The editors and writers at Inc. are accustomed to peering into businesses rarely covered by the rest of the business press, but this month's cover story, on Mario Barth and his plans for industry domination, may seem off the beaten track even for us. Barth is a tattoo artist--one of the best in the nation. He's inked babies' faces, pharaohs, pandas, and Madonnas on some well-known bodies in music and sports (as well as on himself and his wife), and he's gotten so proficient at his craft that last year his company, Starlight Tattoo, had sales of about $7 million.
What makes Barth a story for Inc. rather than People or Us Weekly or The Learning Channel, however, is not what his business does but the way he does business. Most tattoo studios in this country wear their counterculture attitude with pride. Employees are artists. They keep irregular hours. They are religiously anticorporate. Barth is changing all that because, like many other successful entrepreneurs, he's discovered that attention to the customer experience and providing good employee benefits can be the difference between being a business owner and an industry leader. With four tattoo studios in New Jersey, another in Spain, and an emporium opening soon in Las Vegas, Barth is well on his way to becoming the latter.
Mario Barth decorates the body in a manner that draws attention to it; Bobbi Brown's approach is considerably more subtle. Her eponymous line of makeup is based on a natural look. She too began as an artist, applying makeup to models. Then she began mixing makeup. In no time she was running a company, which is now owned by Estée Lauder and last year had revenue of half a billion dollars. It's a classic example of shaping and responding to the desires of a market--in this case, millions of American women. You can read more about Brown's rise in our monthly feature, How I Did It.
Entrepreneurism can exist just about anywhere, at any time. All it takes (all it takes!) is an ability to look at a product, a system, an industry in a new way, with a vision unfettered by convention. Inc.'s founder, Bernie Goldhirsh, used to refer to entrepreneurs as the artists of the business world. Sometimes, as is true in the case of both Barth and Brown, great businesses are born from artists.