘The Solution Revolution’ shows how entrepreneurs and organizations are taking on intractable social problems.

December 15, 2013|By Tanjil Rashid 

Like many revolutionary manifestoes, “The Solution Revolution” seeks the overthrow of government as we know it.

But for authors William Eggers and Paul Macmillan — who work in public-sector practice at Deloitte — this is a revolution very much in the interests of business, not against it.

The book, “The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems,” is a compendium of case studies of entrepreneurial individuals and organizations taking on some of the most intractable social problems.

The authors argue that “private enterprise for public gain no longer need be an oxymoron” and that social enterprises can “backfill public services.”

We meet “social entrepreneurs” and “venture philanthropists” such as Muhammad Yunus, the microlending pioneer, and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, who both adopt a businesslike approach to social problems; Yunus’ Grameen Bank provides loans to poor Bangladeshis, while the Omidyar Network (ON) invests in products such as d.light, a cheaper, solar-powered alternative to the carcinogenic kerosene lamp.

By seeing the poor as a market rather than a receptacle for aid, Grameen and ON have built profitable enterprises that solve social problems.

These markets are worth a startling amount. Ashoka, the social enterprise network, values the market for healthcare that serves the poor at $202 billion and for food at $3.6 trillion. In the education market, entrepreneurs have been wise to the savings from “disruptive technologies” such as the Internet.

Khan Academy, for example, uses its analytics engine to tailor online learning to students who might otherwise be taught by unmotivated teachers in overcrowded classrooms with outdated textbooks. The profitability of these enterprises makes them sustainable and attractive to donors, but ultimately “they measure their bottom line in social value.”

The authors contend that this social value should be seen as a form of capital, with philanthropists investing in “the trillion dollar market for public good.”

Although the authors have given it a new name, “the solution economy,” the idea is hardly new. The annual Social Capital Markets Conference has been a fixture of the philanthropy scene for years.

Most of the examples in “The Solution Revolution” are well known from David Bornstein’s landmark study of social entrepreneurs, “How to Change the World.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green introduced the idea of the “venture philanthropist” — as engaged, target-driven and professional as any venture capitalist — in their 2008 book, “Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World.”

Eggers and Macmillan’s work succeeds as a guide to new opportunities to profit from “socially impactful” activities once thought unprofitable. But there is no focus on whether these “solutions” are the best for the problems at hand.

Eggers, an ex-fellow of the neoconservative Manhattan Institute, has written six books outlining his vision for diminished government. That vision grounds “The Solution Revolution” too: “All [government] has to do is get out of the way to let these solution markets work.”

But the authors show little awareness of the market failures that have led to the very problems for which they advocate market solutions. That they cite a problem-ridden, minimally governed country such as Bangladesh so frequently in this book is not so much a success story as a cautionary tale.