Brothers bonded by ink

Tattoo artists Kallyn and Craig McGregor left the corporate world to follow their dreams.

Swopping conventional career choices in business and law for needles and ink has led Kuils River brothers Craig and Kallyn McGregor to success built on a shared passion, and fulfilment of a long-time dream of working together in their own business.

Craig, 32, and Kallyn, 27, say they haven’t looked back since spotting a gap in their local market to capitalise on the growing trend for body art as “the ultimate in self-expression” and opening their Murder Ink Tattoo & Piercing Lounge in Kuils River, where they were born and raised.

That market gap provided “the golden opportunity for us to develop as artists and practice our passion,” says Craig.

Self-taught artists inspired by their art teacher mother, Patricia, and “always encouraged” by their parents, including father Mark, to become entrepreneurs, the brothers worked strategically to lay the foundations for opening their own business in 2010, before taking the leap from the corporate world to self-employment.

Seizing market opportunities and pursuing your passion as keys to business success were lessons brought home again for the brothers in the training and mentorship received in the Small Business Academy (SBA) programme of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), which they will complete at the end of November.

They were among 20 Western Cape township entrepreneurs selected for the intensive nine-month sponsored SBA, designed to support small business owners to grow and strengthen their businesses. The programme provides business, financial and operational knowledge, creates networking opportunities and offers a mentorship programme matching each participant up with a USB MBA alumnus.

In addition to financial and entrepreneurship knowledge “to direct our efforts more productively”, an understanding of the broader economy, and inspiration from the mentoring programme, Craig said the programme had reinforced the importance of keeping the flame of passion alive.

“The biggest lesson has been to always enjoy every moment of your journey because running a business can easily cause one to lose your passion. To excel in this business (tattooing), you need to enjoy what you are doing because passion is what produces good quality work,” he said.

Kallyn studied law for two years and was working in a call centre at the time, while Craig had studied business management and was working in the retail sector.

“Kallyn started tattooing a year before I did, while I was still in retail. He laid down the foundation for our start-up and we both provided capital to keep things growing. While Kallyn made the connections, I pumped in the capital and when everything was in place I was able to leave my job in retail and jumped straight into tattooing,” Craig said.

The name Murder Ink draws on popular culture and “murder used as a slang for doing something exceptionally well”.

“We wanted it to be a name that would stick in the minds of the public to become a household name,” say the brothers.

Siblings working together can be a recipe for disaster, but the brothers say the strong values laid down in their upbringing enable them to settle differences productively and find balance, “always encouraging and uplifting one another”.

Tattoos give the wearer an opportunity express their personalities and passions in unique, and sometimes rather strange ways – Craig says the oddest request he’s had was for a tattoo of chicken wings and a pizza slice, while Kallyn helped an “elderly lady” to surprise her boyfriend with a tattoo of his name on her rear end.

The brothers’ aim is to become a top-rated tattoo studio in South Africa and also provide a platform and creative environment for other talented artists to flourish.