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Rob Arquero in his Fremont tattoo studio, Inkies, March 17, 2010. Arquero, a laid-off graphic designer, opened the studio in February 2009.

FREMONT —In the back of his mind, Robert Arquero had the idea of opening up a tattoo studio, but he could never pull the trigger.

That changed in September of 2008, when he was laid off as a graphic designer. He knew it was time to go all in.

"I pulled out all my money from my savings account, maxed out all my credit cards, and just went for it," he said. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but I felt this was my calling. It was my time to open up my own business."

But this was a gamble that was far from a sure thing. In Fremont, there was only one other tattoo shop. And neighboring cities Newark and Union City didn't allow them.

Also, he had to pay a nonrefundable $4,000 for a permit, and sign a lease not even knowing if he'd get approved. In all, he put about $40,000 in the pot.

"I knew it took six months to get approval, so I had to act immediately," said Arquero, who has seven tattoos and five piercings. "But I was worried that I was not going to get it."

Dressed to the nines, he presented his idea to the city of Fremont. His pitch was an upscale studio that looked more like a high-end hair studio. It would be well lit and a place where anyone from teenagers to grandmothers would feel welcome.

"This was a studio where we don't sell anything but tattoos and piercings," he said. "There wouldn't be any pipes, or bongs, or grungy feel to it."


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The vote was unanimous. The store opened Feb. 1 last year, and today, Inkies is bustling.

"My credit score is pretty much gone right now, but that's OK because the store is doing well," he said. "I'm having a great time."

Located at 37485 Fremont Blvd., there are currently three full-time tattoo artists, one part-time and an employee that specializes in piercings. On Wednesday, the waiting room was full. Some came in on appointments, while others were walk-in clients.

Bonnie Koehn, 42, of Fremont has six tattoos. All but one she got at Inkies.

"A lot of tattoo parlours you go to they feel seedy, dark, and there's a backroom with Guido in it," she said. "Here it's very clean and a customer-oriented place."

Each of the tattoo artists is paid on a commission split for each tattoo, which can range from $50 to more than $1,000. A dozen customers coming through the doors each day is normal at Inkies.

The tattoos cost about $150 an hour, and piercings about $60, Arquero said. The store sells the jewelry as well.

"Good tattoos aren't cheap, and cheap tattoos aren't good," he said.

While Arquero would one day like to try a turn at the ink gun, his entire focus now is on marketing and trying to draw people to his studio. If there is a nearby Art & Wine Festival, he'll venture to it and hand out fliers with discounts.

This weekend, he is going to be at the Tattoo Expo at the Cow Palace in Daly City. Using his branding expertise, he plans to make his booth stand out from the rest.

Instead of having small binders where only a small few can see his studio's work. He will have large easels to draw the eyes of 10 to 20 people at once.

"You have three seconds to impress, so you need to make it count," he said.

Looking ahead, Arquero has already identified a second undisclosed city to open a shop. And it won't stop there.

"I want to buy five studios by the time I'm done, and have the Inkies' brand everywhere," he said. "We have big plans."


Inkies Tattoo Studio
Owner: Robert Arquero employees: 5
Address: 37485 Fremont Blvd, Suite A, Fremont
Phone: 510-742-1100 Web: www.inkiestattoo.com
e-mail: info@inkiestattoo.com