Tats for cash: RVA employees, customers get inked

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

Shelby Hastings and Sam Maney are two of many Richmonders with a Sticky Rice logo tattoo. Photo by Brooke Marsh

A growing national trend is slowly finding its way into Richmond as businesses in the third-most tattooed city in America begin offering incentives to their logo-tattooed customers and employees alike.

It’s unclear where this tattoo trend started, but it came to national attention when New York City-based real estate agency Rapid Realty offered its employees a 15 percent pay raise if they got a tattoo of the company’s logo. In this case, someone earning $75,000 a year would take an extra $11,250 for some ink.

From Sticky Rice to Sugar Shack, whether permanent or temporary, logo tattoos are being used for deals, for donations or for advertisement, these businesses are utilizing bodies for advertising space.

At the local sushi bar Sticky Rice, patrons have begun to get tattoos of the store’s minimalist logo. A Facebook page titled simply “I Have a Sticky Rice Tattoo” has over 150 likes, with regular posts of freshly tatted arms, legs, hands and torsos. They’re getting the tattoo because of Sticky Rice’s “RVA Ink” special, which allows for patrons with the logo tattoo to buy Pabst Blue Ribbons for $1 until 9 p.m. anytime they come in.

Local donut shop Sugar Shack pledged $1,500 to a fundraiser in January for VCU’s Quidditch team if captain Tommy McPhail agreed to get a tattoo of the business’s choosing.

They came to the agreement after McPhail committed to get a tattoo chosen by Sugar Shack, with the design and location within their command. However, he said that he wouldn’t be willing to get something for a discount along the lines of Sticky Rice’s “RVA Ink” special.

“The people who do the Sticky Rice tattoo, that’s a cool way for them to get their brand out there,” McPhail said, “but it’s not something that I would do. I’m not looking to get a discount at a specific place, I want that (tattoo) to tell a story.”

McPhail said that his decision to allow himself to be branded not only supports his club, his team and the local business, but it provides more story than a simple logo tattoo. He conceded, however, that the intentions of the business are likely two-fold.

“They did this for multiple reasons, but I think the biggest one is that they want to show that they’re that company, they’re the ones that will be there for you, for the community and for Richmond,” McPhail said.

At the popular Lamplighter Roasting Company, previous employees have gotten tattoos of the tall bike logo to commemorate the business. While there are no specials available to these employees, their tattoos are for their own enjoyment.

There have been attempts at giving discounts for tattoos a few times in the past around the country. In 1998, a San Fransisco-based Mexican restaurant, Casa Sanchez, allowed customers who tattooed their logo onto their body to eat free for life. They later estimated that decision cost them nearly $5.8 million. In Richmond, a city with 14.5 tattoo shops per 100,000 people, throwing out discounts and payraises for residents could prove harmful to profits.

There are even websites, like LeaseYourBody.com, that get companies in contact with people who are willing to wear temporary tattoos of logos and phrases for quick cash. Attending a public event with a logo on your forehead can net you up to $5,000.

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