THE BLIND SPOT PODCAST WITH DAVE UZIEL
(Intro music: percussion beats and cymbal)
The screen view is split into two video streams. On the left is Dave, sitting at his computer desk in a gray t-shirt, bald with a full beard. Matt Marcus is on the right, with a dark mustache and beard, black baseball cap and white t-shirt. He’s sitting in front of a wall tightly packed with framed photos and art.
DAVE: What’s up guys, Dave again here at The Blind Spot. Really excited about this episode. Again, somebody I’ve never met before, and I’m grateful that I have a guest: Matt Marcus from … he’s the owner of Three Kings tattoo out of different cities, and I’ll let him get into that — Matt, thanks for joining me today.
MATT: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
DAVE: Yeah, I’m really excited. You know, when Virginia, who is my — I call her my Brand Manager, whatever she wants, she gets to pick her own title. So, you know, she reached out and she said, you know, ‘I’ve got this friend Matt, he’s got all these tattoo shops and he’s doing all these other things during this COVID-19 pandemic’ and I thought, ‘perfect guy.’ Because you know, I love me and my tattoos, and guys that own tattoo shops are always fun to chat with. So, again, thanks for joining me.
DAVE: Give us a little bit of background.
MATT: So, I am the owner of Three Kings Tattoo. I’ve had it in Brooklyn — I’ve co-owned it with one of my best friends Alex McWatt — we’ve owned the main location in Brooklyn for 13 years. We also have a location in Manhattan, Long Island, we recently opening in LA and London. We own three bars in Brooklyn, me and my wife have two restaurants, I own a liquor company, a liquor store — various other endeavors and investments. So I like to have my hands in a lot of different cookie jars. Three Kings is definitely where my heart is, and where most of my time gets invested.
DAVE: Cool. So let’s just start — we’re gonna start from the top: Three Kings.
DAVE: You know, obviously I could tell before we even started recording, obviously you’re tatted up also, so were you always into tattoos? Or were you always an artist? Gimme a little bit of background on that.
MATT: I was always an artist. I, uh, had done fine art all growing up, got into street art, graffiti art, I did a bunch of acting when I was a kid. Really all-encompassing arts when I was a kid. And funny enough, I didn’t want to go to college — I ended up going to film school at SUNY Purchase, which is in Westchester — and I’d actually tried to like, fake my parents out when it came to college because I’d applied to all these programs that were really hard to get in to, hoping that if I just didn’t get into any of them then I didn’t have to go.
MATT: And at the time Purchase was like, one of the biggest film programs in the country accepting only 20 kids a year out of thousands of applicants. So I applied and ended up getting in, so I said ‘Fuck it, I guess I’ll go and see what it’s about.’
MATT: Um, so you know, I ended up doing the film conservatory for a year, dropped out of that, went back to fine arts, started hanging out with lots of guys who were older than me and kinda into tattooing — this was, you know, the early 2000’s so it was really blowing up then, I think tattoo TV had kinda come just a few years after that with Miami Ink. I had befriended some of those guys in New York as mentors of mine, so you know, that scene was kind of blowing up and getting big so there was a lot of appeal to it. So yeah, I continued to do fine arts, and did kinda like a formal apprenticeship kind of, and you know, it went from there.
DAVE: So you started in Brooklyn, right?
MATT: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. After Purchase — so I actually graduated school in three years — and then I ended up in Brooklyn. My last year I was commuting to school because I only had classes two days a week, so I was doing that, and I started working within the tattoo industry working for a supply company on Canal Street called UniMax. And I started getting heavily tattooed, so I met a bunch of tattooers and started picking things up here and there. And, you know, when I found my partner Alex McWatt who mentored me and kind of taught me and helped me get my first couple jobs, and then we opened Three Kings in 2008.
DAVE: And after you opened your first location, when did you decide ‘Ok, you know what, we’re starting to see that we need a second location.’ What, you know, how much time — what made you make that decision?
MATT: (Sighs) Man, it’s such a combination of so many things … A lot of it was really, I think, where I was at personally in my life at the time. I had had a liver transplant about a year / year-and-a-half into the business being open, and my sickness had gotten to the point where I wasn’t actually even supposed to live. Like, will was written, papers were signed, that was that. Last minute, a guy had a heart attack in Boston that ended up being a match — I was #1 in the country for like, weeks, for a liver transplant. People had come, said their goodbyes, you know, the guys from the shop and stuff … Got the transplant last minute, would sneak off and do physical therapy for myself at night because I just wanted to get back to my life and back to work and really I think, like, after that experience — which, you know, makes sense, having an experience like that — was really when I think I came back from I was like (opens hands outward) ‘The sky’s the limit,’ ya know? And it kind of opened up all these doors in my mind to possibilities and seeing the art industry, which, you know, at the time was still a very young industry. People don’t realize that tattooing was illegal in New York up until 1996. So at 2008 you’re talking about an industry that’s only 12 years old, and I saw a lot of potential. So you know, I came up with a bunch of things that other shops weren’t doing and I kind of applied all the modern business practices to running a tattoo shop, and a lot of them worked.
DAVE: (Nodding) Right.
MATT: We got busier and busier, and we got more notoriety, and as we got busier, and as more people at the time wanted to come work at the shop, it just seemed like it made sense to expand. So, I … there was a shop going out of business in Manhattan — this was about seven years ago now —
MATT: And the owner had come to me and wanted to see if I was interested. So I took it over, and I kept some of the artists who were there — and some are still with me now today — and, you know, brought in some new guys, and then that shop grew. And we moved to another location a couple blocks away because we needed more room. And, you know, throughout the years we had become the shop that was working with (listing on fingers) Nike, and Adidas, and Adult Swim, and Rag & Bone, and we were doing all these Sailor Jerry events, and we were traveling and working for record companies, and event tattooing had become this big thing that big businesses had kind of gotten together and started having people come and tattoo at these events, and the name would spread and spread more and as it spread, I think after our first year, as far as the financial parts of it go, we had made — you know, going into it, we knew nothing about running a business (smiling) —
DAVE: (Chuckling) Right.
MATT: All my business knowledge, I’ll say, loosely, came from street knowledge. And we’ll end it at that.
(Dave laughing and shaking head)
DAVE: You and me both, dude, don’t worry.
MATT: But we had made some sales tax mistakes in our first year. And after that, you know … I take being — I hate the word ‘Boss,’ but I’m going to use it — I hate being … I really like seeing my businesses as families, and I really care about the people who work with me and alongside me. If you care, and you want any kind of real success, I think you learn pretty early on that you can’t do it by yourself.
MATT: And you need teams of people. And you, you know, in the beginning you filter though. Because once you attain some success there’s no shortage of people who want to be involved and come, but very few of them want to work as hard as you’re working.
DAVE: (Nodding) Yeah.
MATT: So after making that mistake that first year, it cost us like fifty grand — and at the time fifty grand was a lot of money, for us.
DAVE: (Nodding agreement) Yeah.
MATT: I spent a couple years paying it off, you know, we’d gone to court for it and it was a whole headache, and I said ‘Alright, well I’m never going to let this happen to me again.’
MATT: So I looked up — I think it was CUNY — I looked up basically I think it was like ‘Accounting 101’ for freshman year. I went to Barnes & Noble, I bought a bunch of accounting books, and I just started figuring out stuff for myself. And that was kind of like … You know, before my transplant, that was really where the ball started rolling in my head of understanding finances and capitalism and, you know, how the system will work for you if you educate yourself and put yourself to work for it. But if you don’t you’re just going to live your life at it’s mercy.
MATT: So I educated myself financially, and then after my transplant it became very important to me that the people who worked with me, I did my best to make sure that they were getting the same kind of education so that they could put their money to work for them. And this is when we started taking on opportunities like the bars, and the liquor company, and you know, me and my partner, we never left New York. And that’s the thing about New York, it’s a transient city, so people come and go non-stop.
DAVE: Every day.
MATT: And we always believed that the best way to build something was just to sit still. And build it. And invest in the community, and become a part of that community. There were years early on where they would joke and call me ‘The Mayor of Greenpoint,’ you know, just because I was always around and I was always on the street. And owning a business, you meet contractors, electricians, plumbers — you build this giant network and web of people, and, you know, so many of those relationships ended up just being doors that opened for me. I always tell people: I didn’t actively plan to get to this point in my life, I just walked through the doors of opportunity as they came.
DAVE: (Shaking his head) Dude —
MATT: I had no fear. I’m not worried about losing money. I’ve lost businesses, I’ve had to close places, I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars — you know, I learned very early on that none of that defines me.
MATT: You just get up, you try again, that’s it. And obviously the liver transplant and being close to death and having that — that only solidifies that mentality. It’s the mentality I had before I was a business owner, you know. I’ve been working since I was ten years old, I come from a working class family. My old man had me busting my ass in warehouses at 12 years old. Doing 12-hour days in tin-roof warehouses in Union City, in the summertime, no air conditioning, just killing yourself.
And I had every shit job there was growing up, because I grew up in a house where money was always a point of contention, and my father would always say ‘It’s a lot more important to know what you don’t want to do than what you do want to do.’
DAVE: Dude, it’s so funny because everything you’ve said in the last few minutes that we’ve been chatting is so identical to how I grew up and how I think, even to this day. How old are you Matt?
MATT: 38. I just turned 38.
DAVE: (Nodding) Happy Birthday.
MATT: Thank you.
DAVE: So, I’m two years older than you. You know, a little bit back, I was a police officer for a long time, and I didn’t get into this business until 2009 and unfortunately, you know, time goes — I never even thought I was an entrepreneur.
DAVE: And I don’t even consider myself (holding hands in air quotes) an entrepreneur, I consider myself a businessman. I think entrepreneurs — and this is my own opinion — have all these different ideas (waving hands around) and don’t know how to organize them.
MATT: (Considering) Yeah.
DAVE: I am a businessman because I’m focused on one thing right now. Now, obviously, COVID has made me realize that that’s not a good thing.
DAVE: So I’m definitely refocusing and looking at other options, but even, my dad instilled a lot of things that you talked about. You talked about your employees — I mean, my employees are family. When you said that, dude, truthfully there are not a — and I don’t know, maybe it’s just our generation. I consider our generation, even though we’re I guess Millennials, per se, but I would say that 35 to 40-year-olds …
MATT: I think we fall into the spectrum right before that, uh … (holding up hands like brackets and making a skeptical face).
DAVE: Are we?
MATT: (Laughing) Yeah, I believe so. I think we’re in like, the weird 8-year bubble there …
DAVE: Ok, so then …
MATT: I’m not sure what the word is, but we can’t be Millennials because we remember the world AS IT WAS (emphasizing with hands and laughing).
DAVE: Right. Listen, Matt, I’ll take whatever you can give me because I don’t want to be called a Millennial.
MATT: (Laughing) Nah, I don’t want that title.
DAVE: (Smiling and laughing) No, fuck that shit. What I will say is I think that our like, 35 to 42 — which is a 7, 8 year group — really understand the importance of having a relationship at work.
DAVE: I think that like, when I come to work, everybody that works for me, I want to have — I want them to feel like they can come through my door, they talk to me like I’m their brother, that I’m, you know, like some of the girls that work for me they’re like my sisters. It’s important because then it’s almost like they feel that it’s a natural vested interest into the company. And the brand. One thing I didn’t realize until a couple years ago is the identity of a BRAND.
DAVE: Because our service, you know we’re — kind of like you guys, a little different — we cater to, like you do, too, but we cater to the 1 and 2%, the RICH.
DAVE: Tattooing, artists, you know, it’s been available to every group of people (sweeping arm) — depending on whether you want low quality to high quality, right?
DAVE: (Nodding) We understand that. But your ability to be part of that community and get to know every generational gap between is what makes your kind of business so great.
DAVE: Because, like you said, it opens doors. Like, we got — from the day that I started working, my first boss, Edwin, said to me “If you leave my company, when you do, the only thing I ask you is that you never forget the connections that you built. Because you’re going to need them one day.” And I swear to you to this day I have those connections and they’re great friends of mine now. And they’re mentors of mine. Guys that are 20 years older than me. So you’ve obviously taken the old school way of what our parents — our dads taught us, our moms taught us — and instilled it into what it is today.
MATT: Well you know, the biggest difference for me, coming out of what you’re saying is I think that our parents, and the generation before them, the way that they molded greatness was like the metaphor of making a diamond, where like, you applied pressure, you know. And a lot of times that pressure, for me, came out of negative energy, and really like, beat it into you, you know? (Pounding fist into hand).
MATT: And I think that, from what I see around me in New York City and other cities, I think a lot of people are feeling now that — and I feel this for the world, in general — is that you can attain that same success, you can attain that same product, with love.
MATT: You know? And that’s where that family element comes in. I think there’s a lot more people who own businesses now — I remember there was an article in … I think it was The Wall Street Journal, probably about 8 or 9 years ago, and it talked about how hipster culture was actually like, lifting the economy up (raises hands). And it was because there were so many people who started to open up small businesses again. And, you know, they weren’t looking to be rich, they were just looking to be able to take care of their family, maybe have like one or two employees that they could take care of well, and like, live their life. Because there had been so much fluctuation for people (rolling arm like a wave) you know? And I think in most people that’s the thing they crave the most, is just kind of that line — security (sweeping level arm).
MATT: Not having the rug pulled out from under them.
MATT: Which is what makes what everybody’s been going through for the past five, six months now so brutal, and even for me (gesturing to self) a giant wake up call is, I think we all are understanding that there’s no checks and balances for any of those things at all in this country.
MATT: And that’s really fucking frightening.
DAVE: (Nodding) It’s fucking scary.
MATT: How fast we got to where we are, you’re just like, is this fucking real? Did I wake up in like, another universe somewhere? Like, how is this being able to be said? — How is this being able to be done? — Without somebody coming in to be like “Whoa whoa whoa whoa, what the fuck are you doing?” (Holding up hands)
DAVE: Right. No, 100%. I think that that is such a good point because I think, you know, I was talking to one of my guys here who’s with me, he’s my fleet manager, and we were talking about how the last three years, 40% growth, year over year. I mean, if you had talked to me three years ago and said “Dave, you’re going to be a $7.5 million company” I’d have said “You’re fucking smoking crack.”
DAVE: There’s no way. I mean, we were slowly growing. And then one morning — you know, we were in Vegas for a show, for our convention show, and I mean EVERYBODY at the show — I mean, Matt, you’d have thought that everybody was on coke —
because everybody was so excited, having fun, nobody’s sleeping — and maybe some were, I don’t know — but the fact is that everybody was like, this cloud nine, the industry was at its best, the economy was solid. Nobody, nobody — and I can speak for myself, I noticed that there was a decline in business in Asia, because we weren’t seeing travel there, but I didn’t catch it off guard because it’s January, February, it’s kind of the start of the year for us in business travel again.
DAVE: But when March 12th came around, six days after my fucking 40th birthday, I will never forget waking up and looking at our board for the day, which was our reservation screen: empty.
MATT: (Nodding) Yeah.
DAVE: And I started seeing emails — cancellations. Calls — cancellations. And it was just like, what the fuck? And not even one day later, did we basically have to shut down completely.
MATT: (Shaking head) Yeah.
DAVE: And it’s been March 13th, we’ve not been able to reopen fully. California, as you know, like New York, we haven’t been able to do shit.
MATT: Yeah, yeah.
DAVE: And so we’ll talk about that, kind of how you pivoted. But in our industry, if nobody travels, there’s no business.
DAVE: So, California, like many states, got hit super hard in the beginning.
DAVE: But you’re right, what it did make me realize is that, you know, was I standing with both feet planted rather than kind of, keep moving. And we decided to just keep moving. And it’s been rough, don’t get me wrong, but the next thing that I kind of want to bring up is the idea of like, ok so you have these shops, you opened up Manhattan, you moved and got into something bigger, obviously you opened up in LA, I know that — how long ago did you open up in LA?
MATT: Just this past year, and at this point we’ve been closed longer than we’ve been open.
DAVE: Ok, so then we’re —
MATT: Took us like a year-and-a-half just to get that shop established because there’s so much red tape in Los Angeles.
DAVE: A hundred percent. It’s California (shaking head).
MATT: If I would have known how difficult opening a business in LA would have been, compared to anything else I would have done, I probably never would have done it (laughing).
DAVE: Right. And it’s so funny you say that because I have a lot of partners that are in New York, and Florida, and other states, they’re like “Oh, we’re gonna open up shop in California” and I’m like “Mmhmm, you do that, and then you’re gonna tell me how you wanna jump off The Golden Gate Bridge that’s right around the corner from me.”
MATT: It’s wild.
DAVE: It’s … (shrugging) The worst part about it, and I don’t know how New York is, it’s all — the cost to run the company is more than you’re actually going to make because you gotta deal with Worker’s Comp … You know, I don’t know your business, I’m assuming — and correct me if I’m wrong — are the tattooists considered independent contractors?
MATT: (Nodding) Independent contractors.
DAVE: So you get that benefit. So that’s awesome. But for me, all my employees are employees.
DAVE: So then I’m paying Worker’s Comp on everybody.
DAVE: And that cost in itself is horrible.
MATT: Oh yeah.
DAVE: The thing is, so you opened up LA, when did you open in London?
MATT: Same thing, this past year. We opened them both this past year.
DAVE: And how is London doing compared to — I mean, obviously LA we know — but London is, are you seeing anything?
MATT: Um, London is great. We opened about a month-and-a-half ago, six weeks ago. And that was our official opening opening. We were ready to open, and were supposed to open like a week before the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic hit (laughs). And then we opened, and things, you know — I’ll say, the shops are busy, because people have nothing else to do. We are literally like the only extra-curricular activity that is allowed to be open and functioning. And funny enough, we’re also really one of the only industries COMPLETELY prepared for a pandemic. Because we’re all trained in cross-contamination. And we’re all trained in blood-born pathogens. We have gloves, we have masks, we’ve already been doing all of this stuff since before the pandemic even hit.
MATT: And it sucks because most governments, they’ll lump us in with like, nail salons and beauty places and stuff like that, and it’s like, you don’t have to know any of the stuff that I have to know.
DAVE: Right, right.
MATT: I’m performing surgery.
MATT: So, you know, having all that knowledge was extremely helpful going through the pandemic. I mean, I think every time I go to the hospital I end up correcting a nurse or a doctor in cross-contamination, you know, over tattoo artists.
DAVE: (Shaking head and laughing) That’s crazy.
MATT: Yeah. Even with my transplant it was that way (laughing).
DAVE: So how old were you when you had your transplant?
MATT: (Thinking) Twenty … nine (nodding).
DAVE: And we don’t need to get into the particulars, but obviously it was a life-changing —
DAVE: Kind of eye-opening … And so I guess you could look at that as a you know, double edged sword? Right? Like, there’s the good and the bad of it?
MATT: Uh … yes. You know, you go through something like that there’s something that’s taken from you that’s forever gone.
MATT: You know, people know me, I’m a positive thinker, always have been. I tell people — and this is something I say all the time — I’m thankful for every bad thing that’s ever happened to me. I live my life where I’m like “Fucking pile it on, buddy” (gesturing toward self) like I can take it, like I don’t fucking care.
MATT: Like, let’s do it. And I like taking it for the people around me, you know, I work hard to be that beam of light for people, to be the guy who can put the shit in the back of his head. So even with that, even with the near-death experience, I was like — I walked out of it being, to me, stronger, better, more well-versed in life. And also understanding what the ultimate price was. I felt lucky that I got to see who showed the fuck up when that time came —
DAVE: FUCK yeah.
MATT: And I can say, it was nowhere near as many people as I thought it was going to be. And as sad as a statement that is, it’s also really fucking eye-opening because any hurdles, any walls I may have created for myself up until that point in my head sure as fuck were gone by the time I got back to life.
DAVE: Right. And probably what it did is it shrunk this big group (making a square with fingers) and brought it down to this (now a circle with fingers) which would probably make you realize, or helped you get to that next level. Because now you didn’t have to cater to 25, 30 people, you catered to the five people that had your back, you know, whoever they may be — family, friends, whatever, right?
MATT: Yeah, yeah.
DAVE: So you said that you and your wife, decided — you guys opened up a bar. One bar, two bars, how many bars do you guys have?
MATT: No, so my wife is a restauranteur. And she has a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia called Dinamo.
DAVE: Called what?
MATT: Dinamo. D-I-N-A-M-O.
DAVE: Ok, cool.
MATT: It’s like Italian-Jewish cuisine. Delicious, up for Restaurant of the Year every year, they’re amazing, she’s amazing.
DAVE: (Arms wide) Two of my favorite things?? Italian food and I’m Jewish — let’s do it.
MATT: Dude, you will love it (laughing).
DAVE: I’m all for it.
MATT: You’re right in our (making a container with hands) New York / New Jersey sector.
DAVE: “You’re our perfect client, Dave.”
MATT: What we call the “pizza bagel contingent.”
DAVE: There we go. That’s a great idea — make a good pizza bagel? Ugh, let’s go.
MATT: So we live on the northern Jersey Shore, she had moved up to be — to move with me here in Jersey / New York. And then we recently about a year, year-and-a-half ago we bought a local pizzeria restaurant like 10 minutes from our house in Highlands, New Jersey. There’s a giant, beautiful like 15-mile state park right there next to us, the ferry is right there, it goes back and forth to Wall Street and 34th Street. Lots of summertime tourism. And she just did what she did in Virginia, and did it here — we bought it from this old Italian man who’s had it for like 40 years. He’s been in the pizzeria like three or four days a week hanging with us
DAVE: Awwww, that’s awesome.
MATT: We go hunting in the fall, he’s like become part of our family. It’s been really, really amazing. And we never closed there for the pandemic. My wife has run it through the whole thing, she cut down on staff, she’s been there every day, we were like one of the only restaurants to stay open in the area. And you know, eventually brought in groceries, and was just taking care of everybody the best she could.
DAVE: (Shaking head) That’s amazing.
MATT: If it’s possible, I don’t think we had a single exposure in the restaurant or with any of the people working. You know, just really incredible.
DAVE: And then you said you guys opened up a bar?
MATT: So I have three bars in Brooklyn with my partner in the tattoo shop and then another good friend of mine from college who’s also an independent bar owner himself.
DAVE: Ok. And I mean, I’m assuming you guys are hit a little bit on those. Did they have to —
MATT: Those are definitely the hardest situations of them all. New York is just doing nothing for bars and restaurants whatsoever. And you know, at the end of the day the biggest part of it comes out of every landlord is different. That’s really like, the end and the beginning of the conversation is what the landlord says. We started off doing to-go stuff, and in the beginning when there were only so many people doing it it was good, and then once like, EVERYBODY decided to open up and do it …
MATT: You know, there’s only so much money to go around. And on top of that, the flight from New York city has been TREMENDOUS.
MATT: I mean, when I drive home every day it sends me through midtown Manhattan, because it’s fucking empty. Because there’s just nobody there. And Manhattan is just filled again with homeless, and junkies — I watched two guys sharing a crack pipe at a bus stop the other day.
(Dave shaking his head)
It’s like old Manhattan. It reminds me of my childhood, it’s crazy. All of the gentrification that came in, so much of it is just gone.
DAVE: It’s gone.
MATT: Construction sites stopped. You know, all these guys that bought buildings in the last few years that paid way too much for them, everything’s at a halt now. And crime is up, and the weirdest, strangest, scariest people are back out on the streets. It’s a weird environment in New York right now.
DAVE: Yeah, I can imagine. And you know, I don’t really like to go into politics in the sense of like, Democrats / Republicans and that kind of shit, but I had a really good conversation with a friend of mine, and he said that he had this feeling — he’s a businessman that’s done VERY well for himself — he has this theory that all this was to bring the gap between the poor and the rich closer.
(Matt looking skeptical)
Which is kind of a weird thing — I’m going to try to explain it the best I can. But what he said is, you know, the rich are REALLY, REALLY RICH, and they were able to buy those buildings in New York and spend all that kind of money, and this basically stopped them in their tracks. They spent all this money and now they can’t get the money back because now gentrification, everybody who was living there who was willing to spend that kind of money will never be able to spend it for the next five to eight years. Because they’re not going to be able to get back to where they were, right? What it’s done is it’s brought the really rich down slowly, and it’s now saying that the guys that are doing the gig economy, the gig stuff, is all starting to get, you know, these little jobs — I mean, obviously we Uber and all these kinds of things — where they’re starting to make money, and they’re not paying rent, they’re not paying all their credit card bills, they’re starting to be able to save this kind of money, so this pandemic was able to bring — it was (rolls eyes) a conspiracy that’s bringing the rich, the middle class, everybody kind of closer together. Because the economy, and I don’t know about you, but I can tell you, under the last three or four years, doesn’t matter who the President is, I don’t care about that, my business was thriving. Like, I’ve never seen that much money coming in to our company.
DAVE: And there has to be something said to the idea that (snaps) like that it’s gone.
MATT: Yeah. Yeah.
DAVE: And I don’t know about you, but we’ve basically envisioned this company to be going back to what 2015 / 2016 numbers were.
DAVE: Have you seen the same thing, for you guys?
MATT: Well, I mean, I think the difference is you know, you said most of your clientele are that one, top one top two percent, and I think most of those people have the luxury of sitting still, staying inside, letting time go by. They’re not going to put themselves out at risk. The pandemic as a whole seems to be a pretty classist disease, you know, it’s wiping out poor people, it’s wiping out old people. And in this country poor people happen to be minorities. So it’s hard not to look at that, and from the level I exist in, which is definitely more on the streets, more working class — I mean, we touch I think all sectors of the economy but my initial instinct would be to say the opposite (shrugs) from what I see.
DAVE: Ok, yeah.
MATT: And even from what I read, it seems to be the distribution of wealth from the programs that have been created through this — so much money is just being taken and hoarded, and you know, the people who have that money, that own those buildings, they’ll still be able to use government programs to turn them back into billionaire housing. I mean, this is the cycle of America, this is the cycle of the world — this is the cycle of like, every great empire that’s fallen and rebuilt itself throughout history. You know, take too much, take take take take take, and the bottom falls out. At some point poor people and working class people need to have money to put back into the economy if it’s going to balance itself.
MATT: I’d say I’ve seen a fluctuation over the last 12 years — money, it always tends to go like this (the wave motion with his arm again).
MATT: Certainly in the last three or four years, Trump’s America, yeah, tax cuts are better for people who make more money. You’re gonna do better for yourself, you know. And we all know that this is a country that like, the more money you have, the easier it is to operate and make money for yourself. To me there’s no truer American statement than “you need to have money to make money.”
DAVE: A hundred percent.
MATT: You know, I worked my way up, and yeah, it was just kind of, keep reinvesting in yourself (forward motion with hand) — keep reinvesting these ideas and put new things. And the reason for diversifying was because I realized that on my own I was never going to be able to obtain those next levels without partnerships, without friends, without people working with me to attain the same kind of things for themselves. And like you said early on about refocusing your energy when it comes to working just for money and whatnot, you know, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to make money but I think that … I do believe that everybody really only needs a certain amount of it, at a certain point.
DAVE: For sure.
MATT: And I think there needs to be a redistribution of wealth in this country, enormously. But I also don’t think that’s very hard to create — you’re talking about a country that needs reform in like, 20 different sectors. You know, you can put people to work. You can create an economy. You can raise minimum wage. You can do all these things, and that one percent isn’t even going to feel it.
MATT: So when you’re sitting where I’m sitting, it certainly makes you question like, are you trying to combust the economy? Are you trying to create a bigger gap between — because I think for about 15 years, 20 years, the conversation’s been had since I remember in high school that like, the middle class was disappearing and the gap was becoming bigger between the rich and the poor. In the cities I certainly see it, in the suburbs everybody just, you know, goes on with their days. They’re not affected.
MATT: But in the cities you really see it. You see the working class people being pushed further out, and further out into the boroughs, and into Staten Island and Jersey, and they’re commuting and people are making $300 a week and spending $100 of it on a fucking Metro card. (Shrugs) How do you expect those people to serve you, at a certain point? Because that’s what cities are turning in to, with that kind of differential between wealth.
DAVE: You know — and I didn’t meant to cut you off, sorry Matt.
MATT: No, it’s ok.
DAVE: I wanted to — you kinda hit a point, you know, you said — I do think there are a lot of ways, as, we’re business owners. And obviously we want to have a good paycheck, it doesn’t have to be outrageous, but it also is … there are, here in the Bay Area, I can speak for myself, is that I would rather pay people more and pay less to Worker’s Comp.
MATT: Sure. A hundred percent.
DAVE: If they — if the states really wanted to better the people, they need to enforce caps on these things that are making companies not be able to pay their workers more.
MATT: Well I mean, look at insurance right now, right? I mean, I talked to my — my insurance agent is like a really good friend of mine.
MATT: And we talk about it all the time because I find insurance fascinating — FASCINATING, right? And most people are like “Ugh, how does insurance work?” It’s like, basically insurance works like this: when one thing happens to the insurance company, they add that to this “we will never cover this ever again.” Right?
DAVE: Right. Oh, yeah.
MATT: This — you will never see “disruption of business” in an insurance plan ever again. Ever again. And you know, the hardest thing as a small business owner you’re like “what the fuck to I have all this for if it’s not going to do anything for me?”
DAVE: Anything for me! Right.
MATT: In the hardest of situations — in the hardest of situations when NOBODY has any business, and we’ve all been paying into these systems for years and years and years and years — and we’re not talking about small amounts, you know? And nobody’s getting anything back. Not even like, “hey, spend three grand and come scrub my business down.”
MATT: Anything. Do ANYTHING for the people who are paying your policies. And it’s just NOTHING. And, you know, we talked about it, it’s like, is this just going to push a lot of small business owners into just operating without insurance after this? Are people just gonna say, fuck it?
DAVE: Well, I mean, I can tell you in this industry, we’re running into — and I don’t know, I can’t speak for every state, I’ve heard a lot in the rumble — that the insurance companies are no longer gonna be doing the commercial vehicle insurance for our industry. You know, there are probably two or three that are still like, the biggest — I think Philadelphia, Lancer, and there’s one other one — but, they’re talking about “not gonna be around.” So, what’s gonna end up happening is — what hurt us the last 10 years has been the TNC’s.
DAVE: They’ve been able to skirt the regulations, the people who drive for them, they don’t have to have the same insurance we do. So what’s gonna happen, we can’t get insurance from commercial, we’re just gonna make — we’re gonna have rogue operations. And we’re gonna run a company that is basically Black Market car service. And you know, God forbid you get a crash, your insurance is only going to cover so much.
MATT: Yeah. I mean, it’s the same in our industry. There’s one company in all of New York City that covers tattoo shops. Only one carrier.
DAVE: That’s CRAZY.
MATT: It’s insane. And the funniest thing about it, there is no claims that ever get made out of our industry. Like ever.
DAVE: So there’s no … so all they’re doing is pure profit.
MATT: Just pure profit. PURE PROFIT. I’ve never read or heard a single story of somebody suing a tattoo shop successfully.
DAVE: It would be really interesting to get that statistic in New York, being that like — and listen, you guys are at a higher risk, obviously, of something going wrong, so I’m not trying to compare — I’m just saying like, our cars do on an average I would say, let’s just say 400 miles a day, 500 miles a day. And let’s be honest, drivers are not as good as they were 10 years ago, 15 years ago.
MATT: I’m a commuter. I do comedy routines in my car to myself every day because it’s — between driving now … I have a father that was the kind of dad that was like “I’m gonna teach you to drive on the truck side of the New Jersey Turnpike” you know? So yeah, I mean the difference now to 10 years ago is …
DAVE: Insanely different.
DAVE: I mean, adding the cell phone. Add the cell phone to the mix and it just becomes a fucking joke. But you know, it’s becoming that company insurance, Worker’s Comp, everything is really pushing the small businesses away.
DAVE: At what point is the government, or anybody, going to say “wait a second, we cannot be without small businesses.”
DAVE: No matter what anybody says, the big businesses — if small businesses aren’t around, big businesses won’t be around that much longer. Because there’s not gonna be money to be spent.
MATT: Sure. But then, like, that’s the trickle down, right? Thats the trickle down of too many hands, too many middlemen, trying to collect off of everything that exists.
MATT: And big businesses mix with politics so much that they’re not going to go into their own pockets —
MATT: That’s why rich people don’t pay taxes, and why companies like Amazon don’t pay all these taxes, and it’s why you know like … (gestures broadly with hand).
MATT: So where do you go? You start knocking on my door, you know? I mean, in New York City when we first opened there were people who went door-to-door to walk into your business just to see “hey, are you doing what you say you’re doing?” Oh, if not, cool here’s a fine. My accountants tell me all the time they have clients who just pay — there’s all these schemes out there where companies just mail these fake government letters to companies, being like “hey, uh, you owe $10,000” and people just PAY IT.
DAVE: Well yeah, because they don’t want the trouble.
MATT: They don’t want anybody looking at their business, or coming. That they’d rather just lose ten grand.
DAVE: It is, uh … You know, listen, we could beat this down all day long, but I think one thing that I wanted people to get out of your story was really the positivity that you come with. I mean, do you feel that since the pandemic — and I know obviously you guys have your hands in a lot of things. Obviously your wife and you doing amazing things with your restaurant that’s open still. Have you ever felt — have you felt during these times, even though how positive you are, like I am, I could tell you the last couple weeks I’ve felt like, like a backpack of rocks were on my head.
DAVE: And where the first two, three months I was like “Ok, we’re gonna get through this, we’re gonna get through this, we’re gonna get through this” and as time’s gone on, you know, obviously it takes a toll. Have you been feeling that, or have you just said “you know what, fuck, I gotta get through this — I have no choice, I’m going to stay positive even if I … THIS“
MATT: Form me, I really feel like there’s too many people relying on me not to. You know, I always joke my need to make money has always come out of necessity. I just have a family that’s always had lots of health problems — my parents live with us, I’ve had health problems, my sister’s had health problems, it’s like … So I feel like I’ve always felt very close to the people who work with me in that way, to where I want them to feel protected and safe. And same thing since we reopened the tattoo shops back up in the beginning of July, for me that’s the biggest thing I feel like I can do as an owner is just make sure everybody around me feels safe and feels positive. You know, when I became a father it made running businesses easier because I just started to come at everything like a dad. And when people feel good, even when they know everything around them is garbage, it helps. And it makes people happier, and it makes people happier at work. Because the thing I keep telling people is look, “Listen, this is going to come to an end. So like, pick a few lanes, keep your head down, just stay focused.”
MATT: The thing, financially, is this is the time where there’s like, the most opportunity. Because just like in 2008 when the market crashed, at the end of this we’re going to be starting at hopefully a nice growth period economically (gestures upward with hand). And it’s hard to feel good about any success when you know so many people are out there hurting, and losing their jobs, and not being able to take care of their families, you know? And keeping perspective going forward, to me, is like, a very important thing. And I make a huge effort to try to financially educate people and teach people, because I always say people throw the word “democracy” around a lot more than they throw the word “capitalism” around, and it’s like, you forget that we live in a capitalist country.
(Dave alternately shaking head and nodding)
And I always say you can get every kind of education, but what’s the one they don’t give you? A financial one. And that’s for a reason. So you need to go out and you need to learn something — you don’t have to learn everything, but there’s so many things you can do for yourself. There’s so many holes in the system. So many things that you can be active about that would help you, that would help you financially, that would help your family financially. It’s just about spending the time doing them.
MATT: And you know, the thing with the internet, right? It’s like, f you’re not using it to become a bigger moron, you can actually use it to become a smarter person. There’s tons of information — you know, like, I use YouTube to teach myself shit all the time. I look stuff up all the time. I try to use it as the tool that it’s meant to be used for.
MATT: And in doing so, I try to bring that positivity to all the businesses. Because a lot of these are 20 to 30-year-old somethings who just have no fucking idea what the future holds for them. And they can’t see the world through all the stuff that’s affecting them every day — the pandemic, politics, social unjust in the streets — all these different things that are going on that make it very hard to focus on even wanting to take care of yourself.
MATT: So I just think that positive note, and trying to open up right now is like, an opportunistic time to — don’t sit back at home, don’t sit on the couch and wait this thing out. Use this time, use this pause in society, to create a better situation for yourself, you know?
MATT: There’s various ways to do it, you just have to do it.
DAVE: Yeah. Most definitely, and I think it’s really important some of the points you made in this statement — you know, if we sit back and just wait … I can tell you that, the first month, I sat back and I waited, because I wanted to see what was gonna happen. And then we started our private aviation side, and that is slowly moving — I mean, obviously, nobody’s flying. It’s starting to get … But what it’s opened up for us is, you know, better communication with our clients. We’re a service business to these — like I told you, they can sit back and wait. But now they know we’re here to stay, and we’re here. But when it comes to the employees, I’ve opened up another division of our company that they’re gonna be working doing Amazon deliveries.
DAVE: And they’re looking at me like “why would you go invest your own money to do this?” and I said “because if I do this for you, one, it’s coming back to me — I’m going to be the owner of another company, so I’m making money over here (gestures with hand) but that means you know that I’m out here struggling for you, too. It’s not just about me.”
DAVE: Listen, I could make a million dollars a year if I wanted to, if really that’s really the lifestyle I wanted. But that’s not the lifestyle I live. I think you and I are very much alike, Matt, where we’re just like, we just want to be happy. It doesn’t have to be a lot, I don’t have to — you know, I wear t-shirts and shorts all day long, I mean, the only thing I spend on are my beard cuts and my tattoos, that’s pretty much all it is.
DAVE: And so for me I just feel like, the more I put into my team and being, like you, positive, even my down days — and I mean, I deal with some personal stuff, too, that have made it harder to kind of get out of that hole — but I feel like when I’m positive I try to push everybody around us. And you know it’s really easy to just say, ok, well they need to figure it out, I gotta worry about the company. Rather than saying “hey, I’m trying my best to do what’s best for the company so that WE don’t have to see anybody go.” And then they figure out that, fuck, what can WE do — what can we do, to, you know. I have one dispatcher who calls me every weekend and says “hey, I have a new client that wants to talk to us.” Cool. And they know that the more people that come in, the longer I can hold them on.
DAVE: You know, eventually we’re gonna have to have real conversations, but we’ve sustained, you know, we’ve furloughed some due to unemployment being so high — they’re like, well why don’t we just furlough to save the company? We’ve let go of one person fully —
DAVE: And so, you know, I think that what a lot of people could take from this chat is 1. Positivity. Find a way to pivot yourself — don’t worry about just your company, but pivot your SELF, and really look at how you are dealing with your day-to-day.
MATT: Well, it’s why you’re the owner, right?
MATT: I tell my guys all the time “my problems aren’t your problems.”
MATT: I would be unfair to try to put them on you, you know? You have your mode here, and I have my mode.
DAVE: Right. Well, I mean, I — Matt, dude, it’s so funny because I had a podcast last week with a gentleman named Simon who I, after the call, or even before the call, I knew right away: this is a dude that’s gonna be a part of my ‘network’ (air quotes with hands). Matt, I think you’re a down-ass-dude, I think you’re doing some really good stuff out there. When LA opens up I may go hit it up and add another piece just to say that I did it.
MATT: (Smiling) Please do.
DAVE: When New York opens up again I’ll come visit. But you know, I really appreciate you taking the time, it’s been a great chat. I hope that people could take out of this that there’s hope, and you know, we find hope in different avenues, right?
MATT: Absolutely. You know, I mean one day at a time, and just keep moving forward. This is going to come to an end like everything else, and we’re going to figure out another way, you know. And I really do believe that. I really believe we’ll all bounce back in one way or another.
DAVE: Right, right. I appreciate that. Well Matt, thank you so much for joining us on The Blind Spot. It was a pleasure chatting with you — health to you, your family, your team, a lot of prosperity. I know 2020 sucked for a lot of people but once it ends, once it’s over, we’ll move on and we’ll laugh about it later. And hopefully we can chat soon.
MATT: I hope so. Thanks, Dave.
DAVE: Alright, dude. Thank you so much, you have a wonderful day.
MATT: You, too. Take care.
DAVE: Thanks everybody for watching the show, I’m gonna put a link to all Matt’s different endeavors so you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram — he’s a solid dude and a good business guy and so, you know, I will put everything below on the links. Thanks for watching, have a great day guys.
(Outro music: the same percussion beats and cymbal)