October 10, 2018

Wallingford manufacturer pierces international tattoo market

HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
Artist-turned-entrepreneur Maria Pinto used her grandfather's needle-grinding expertise to tap a global market.

Third-generation Wallingford manufacturer Maria J. Pinto was overjoyed in 2016 about expanding overseas her line of precision needles for tattooing, body-piercing and medical applications, but she soon realized it came with a hitch.

Pinto found it cost $47 to ship up to 5 pounds of needles from Connecticut to her European wholesale clients. So, Pinto recently found a location in the United Kingdom from which her company, Industrial Strength LLC, can ship from there for $10 a batch, meaning, she says, overseas customers can afford to buy more of her needles.

With Europe the latest global market to open its doors to Industrial Strength's 55 needle varieties comprising its "SharpAss Needle" and "SlickAss Needle" brands, Pinto says she expects to push 2019 sales to around $2 million, nearly double her present $1.2 million sales pace.

Ninety-percent of sales are to tattoo and body-piercing salons; the rest to the medical sector — about 6,000 customers in all, she said.

In its own tiny way, Industrial Strength is poised to contribute to the $14.8 billion in Connecticut exports racked up in 2017, up 2.7 percent from $14.4 billion in 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

"What's helping us grow significantly,'' Pinto said, "is we've gotten a lot of [Small Business Administration] financing based on our international trade.''

A Pittsburgh, Pa., art-school graduate, Pinto went into the family business, which began in 1973 in Branford as Glowacki Medical using her grandfather John J. Glowacki's patented process for making hypodermic needles.

Later, Glowacki Medical was dissolved and the family opened Lifeline Products in 1976. Pinto worked for Lifeline, then in 1996 launched Industrial Strength.

Pinto, who says she had friends and contacts in the tattoo-body-piercing market, originally had the idea of buying big batches of needles wholesale for resale.

Years later, with just three workers, Maria Pinto procured $275,000 from the Hartford Economic Development Corp. (HEDCO), and in 2012 expanded Industrial Strength into a manufacturer and distributor of body-piercing needles.

Today, she and her staff of seven produce some 9 million needles annually on machinery copied largely from her grandfather's patented design in 7,000 square feet of owned production space in the shadow of the Wilbur Cross Freeway/Route 5-15.

Pinto says she plans to soon install a second needle grinder to increase output.

"My priority is my body-piercing and tattoo clients. That why we're building more machines,'' she said.

Bowing to demand, Industrial Strength also offers its Naked All Natural Body line of salves, lotions and ointments for soothing and healing fresh tattoos and piercings.

Pinto's biggest challenge is finding capable workers, a common issue among Connecticut manufacturers.

Industrial Strength, she said, participates in the state's "Step Up" initiative in which employers are reimbursed for half the pay for six months for each eligible worker she hires.

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