This is a very challenging time for so many people and so many small businesses. We love supporting local and wanted to do our part in showcasing some fantastic small businesses.
This week we are speaking with Jess Dunfield, owner and artist at Van Bree Tattoo in Abbotsford, BC. Van Bree Tattoo is a boutique tattoo parlor located in the heart of Historic Downtown Abbotsford. The shop features a collective of experienced artists who provide custom-tailored tattoos in a wide range of styles. You can check out their work on Instagram and Facebook.
What made you choose this type of business?
This is the cheesiest thing I’ve ever written, but love brought me here. Honestly, I fell into tattooing and it was never my plan to run my own tattoo shop alone. And I am overwhelmingly grateful for that every day. My late husband introduced me to the tattoo industry and together we decided to establish Van Bree Tattoo. We talked a lot about wanting to create our “dream shop,” this sort of mythical combination of all the things we had ever felt that we desired or needed as artists to create our best work. The tattoo shop model is kind of an oddball, maverick sort of industry to begin with, but I feel that the role of the shop boils down to facilitating the artist/client relationship. If I provide a safe, beautiful space and assure that the artists have all the proper support at their fingertips, then everyone can focus their energies on that very intimate, delicate and completely unique interaction that happens when a person comes in for their tattoo. What makes my business stand out is the part that I actually have very little control over: this amazing team of people that have chosen to work with me (seriously, look at their stuff, it’s bonkers) and all of these micro bonds that are formed when individuals place their trust in us to help them permanently alter their appearance.
What is your favourite small business (aside from your own)?
Oh no, don’t do this to me! Abbotsford and particularly Historic Downtown Abbotsford is such a hub of progressive, talented entrepreneurs. This crisis has made me acutely aware of how special this community is, and I feel so honored to be a part of it, even if it’s by default as it were. I guess I would give a shout out to the lovely folks at nine. Downtown Kitchen and Lounge. It’s one of my favorite places to take friends or guest artists to show off how cool Abbotsford actually is. Those cocktails! The atmosphere inside is warm and intimate and you have no idea how excited I am for their renovated patio space out back (which happens to feature gorgeous graffiti artwork by Van Bree Tattoo artist, Rhian Webber). I can’t wait to be able to sit down in restaurants again! In the meantime they’re still doing takeout, so you can enjoy one of their amazing pizzas from an actual wood fired oven, all safe and comfortable at home.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
You’ve got this. Don’t forget to breathe. This might not be the same for you, but sometimes when I take a look at the whole beast, I can get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task before me. I almost had a nervous breakdown after my husband and I signed the lease, walked into that empty shop space for the first time, and everything became real for me all at once. So I make a lot of lists. I break everything down into smaller, more digestible parts. And I try to stay fairly organized, so I don’t waste too much time sorting through a mess before I can get down to whatever I need to do. But really I think it’s about trial and error, slowly but surely figuring out what helps you work efficiently and never ceasing to evolve.
What are your long term business goals?
I never want to become stagnant or complacent in what we have. It might be a matter of smaller adjustments, but I want to continue to hone and refine our setup. The industry will continue to evolve, technology is changing, even my customer’s needs or expectations are going to change, and each new resident or guest artist helps bring a new perspective to what this shop can be. There’s always room for improvement. We held a very rewarding charity flash tattoo day for the crisis in Australia in February (that feels so long ago!), so I’m excited about the possibility for more events like that – whatever that sort of thing might look like post COVID-19. In particular I’d like to do something that focuses on mental health awareness, in honor of my husband, when we’re ready.
What is your funniest/weirdest/most memorable experience with a customer or client?
A ton of crazy things happen around the shop. A lot of puns get passed around, we’re a bunch of dorks. You also have stories about people struggling with the pain or passing out (sometimes before any tattooing happens), odd requests and so so many deep meaningful projects fall into our hands. One of my favorite memories is actually a tattoo Edwin did: The man came in, a gentleman in his 40s, wanting his first tattoo. He wanted a laughing Buddha, you know the one, the big jolly dude. But the wild thing is that he wanted it on his belly, so that the Buddha’s belly button was his own belly button. It was a deadly serious request, the man was a pleasure to be around and he had the purest look of joy and satisfaction when they completed his tattoo. Moments like that stay with you.
Thank you to Jess Dunfield for participating in this week’s Small Business Sunday. If you are a business owner interested in participating please email Ashley@modernmama.com.