Upscale Body Art-Focused ‘Steel N Ink’ Expanding Locations in Major Shopping Centres [Interview]

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The idea for Jamie Randolph’s Steel N Ink business began years ago when he took a summer job with a family friend in Sauble Beach, near Owen Sound, Ontario.

Today, the upscale tattoo, body piercing studio, which has top quality body art and body jewelry, is opening its 11th location next month in the Scarborough Town Centre as it continues to expand its retail footprint in different malls.

“When I was 17 years old I went to Sauble Beach to work as a summer job. It’s a seasonal beach town. I went to work for a family friend. He owned a body piercing and T-shirt store and I worked there and then I bought it in 2005 and made it a tattoo studio as well,” said Randolph, CEO and Founder.

Image: Steel N Ink

The first location opened in Sauble Beach in 2005. Randolph said other locations are scattered throughout southern Ontario and beyond.

“The last maybe five locations we’ve found our niche in malls. We started in 2017, we opened in Stone Road Mall in Guelph. It was very successful for us and we continued with the (CF) Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton. Then we did (CF) Shops at Don Mills in Toronto. Then Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket. Then we went to (CF) Polo Park in Winnipeg. So we opened our first out of Ontario store,” said Randoph. 

“We’re opening in Conestoga Mall (Waterloo) this month and then Scarborough Town Centre after that and we have a few more planned for 2023.”

Image: Steel N Ink

It’s not the typical store that one would see in a mall environment.

“As far as I know, when we opened in Guelph we were the first in that class of a mall,” he said. 

“I started in Sauble Beach and everyone always said to me who would get a tattoo on vacation. You know it’s just people. When you have a large crowd of people you have traffic. It’s very inviting. People come in and everyone’s thinking of doing a tattoo but a lot of people don’t go out of their way to get it done and other studios kind of make it hard to book in and they’re in certain parts of towns.

“We are to the masses. We’re in a great spot in Sauble Beach. Now people who wouldn’t typically walk into a tattoo shop come see us. Seeing that, we went to Collingwood which is also a tourist place and then at Barrie across the street from the mall because they wouldn’t allow me in the mall at the time. Then we went to the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls and that was tremendous for us.

“Then I said we’ve got to go into malls and everything got started from there.”

Image: Steel N Ink

Randolph said besides tattoos and body piercing the locations have a large selection of fine body jewelry.

“I’m talking 18 karat gold, diamonds. Really high end body jewelry. Stuff you don’t see everywhere,” he said. 

“We cater to the clients. A lot of tattoo studios they cater more to themselves. They’re artists and they want to make their shops about them. We really cater to the clients. We want people that wouldn’t typically walk into a tattoo shop come into ours, feel free to ask questions, feel comfortable in there. 

“We make friendliness a priority. Our facilities are purpose-built. We run it like a medical clinic in a way.”

Image: Steel N Ink
Image: Steel N Ink

Currently Randolph owns all the stores corporately.

“We’ve just come out with a franchise model. So we’re looking to use that to expand nationally in 2023,” he said. “Hopefully continue expanding, expanding.

“Our model works great. Every market we go into we seem to be very well received and we just think this could spread. Every decent mall should have a Steel N Ink.”

When Randolph bought the business, it had a different name. And he was trying to come up with a new name. Back in the day, he said, all body jewelry was surgical steel. Now there’s different material as well. But needles are still made from steel.

The name just seemed natural to illustrate what the company does and offers.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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