By Chris Illich
I remember the first time I met Gordon Bouchard, owner and piercer at Golden Horseshoe Tattoo and Piercing. I was a fresh-faced 15-year-old trying my hardest to get a job at Sunrise Records [RIP] at the Pen Centre.
I used to go in there every other day, handing off a resume to the tattooed and pierced staff, one of which was Gord. Eventually, I got the job after pestering the staff continuously. Gord was at the time, a heavily pierced 20-something, and I remember when my parents came into the store for the first time, they were worried about what I was getting into at my first job.
But, Gord has been nothing but great to me in the 15 years that I’ve known him. He was my Manager for a little while at the record store and he was tough at times, but I was also a brat. He’s just a stand-up guy. Ask anyone that knows him.
When I first started The Sound, I ran into Gord at the gym. I hadn’t seen him in a while and he asked what was going on in my life. I told him that I was starting a magazine. Without asking, he said “We’ll advertise and help you get going” – no questions asked. From then, you’ve probably noticed the Golden Horseshoe ads in the mag, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
That being said, he’s been happy to support me, and in turn, I’m more than happy to help him out and celebrate Golden Horseshoe’s 10th Anniversary on November 22, where they will be doing Horseshoe themed tattoos for the day, with all proceeds going to Community Care .
In the following conversation, we talk about we talk about all things business, his shop and his road to becoming one of the best — if not the best — piercer in Niagara.
When I worked with you at Sunrise, had you started piercing at that point? I started a year after I started Sunrise in 2000-01 and by the end of 2001-2002 I had started my apprenticeship at Artistic Impressions in the Falls.
Why did you decide to get into piercing? I had always wanted to, there just wasn’t a good time to do it. I had moved away to college for a year and a bit. I took Native Community Care and Counseling Development, which was pretty much drug and alcohol abuse counseling to work on reserves. So, I did that and realized that I was still too young to get into that. I was 20, so it’s really hard to council people that are in their 50s and 60s that have been sober or drunk for 30 years. So, I put that off for a little bit.
I’d been getting tattooed for maybe once a month, for three or four years and I had always asked about an apprenticeship, I was just some annoying teenager, you know what that’s like. When you were applying for a job, I was that kid to them. Eventually I was a keyholder at the store, they saw that I could handle some responsibility. They then asked me if I wanted to do an apprenticeship and it all went from there.
At this time I remember you had a lot of piercings at this point. How many would you say you had? I’ve had, from taking them out and getting them redone, over 60 piercings.
Wow. That’s a lot. Can you tell me about what the apprenticeship was like? Everybody’s apprenticeship is different. Some people try to fast track it and what not. My actual apprenticeship under Shaun was awesome in the Falls. He took it very seriously. Even when I was in the St. Catharines shop they did a really good job of keeping track of what I was doing – making sure that I wasn’t doing things I shouldn’t be doing. I was really nervous at first. I really wanted to pierce but when I started seeing piercings I was grossed out and didn’t want to do it. I was like; this is really disgusting I don’t know if I can do this to someone.
And at this point you had a bunch done already? I had a bunch done to me but I didn’t know if I could do it to people. So that was really weird. It took me a while, probably six or seven months. I was put at the Welland store and I was doing a fair amount of piercings on my own but I was still continuing an apprenticeship. I was going in to the St. Catharines store every week and learning more stuff. About a year in I was doing that, then I was pretty much good to go on my own.
And from there you opened Golden Horseshoe? Well, it was open as a different studio in the summer of 2005. I had just left working in Toronto for the summer and came down here. I started working at that studio and it turned out that the owner had three studios and didn’t want to have all of them anymore. So, we had the opportunity to buy it out from him.
Where was the original shop? Where Bang On Hair Salon is now, across from Pizza Pizza and next door to the old Heavy Duty. That’s where we were for the first couple of years.
So you came in to owning the store as it was already up and running? It was up and running for a couple months and we took it over in November 2005. I think they opened it up in the spring.
So you’re celebrating 10 years from when you took it over? Yeah, we’re marking the 10 years from when we took it over. Because if you want to say 10 years then we’ve already hit that. I wasn’t working there when it first opened, but I started in the summer time. I counted 10 years since we had it. We kept the same name for a year-and-a-half and then we switched from just “Golden Horseshoe” to fully branch off on our own, we were always doing our own thing; we weren’t paying franchise fees or anything so we wanted to be recognized as our own studio.
What was the decision to purchase the company? I had always wanted to have a tattoo studio. I thought it was something I would be good at. That was all we talked about at work, we were all heavily tattooed and had piercings and it was just something I was really interested in. I feel like I’m more a person who likes to do the behind the scenes management kind of stuff.
So the only way I’m going to do that at a studio is if I have one. I’m never going to be able to be a piercer and tell someone how to run their studio, because they’re not going to give a crap.
From there, when did you make the move into your current location? We moved here about eight years ago in January. I don’t know if you remember, where that walkway is now, there was a big blue building, it was a record store for a number of years and then it was abandoned and the city was tearing it down to be able to put the walk way in for the new arena. There were issues with asbestos in the building and it was leaning against the building we were in and they couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be any structural issues with the building we were in. When we started we only had one tattoo artist and one piercer at first. We had three tattoo artists, a counter person and a piercing apprentice at that point. It was less than 1000 square feet. We just ran out of space. It just turned into an opportunity to find something bigger and see what we can do.
In eight years, how have you seen Golden Horseshoe change? We’ve changed staff every so often. That happens with any business. We’ve done a ton of renovations; we’ve changed how we do everything. There are a million products out now that weren’t out eight years ago. In the last year and a half we’ve done a ton of structural changes and painted things a bunch of times and put up new artwork. I don’t think this store stays the same for very often. People always come in and there is something different, something changes. I get bored of seeing the same thing everyday. It’s the same as the living room at home. If I have to spend so much time there, I want to have it looking as nice as it can and as comfortable as it can be. We’re always doing different stuff.
When you moved here, it must have all been pretty new to you still. What do you wish you knew then that you know now? Everything. I was 25 when I took it over. No 25-year-old knows what they are doing, they might think they do, but they don’t. It would have been nice to have a couple of business classes under my belt, maybe working in a studio a little longer. Not just that studio, but maybe having working at 2 or 3 different ones to get a better understanding of how different shops run things, because we took it over and we were just winging it. It was a whole lot of trial and error.
You said you wanted to manage and own a tattoo shop and still do piercing, but what keeps you in it? That guy that had a couple of shops, obviously he wanted to move on when he sold it to you. I’m under the impression that you are going to run this tattoo shop for a very long time. To be honest, the number one motivator for me was finding out that there were a lot of people that wanted me to fail. The shop that I started at didn’t like that I had moved on. The person I bought the studio from was hoping that I would go under and he could buy it back for a cheaper price later on. I just found out that there was a lot of scummy people in the industry, and I didn’t really respect how they did things. It was kind of an ‘I’ll prove you wrong’ mentality. As well, I’m to tattooed to go do anything else now. So, it’s either this or I’m a Carnie, and don’t get me wrong, that sounds like a pretty sweet job. But yeah, I’ve been someone that if you tell me that I cant do something, I want to prove them wrong. It’s worked out good enough that we’ve created something that is really good and something respected, why would I give it up?
This is a weird industry to be in, because you get people from all walks of life, right? But you still try and maintain a very professional atmosphere here, am I right? Yes, and no. We like to have fun. Yes, our goal is to be as professional as possible. But, no one works in a tattoo studio to be a professional. We don’t wear suits and ties to work, we like to have fun and listen to whatever music we’d like to. That’s the attitude and that’s what we do to relax, but as far as our work goes, there’s no fucking around.
Everything has to be done right, done clean and with the best service. We’ve let people go because they weren’t up to the bar that we were expecting. The longer we’re open, the more we keep raising that bar, and everyone who is here knows that we expect them to reach that, and if they cant, then unfortunately, we’ll see you later and find someone who can.
You must get a lot of favourable comparisons from customers as well? I’m sure you guys have to clean up a lot of other peoples work. It comes down to this. If you’re not passionate about it, you shouldn’t be doing it. Again, if this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life I might as well give a shit about it. So, it’s not just about good customer service, it’s about doing the job right. It’s about doing it clean and with proper materials and all that other stuff. We end up fixing stuff for people, but I’m sure people have gone into other studios saying their not happy with us as well. The problem with aftercare is the second they leave your door you have to trust that they are going to do what you told them to do. And most of our clients do, I’d say 90% of our clientele is returned clientele. So, you can tell that they are taking care and you can see it. Those people come to get things fixed and then they become regular clients because they can see that we are fun people when you walk in. We’ll joke around and talk to you, but when it comes to our work, we’ll give you the best that we can.
And everyone on your staff do different things to develop professionally as well, right? Things are constantly changing, so things like blood born pathogen training – we took the shop down to be certified for that. I went to Vegas this year for a piercing conference that has been going on for 20 years. This year was my first chance to go spend a week in Vegas taking classes on piercings. I literally had no time to go and do anything touristy, and next year I’m hoping to have more time. But I took 15 or 16 classes in three days, just on body piercing and different metals and aftercare. Because again, if I’m going to do it, I might as well do it right.
What do you have planed for your tenth anniversary? The last few years we’ve done a charity tattoo day, we’ll do that again this year. We’ll pick a charity and all proceeds from that day go to charity. We’ll probably have Community Care barrels again where people can drop off food and clothing for a Christmas drive. There’s talk right now about putting on a show downtown at a venue and we’ll have more info about that soon. We’ll continue the charity there, so all the admission will go to the charity and we’ll have more donations available there. We’ve been open long enough that we don’t need the charity, but we might as well use how long we’ve been open to bring attention to someone who does need it. We’ve always tried to turn that into ‘yes, it is our 10th anniversary, but these people need help, so come out and do something for them.
And that’s a great outlook to have, you can use this as a cash grab, but instead… Yeah, and that’s the thing, in the end it helps everybody. We’re the nice guys for helping out a charity, the charity gets noticed and everyone gets helped that year. We have the rest of the year to make money; we don’t need to have one random day to cash in.
And it kind of helps shine a more positive light on tattoos in general. People see piercings and tattoos as something on the fringe, or something a little ‘harder’ than the nail salon across the street. To be able to do that and show face in your community, shows that you may have tattoos on your face but you’re the nicest people on the block. Well that’s it; I think that the stereotypes are starting to change. They are nowhere near as bad as they used to be. Any help that can have to contribute to that is awesome. Any little bit of where you can say, ‘Hey soccer mom, you may not like your kid coming in here and getting stuff done, but we’re really not that bad people.’ All of a sudden soccer mom comes in and gets something done, so it really just helps out everyone.
Golden Horseshoe celebrates their 10th Anniversary on November 22, with all proceeds going to Community Care.