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.