Shop of the Month

A Wicked Undertaking

Wicked Tattoo and Piercing

Peanut butter and jelly. Wine and cheese. Abbot and Costello. Whiskey and a pickle juice back.

The connection between these fragmented, grammatical abominations should be obvious. But in case you don’t follow, each consists of two things that when combined, become exponentially better than when they’re apart. What’s jelly without peanut butter? Nobody wants a jelly sandwich—and you can go straight to hell with that peanut butter and banana bullshit. That’s just Bush League.

Now, add to the list: Clay and Vanessa Welti, owners of Wicked Tattoo and Piercing in Maple Ridge, British Columbia.

For the record, their relationship wasn’t the theme of our conversation. We talked business; tattoos, piercings, industry trends, etc. The usual. Nonetheless, their connection was evident throughout by the way they fielded my questions. It was obvious they don’t just work together—they work together. But don’t expect a story of matching t-shirts and romcom-worthy shenanigans. For our purposes, it’s just a fluid business partnership that proves that two heads are in fact, better than one.

“It’s not for everybody,” Vanessa cautions when I bring it up. “I don’t think everybody could do it, no matter how much you like your spouse. There are sometimes when I turn to Clay and I’m like, ‘Wow, you never leave. Could you like, go guest spot somewhere?’”

“But,” she qualifies with a chuckle, “it is pretty awesome having your best friend beside you through everything.”

At the beginning, Wicked Tattoo and Piercing wasn’t so much the culmination of a lifelong dream as it was a necessary step for survival. Clay and Vanessa were both working at a local studio—Clay as a tattoo artist and Vanessa, a piercer—when they were notified the business would be closing within 10 days.

“So, we bought out the contents of the shop and opened our own,” Vanessa recounts. “It was just like, ‘Ok, I guess I’m opening a shop now.’”

The narrative might seem unique to the uninitiated, but it’s surprisingly common. I would estimate that at least half the shops I’ve interviewed began as a result of their previous employers going belly-up unexpectedly. I bring this up to Clay and Vanessa and they don’t seem surprised.

“I think those shops are usually owned by people who have no business in the tattoo industry,” Clay offers. “They all want to jump on the gold rush, but don’t understand how to mine it.” Fortunately, that’s not an issue for them. This may be their first shop they’ve owned, but it’s sure as hell not their first rodeo.

“Clay and I have 30 years’ worth of industry experience between us,” Vanessa offers. “We’ve worked in amazing shops and we’ve worked in shitty shops . . . the good, the bad and the ugly, basically.” From the outset, this patchwork of experiences helped them know exactly what they wanted, as well as what they didn’t want.

“We never wanted to be known as that hole in the wall tattoo shop that blares heavy metal music and makes you terrified to bring in your daughter for belly button piercing,” Vanessa begins.

“We try to make this place feel like a home,” Clay adds, “not just for us, but for our clients.”

“We want the space to be happy and cheerful,” Vanessa elaborates. “We want you to walk in and feel like you’re part of the family . . . like you’ll come back just to say hi because it was such a great experience.”

To this end, they’ve focused heavily on client interaction, being sure to always communicate in a manner that is both respectful and informative.

“We listen to what the clients want,” Clay explains. “We don’t just brush off ideas and say, ‘Oh, that’s shitty. I don’t want to do it.’ But, if there are aspects of their tattoo idea that won’t work, we’ll take the time to explain why and give them solutions that might make their vision more feasible.”

Further enhancing the client experience for which they are aiming is the open floor plan, which naturally encourages comradery.

“Everyone’s interacting with each other all the time, cracking jokes and having fun,” says Clay.

“We all start to play off each other and it just goes and goes,” Vanessa interjects.

“We’ll have clients come in who don’t know each other from a hole in the ground who end up chatting with each other to the point that they’ll get coffee together afterward,” Clay continues. “It really brings people together.”

If their Google reviews are any indication, their approach seems to be working. They boast an impressive 4.8 out of 5 stars—and that’s from over 200 individual reviews.

If you happen to pass through the greater Vancouver area of BC, consider stopping by and getting some work done. Whether it’s a piercing from Vanessa, or some ink from Clay, “Handsome Jack” McGinley, or Jacqueline Lee, AKA “Jaylee,” you’re sure to get the quality service you seek.

“Get more piercings! Get more tattoos!” Clay responds when asked for closing thoughts.

“And don’t be a dick!” Vanessa chimes in, before Clay comes back for the last word.

“Oh, and don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets.”


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