Ever wonder who pierces stars like Beyoncé and Jessica Alba? More often than not, it’s Brian Keith Thompson. The owner of LA’s Body Electric Tattoo & Piercing has needled more than his fair share of stars big and small, as his love for perfect placement and top-notch jewelry resonates with everyone from the poorest college students to the richest celebrities.
But before he was poking holes in the rich and famous, Thompson was just a tattoo-collecting client of Body Electric. At the time when he purchased the shop, Thompson had no experience in either tattooing or piercing. It made him a bit of an outsider and caused some controversy within the industry, but the piercer is perfectly comfortable with setting a new standard for LA’s famous body modification scene.
“For years before I got into this, piercers were frowned upon and laughed at in tattoo studios,” Thompson says. “They got no respect, and I changed that. The tattoo artists who work for me respect them, and they see how hard they work and how much money they make. You can do anything good or bad. I read something that said ‘Just because you have a title doesn’t make you a professional.’ There’s good and bad everywhere.”
After building a career as a corporate engineer and experiencing everything from being a Marine to spending some time in prison before piercing, Thompson had a lifetime’s worth of knowledge before diving headfirst into Body Electric. “[Having a wide-ranging background] never hurts when you’re dealing with people of all sorts in an international city like Los Angeles,” Thompson says. “From being a Marine to working as a re-fueler at the Burbank Airport to prison to street gangs to corporate America to business ownership, it just helps you better relate to people when they walk in the door. It’s not that weird fake greeting of a department store.”
Between his varied background and the amount of time Thompson spent getting tattooed before ever coming around to the other side of the business, the shop owner was afforded a unique take on the business he’d be running. When Thompson bought Body Electric about a decade ago, he still had the mindset of a client. Unlike the lifelong tattooers who don’t remember the anxiety that can often go along with setting foot in a tattoo shop by the time they own one, Thompson knew exactly what the average person climbing the steps up to his shop would be going through most of the time.
The piercer made sure to make Body Electric as comfortable as possible for those nervous clients, and that comfort is a large part of what’s made Thompson one of the most popular piercers in LA. Rather than having to walk into the back room of a grimy tattoo shop just to get a simple ear or nose piercing, customers are welcomed into Body Electric’s inviting space. The shop perfectly encapsulates Thompson’s eccentric warm attitude – after all, he decorated the entire thing – and there’s no standoffish air between the artists and anyone who walks in. It’s a more pleasant experience for the customer, and it’s a great business move for Thompson.
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“When a client comes in to me, I’m not thinking about how much money I can get out of that person,” Thompson says. “I’m thinking about what’s going to make them look the best and feel the best and what kind of budget they’re on. If you make them feel good and you’re not just belligerently trying to go after their money, they don’t feel like they’ve been ravaged when they walk out the door. I want to make them have a good experience and make them the best that they possibly can, because that’s just going to make me look better later.”
Although he’s a big believer in making sure Body Electric’s entire staff – from the tattoo artists to the guy who sweeps the floor – is happy, plenty of tattooers still view Thompson as an outsider because he’s never tattooed before. As he’s watched his own brand and clientele grow alongside the shop, his detractors have threatened to destroy everything from his business to his life. In Thompson’s eyes, that just means he’s doing something right.
“The tattoo industry is a good ol’ boy institution,” Thompson says. “I know I’m not liked, but I just don’t give a shit. At the end of the day, I’m a Marine and I’m going to take what I want and make my mark on this industry. I had artists tell me I was going to ruin the name of Body Electric or that I didn’t deserve it. I had death threats, but I always laugh at death threats, because you should just come and kill me if you’re going to do it. Don’t tell me you’re going to do it.”
Body Electric Tattoo & Piercing, 7274 1/2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 954-0408; Instagram: @bodyelectrictattoo