No. No. No. There were a few ‘no’s’ before Universal CityWalk said ‘yes’ to Hart & Huntington becoming a part of the world attraction destination. But Chris Turck didn’t let the ‘no’s’ get in the way of what he knew was a great idea.
A tattoo shop. It was looked at as a risky move in a family place like Universal Studios. But with a lot of persistence, along with a great business plan, they finally said ‘yes’ in 2006.
Chris knew Carey Hart through his career in action sports. He followed him and saw how Carey turned an injury into a moment to do something great, when he opened his first shop in Las Vegas at the Palms Casino. When he saw the show, Inked, Chris had to check out the shop for himself. His opportunity came during an action sports event.
I was amazed at how nice the shop was—the build out, everything. It was very high end compared to anything I’d ever seen. I talked to one of the guys from the Inked staff and he told me about how Carey wanted to launch this concept nationwide. I immediately thought about Orlando.
Chris got straight to work.
I started formulating a business plan and thinking of different properties within Orlando that made sense. A few of my friends knew Carey and asked for a meeting, which he openly accepted. We got together, I showed him a few locations and we ended up in Universal CityWalk.
Although it wasn’t easy getting in at first, the marketing team at Universal saw the vision and what Carey was creating. The final decision maker came around and said they’d love to have Hart & Huntington join the CityWalk brand.
They basically said, how quickly can you sign? I had to move fast before they changed their minds.
As with anything worth doing, it was a risk. But Chris knew this was a solid concept.
It was expensive and risky. People on vacation may or may not have time for a tattoo. Especially when there are so many attractions around.
The tattoo business itself was new territory for Chris. Luckily, he had a team of artists who knew how to get it done.
It was quite a learning curve. I had a lot of retail experience but no tattoo operating experience. The artists taught me the business in the beginning.
From day one, Hart & Huntington Orlando was a hit.
We started booming right out of the gate. We opened at the tail end of Inked and the popularity of that and name recognition of Hart & Huntington was everything. We had a lot of marketing too—a huge stunt show at the Grand Opening and a big after party. We really made an impact on the community.
In the beginning, the Orlando shop had a Vegas vibe. Chris wanted the shop to make its mark on customers, tattoo or no tattoo.
We tried to replicate the look and feel of the Vegas shop with the color palate and the shape of the counter. It was twice the size of the Vegas shop so I wanted to make sure we had enough merchandise to sell if customers didn’t have time to get a tattoo. We needed to hire more people to manage that alone.
As with many tattoo shops, it also started with flash.
We didn’t go the route of flash on the walls, but we had books on the counters. People chose simple designs from there. It has definitely evolved a lot since then. Although, even if customers picked something out of the books, we always encouraged them to get something original. We’d do something to the tattoo to customize it. A one-of-a-kind piece was really important to us.
Today, it’s more of a collaboration.
Now, guests come in, consult with our artists, talk about tattoos and design ideas and we are the creatives. We are the ones who put it together. It’s more time consuming but it makes a much stronger connection with our guests.
The biggest growth moments happened when Chris merged technology with his vision, perseverance and talented team.
One of the biggest milestones for us was launching our website. It really cast the net that much further to market our brand and concept and the skill level of our artists. It drove our traffic counts way up and made our shop much more of a destination within CityWalk.
The other was a better scheduling system and communications flow.
With the traffic coming in, it was time to evolve our operations. I met with Stephan Barrett from Rise Creative Group who developed a program called Ink Finder for our business needs. It has been a complete game changer.
Coming up on the 11th year of business, Hart & Huntington is getting a facelift. But it’s more than skin deep.
We are remodeling the shop to improve the customer experience and flow expanding the number of stations from 3 to 7. we’ve learned so much over the years about our customers behaviors and what they want. Construction will take about 8 weeks.
Chris never stops looking for ways to level up, whether it’s the look of the shop or the technology used to schedule, getting the word out or making the whole experience that much better.
I’m always looking at the business from a bird’s eye view and thinking about what we can do better from the client experience, like what can we do that’s so different it will make an impression.
The one constant that hasn’t changed is the talented team behind him.
We have the most amazing artists who are extremely diverse in all styles. You can come in and get anything from Watercolor to Traditional. We’ve had a lot of great people that were part of our family for years. Some are still with us, some have moved on. It’s been a great learning experience for all of us. And I've had the best business partners—Beth and Barry—who have supported me from the beginning.
You might think Chris is all business, but when it comes right down to it, his heart is in it for the people he meets.
One of the best parts of being involved in this business as long as I have is the strong emotional connection with our clients and hearing their stories.
Whether we’re celebrating an accomplishment in their lives, maybe professionally or personally, or helping them remember a loved one, it’s been amazing helping provide something they’ll never forget. It’s pretty cool.
That’s the kind of magic you’ll never find in a business plan.