The art of tattooing has been around for centuries, but for Top Rocker Tattoo owner Ernie Rojas and his partner Fallon McKay, it is more than just putting ink on a person’s skin.
“Just because you can pop a pimple doesn’t mean you can be an esthetician,” Rojas said. “All you need to open a tattoo shop here is a business license because there is no department, because Arizona has not created one yet, to review tattooers. That is why I take it very serious because I am putting something on my client’s skin for the rest of their lives.”
While Arizona is the only state in the country that does not regulate or license tattoo artists, Rojas said that was one of the main reasons he purchased the shop and moved here.
“Since I specialize in cover-ups, this state just kind of chose me,” Rojas said. “What brought me here was to be closer to my family and, since I can do this profession anywhere in the world, I figured why not? But with no (state) regulation, I noticed there are a lot more people with bad tattoos than good ones, and I thought I could help those people if they wanted it.”
With the new location, 12370 N. 83rd Ave., Suite 102, now open, he is eager to show the world he is not just a tattooer, but also an artist.
Leaving the corporate world behind
Rojas, who started tattooing 12 years ago, and Fallon had successful careers in the corporate world.
“We both came from very successful careers with large companies before this,” McKay said.
Rojas was a general manager at a Toyota Lexus dealership in California, but was always an artist and said he was not completely happy even though he was successful.
“I was working in the corporate world running things and directing people, making good money,” Rojas said. “I had stopped doing art and stopped producing pieces when my friend got me into tattooing and I came to the dark side.”
McKay, who has been with Rojas since 2015, worked for billion dollar companies such as Facebook and Instagram, where she worked as an account manager in advertising and the science of social media.
“I was an account manager for Facebook and also opened the first office for Instagram (in Arizona),” McKay said.
Rojas said it was a chance encounter that brought McKay into his life.
“She was getting tattooed (by another artist) and I overheard her discussing online Facebook accounts and the science in that,” Rojas said. “I introduced myself and she said what she did and I told her what I needed to increase my ads and she helped me improve that.”
McKay worked part time with Rojas for nearly a year before leaving Facebook in October 2016 and the two have been partners since.
When asked how family reacted to her leaving the corporate world, McKay said they were supportive of her.
“If they did have doubt, nobody said anything to me about it,” McKay said. “My entire family has been successful in the corporate world, but I think they understand, with our success, what I have done and continue to be supportive.”
Purchasing Top Rocker Tattoo
After having success in California, Rojas said Arizona chose him to purchase a shop and improve the quality of tattoos in the state nearly seven years ago.
“I had success in California and did a guest spot here (at Top Rocker), and after my stint, revenue went up nearly 25 percent,” Rojas said. “The owners said they were going to sell and offered it to me.”
Rojas said he was hesitant because at the time he owned Golden Touch Tattoo in California, but after talking to his mother, he decided to take the plunge and buy Top Rocker.
“I finished the month there and was busy, and the day before I was going back to California, I took my parents to breakfast and I asked them what they thought about buying the shop,” Rojas said. “My mom told me, you’re not afraid of hard work and I told her the driving back and forth (to California) bothered me. She said I was coming back and forth anyway, so I decided to buy it.”
Rojas traveled back and forth to California, running both shops, for nearly three years, before selling the shop in California to focus on the one in Peoria.
After struggling to build a business for nearly three years, Rojas went in and cleaned house, basically starting over with a new staff of artists.
“When I took over, I got rid of seven of the eight artists working at the studio,” Rojas said. “We turned it around and became successful with baseball players coming in during spring training and people who did their research.”
He prides himself, as well as fellow artists Tommy Robertson, Rick Phillips and licensed cosmetologist McKay, with a dedication to the craft and the art they produce.
“Look, there are phenomenal artists now that don’t have the background to cater to clients or have proper tattoo etiquette,” Rojas said. “Everyone in this shop has a strong background and takes pride in what they do. For me, I stay up late researching, sketching and drawing and break down other tattoos on how they will stand up in 10 years and how they healed.”
New Peoria location and beyond
After nearly six years at Bell Road and North Arrowhead Fountains Center Drive by Peoria Sports Complex, Rojas decided to move his shop.
While driving to work, he noticed the strip mall near the corner of Cactus Road and 83rd Avenue and said the shop called to him.
“This area chose us, driving to work every day, I would get stopped at (83rd and Cactus) and saw this and saw it was vacant,” Rojas said. “I told (McKay) and she took over.”
McKay said she investigated the shop, and after touring it, she and Rojas knew it was the location to be because it had street visibility.
“Where we were, we were kind of hidden, and Rojas built a reputation, but we wanted more visibility,” McKay said. “When we found this location, we found out it did not have a conditional-use permit.”
They had signed a five-year lease on the shop when they found out they needed a CUP, which normally takes four months to a year to complete, but McKay and Rojas were dedicated to getting the process completed as soon as possible.
They worked with the city and jumped through all hoops and got it completed in three months and officially opened the new location Dec. 5, 2017.
“The city of Peoria was amazing to work with and when they asked us for something, we got it to them,” McKay said. “We had an amazing person with the city, Randy Proch, who was an amazing person to work with and when I needed to speak to him, he was always available.”
Since opening, Rojas and McKay said the shop has been a major success as they are booked up for weeks and continue to work every day to improve their craft.
“I try my best to give them good experience with good energy and vibes, so when they leave and look at the new tattoo, that’s all they feel and see,” Rojas said. “They don’t see the tattoo artist that was inappropriate or harassing them, or saying backhanded things or making a female feel uncomfortable with things they say and these are stories I have heard from clients who don’t want to look at their tattoos because of the experience.”
When asked which success, California or Arizona, has been more rewarding for him, he didn’t hesitate with his response.
“Lucratively, California I could charge about $150 an hour, but here I am helping people and that means more than any dollar amount,” Rojas said. “One way or another, I will pay my bills, but if I feel good about doing these things for people that help them feel better, that eases my mind and helps erase some dumb things I may have done in the past.”
As he continues to build the new location into an even bigger success, Rojas and McKay both are looking at the future and what they can build upon.
“I just want to continue doing bigger and better things,” Rojas said. “In a year, (McKay) will be tattooing because she wants to, and hopefully in five years, we have either a Top Rocker No. 2, or another shop somewhere in the United States.”
For more information, contact Top Rocker Tattoo at 623-533-3074 or visit www.toprockertattoos.com.