Pricing, The Cost of Piercing

I thought since this does come up from time to time and there seems to be a number of potential clients that make their choice of piercer and studio completely based on price, that I explain what really goes into the cost of piercings and what goes into pricing piercings. What you are paying for at the heart of it is quality of jewelry, safety and experience. It would be easy to simple state, no matter how true the statement maybe, that you get what you pay for but there is more to it

Jewelry:

For most of the last 20 years I've spent time explaining time and time again why there is such a difference in the price of jewelry at a large chain store at the mall or a department store and what is often charged for the same style, size and material at a piercing studio. Though I've covered this elsewhere it all comes down to quality, overhead and bulk buying. When I started piercing back in the 1990s there were only a handful of jewelry manufactures and because it was such a specialized product, the price was high by even todays standards. It doesn't matter if you are making jewelry or beer, the materials that are need to manufacture your product will always be a great deal cheaper when you buy more of it. Also, your labor costs are going to usually be higher with a smaller operation. This is why even today there are still a number of small high quality manufactures that charge a great deal more than others. Often their jewelry is hand crafted and labor intensive with quality standards that are much higher than other manufactures.

As the market increased a number of manufactures entered the market mostly located in the developing world. Machine made jewelry became increasingly the case and the skill level of those involved in the manufacturing of jewelry was a great deal less. Also in countries where there is no standard third party testing the grade and purity of the material and quality of build and finish became less and less the focus. Instead the focus switched to what styles could be marketed to increase sells which often resulted in poor quality jewelry and designs that increased the risks of the jewelry causing damage to the piercing. These new low quality and low cost manufactures flooded the market with very inexpensive jewelry but instead of targeting body piercing studios, they targeted jewelry retailers, clothing stores, department stores, etc... where those involved in purchasing the jewelry had no experience or background in body piercing. 

Now understand that this doesn't mean that everything you buy at the mall is junk compared to what you can get at a piercing and tattooing studio. There are a number of studios that buy from the same manufactures either directly or through a third party distributor. I have to admit it has been tempting when I've been contacted by a manufacture that offers a pierce of jewelry at often 95% less than what I pay for the same piece. However, when I asked them to send me a Mill certificate that state the grade of the materials they were using in their jewelry, I never heard back from them. 

So, as a consumer what how can you judge the difference and what should you look for?

  • Not plated or filled. This is most common an issue with titanium and gold that is plated over steel. Often the packaging will not even state that it is plated but instead will just say titanium or gold. The only real indicator will be the price. If everywhere else the jewelry of that material is 2 or 3 times more, chances are it's plated. 
  • Grade of material - This one is tricky. There are a number of terms that are used to sound biocompatible but often are nothing more than marketing terms. Terms like "Surgical Stainless Steel", "316L" or simply "Titanium" are used but without knowing the grade or purity of the alloy it is impossible to know if the jewelry is made of an alloy tested for body placement or if it's not. The two numbers that you should look for or ask about is the ASTM(American Society for Testing and Materials) or ISO(International Organization for Standardization)  compliance. Both are third party independent testing organizations. The grade is important because it is indicates whether the alloy is body friendly and is resistant to corrosion. With gold the purity should be at least 14kt or better. The lower the kart weight the more trace metals will be in the gold alloy. Regardless of common beliefs Gold is not the answer for those with metal allergies and is often a bad choice for piercing and healing a new piercing. 
  • Finish - Finish of the jewelry's surface is important because it reduces the body's exposure to the metals in the alloy and increases corrosion. The brighter and more mirror like the finish the stronger the finish. 
  • Price - It is pretty much a retail standard that the markup on products is around 300%. So if the jewelry is $5.99 for 5 pieces of jewelry, chances are that the manufacture cost was around  $0.39 a ring. Which is a sign that jewelry was bought in bulk and by a manufacture that is mass producing jewelry. Thus of a much lower grade, finish and quality than a $10 ring would be elsewhere. If a piece is costing ten times as much at the wholesale level than it is safe to assume that the grade, finish and quality of the jewelry will be a great deal better.

Overhead:

This is a hard one for a majority of those that have no experience operating a business to understand. It's easy to assume that the cost of doing a piercing is only the cost of jewelry, needles, medical supplies, etc... but the reality is there are a number of additional costs involved. These can include everything from rent to office supplies but with piercing and tattooing too, there is another whole level of overhead that is not easily seen and its should be extremely important to you. It's the cost of sterilization, cross contamination prevention and medical waste disposal. 

Things like sterilization pouches, bio-hazard containers, drapes, disinfectants, autoclaves, proper autoclave testing, gloves, etc... cost money and a lot of it isn't cheap. Consider the simple act of changing gloves a number of times during a piercing procedure. Usually it's two to three pairs a piercing. One could cut their glove cost in half by just using one pair. It might seem small but when you consider if a piercer is doing 30 piercing a week that is an additional 3000 to 5000 gloves a year. A hundred gloves to a box at $6.00 a box and it works out to another $200 - $500 in profit. Now consider cutting other corners that might affect the piercee's health and safety and you begin to see motivation and where some of those cheap prices come from. Often the piercee lacks the knowledge to even know that corners are being cut to reduce the overhead.

From the business side there are a number of additional costs that are going to be involved from advertising to taxes and business fees to the studio itself. I don't think people even consider the added cost of having an area set aside for piercing or having a clean room that is only used to handle, clean and sterilized contaminated equipment. There is also educational material like this website. Also there is the man hours that are put in behind the scene cleaning, answering phones and e-mails, waiting on customers, Often all this added work is missed when I spend on average 20 or 30 minutes with a client. 

Skill and Experience:

Regardless of the quality of the jewelry and the overhead a large part of what you are paying for the skill, expertise and time of the person that is doing the piercing. This is not something that happens over night and does require a commitment to a career that isn't going to make them rich, They are doing what they are doing because they have a passion for body piercing. Since it is our passion it's often hard to find a balance between what we know we should be paid for our work and our desire to do as many piercings as we can. The reality is that to pierce on a professional level it took a commitment to learning a very specialized skill and investing time, energy and money in perfecting that skill. Also since the industry is rather young, it is a never ending learning experience. 

If there is anything that seems under valued by your average first time piercee, it's the experience of the person doing the piercing. There will always be people that will base their choice of piercer completely on the cost of the piercing. There might be a number of reasons from something as basic as what they can afford to simply not seeing the difference between someone that is really a tattooist but for the last six weeks decided to take up piercing and someone that has gone through an apprenticeship, only pierces and has been professionally piercing for a couple of decades. I mean it's only a piercing, right? Well, yes it is a piercing but there is a great deal more that goes into a piercing than simply pushing a needle through a part of the body. It is a skill and some would even say an art to do a piercing that will be quick, clean, fit the anatomy and with only slight pain. it is a skill that takes years to develop and learn but is often treated as a side line or quick buck between the main business of tattooing. 

Now let me say right off, I have encounter tattooist that have a level of the passion and skill that would rival anyone other piercer in the industry. However, often in the body art industry piercing is treated as either a sideline business or an entry point into the tattooing business. It has also been my experience that since body piercing value is underappreciated and under valued, no thought is put toward quality jewelry,  proper training or education on aftercare. Often the experience will involve nothing more than picking out jewelry, filling out paperwork, payment, piercing and "here's a care sheet." No thought is given to educating the piercee about risks or aftercare. In fact, the mention of anything that might make the piercee have second thoughts about getting the piercing are not mentioned at all. Often I pierce someone that has a number of piercing from other piercers that are completely amazed at the amount of information I willingly share during the consultation and aftercare. 

Since piercing is under valued at these studios and preformed with under skilled piercers their prices tend to be often extremely low. Also along with the reduced skill, they often will stock cheaper jewelry, cut cost and overhead to get to a low cost point. Think the difference between getting a McRibb sandwich or getting a pull pork sandwich at your local barbeque joint. There is vast difference in the quality of ingredients, expertise, skill and man hours put into the preparation. It's all about selling as much as you can with no interest in service or quality. Often you will notice that it is motivated by a desire to undercut the competition and drive new clients into the studio in hopes that they will come back for a tattoo.

I run monthly specials often doing piercings for close to cost for couple of motivations. The first being to a form of appreciation for my loyal clients and the second is to bring in clients that are driven completely by the cost. With the latter the goal is to show them the difference in the level of skill, quality and education that I offer. 

A Piercing Can Be For Ever :

Yes, it is what it all comes down to. It's easy to get caught in what it costs but the reality is a piercing is a small expenditure for something that if done correctly with the right jewelry and the proper care, will be with you for the rest of your life. It only really depends on your motivation and desires but with quality jewelry, it could easily last 50 or 60 years and be a part of you for the rest of your life. Making that investment of a few extra dollars could be the difference between something that is a empowering and enjoyable experience and a terrible and frustrating one.

However, price is not always the best judge of the skill of the piercer, the quality of the jewelry or any of the other factors that going into a great piercing experience. I suggest not even considering the price until you have researched your piercer. Visit the studio, interview your piercer, ask those you know with piercing about their piercing experiences, etc.. and then when you find the piercer with the skill and expertise that you feel comfortable with then worry about the price.  

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