CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 34, Nick Quinn is an entrepreneur and small-business owner who wears a shirt and tie to work every day.
But he's not pushing a pencil behind a desk. Instead, he's running a tattoo gun in his Kanawha City studio -- and perhaps breaking a few stereotypes along the way.
"I actually had no clue this is what I would end up doing," said Quinn, co-owner of Black Eagle Tattoo on MacCorkle Avenue, as he prepared the arm of co-worker Zack Freeman for tattoo "flash."
Though much of what Quinn does is original work, flash is a pre-drawn design that hangs on the shop walls or gets displayed in large binders, to help clients who are picking out their art.
In the late 1990s, Quinn was attending school at the University of Charleston. He took classes in art but also in business, a traditionally conservative field. At night, to make a few extra bucks, he worked as a DJ in downtown Charleston -- and that's where his future came calling.
Employees from Danny's Ancient Art, which was then the new tattoo shop in town, used to frequent the bar scene in an effort to drum up business, Quinn said. He got to be friends with them and decided to check out their studio.
"I thought I might consider getting tattooed," he said. "I was 21. I didn't have any at the time."
After hanging around the shop for a while, Quinn became interested in the ins and outs of tattoo art -- and business.
"I came in to hang out. I was a student and had a young son, so I didn't have a lot of money. I asked them if I could do odd jobs in trade for work."
The shop manager at the time was a guy named Reno. He hired Quinn in a position that was worlds away from the glamour of inking bodies.
"Mostly, I was scrubbing toilets, washing windows and doing a lot of tracing," Quinn said.
Eventually, he took over the front desk, and it was there that he brought a little business acumen to the shop's archaic filing system.
"I introduced them to the magic of Microsoft Excel," joked Quinn. But he's all serious when it comes to learning the ins and outs of anything he tries. And it wasn't long before he was using a needle.
"Once I got to the front counter, I learned how to pierce. I was learning how to do everything, how to run the shop from the start," he said. "That was the ultimate goal. If I am going to go into a job, I am going to do it to the best of my ability, and try to make it to the finish line as quick as I can.
"I think you learn to appreciate things more that way, and you learn to respect the jobs that people are doing under you, because you've done it. You know what it takes to get the job done," he added. "I am a firm believer in learning by example. If there is a trash can that is full and needs taken out, I just do it."