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Lance Dunlap

From the burnished repurposed wood walls to the state-of-the-art goldsmithing equipment in a back room, Lance Dunlap has crafted Kind Find Jewelry and Piercing Boutique into a reflection of his own meticulous attention to detail. 

His work to establish the Professional Piercing Education consultancy in the city might suggest a singular intent, but Dunlap experienced plenty of speed bumps along the way. He and his older brother launched several storefront businesses in Sioux City, Iowa, and building a reputation in Colorado Springs was a journey that included several stints of homelessness.

Dunlap is not embarrassed at any of the challenges he faced in keeping a business or taking charge of his mental health. In fact, he sees the success of Kind Find as a testament to perseverance. It’s only been in recent months that Dunlap has been able to give himself a paycheck free and clear, though he did not see the pandemic as an unmitigated disaster. In fact, because the piercing studio was already emphasizing cleanliness and social distancing, and because the boutique itself is locked except by appointment, the business practices he established in 2019 seemed tailor-made for the pandemic months that followed.

Dunlap talked with the Business Journal after giving a tour of his jewelry studio, goldsmith lab, piercing room, and a public lecture room — where he hopes to resume Professional Piercing Education seminars at a later date.

How early did you develop an interest in jewelry and body art?

As a child, I had no interest in any of [it]. I was in a traumatic motorcycle accident when I was 16, and went through recovery and was not able to go back to public school. I went through a different learning environment. That education let me advance on my high school credits and graduate when I was 16. I needed a job and something to do, so eventually I teamed with motorcycle shop owner Dave Bach to be his parts manager. That led me to understand small business struggles and how to rebuild brands. I then went to school to become a [certified nursing assistant], but used that for night jobs. I loved health care, but found myself super stressed out. I joined my mom in Arizona for a while, then went back home and joined with my brother. We had an epiphany about working for ourselves, and ended up opening a corner shop — like a convenience store. When going from Arizona to Iowa, I rolled my truck on I-76 near Brush, Colorado, and had another life scare on the way to starting a business with my brother. The folks wanted me to take time to recover, but I was 19 and insisted on being a small business owner — even though we had no gas or water turned on at first. We had a dedicated clientele from an apartment complex for the elderly, Martin Towers, which kept us going. But those first months of 2001, we had to fill jugs with water and cuddle to stay warm.

Fast forward a couple years, a guy came in to suggest we put a tattoo parlor in the back. He got me to realize I’ve been interested in art my whole life, and I should understand tattoo art. As it turned out, this gentleman taught me what not to do. Meanwhile, my brother was interested in learning to pierce so that he could offer a related service. He got an apprenticeship as a piercer. At one point, our partner said, ‘How about I sell you my shop for $10,000? I’ll teach you how to pierce, and your brother how to tattoo.’ Shortly after he got the money, he took off. 

Even though your mentor abandoned you, he left you with some core competencies. It sounds like your medical experience steered you to using quality as a differentiator.

Yeah, right away we were thinking of better ways to do business. Almost as soon as our partner left, I surprised my brother by wanting to destroy the makeshift cases the tattoo artist had left behind, made out of old window frames, because they just didn’t reflect a certain quality of appearance. I kept insisting on a better piercing area, insisting on no-smoking rules, the like. I had always been more interested in piercing — reflecting what people were feeling in the moment — as compared to tattoos, which I saw as having more of a reminiscing or nostalgic artistic view.

I was influenced by the work of Mario Barth of Starlight Tattoo and Intenze Ink. He had created [the] Tattoo Nation alliance on the east coast — even though Mario was originally from Pocahontas, Nebraska, just across the river from Sioux City. Everything Barth did was on a high-end scale. Sean Dowdell of Club Tattoo was doing the same type of thing in Tempe, Arizona. They all emphasized working with better jewelry for piercings, eliminating the shitty jewelry some people had focused on. It was around this time, 2012 or so, that my brother began going to conferences of the Association of Professional Piercers, and hearing the same kind of thing about concentrating on quality. We adopted APP standards, and shifted completely to higher-quality jewelry. The thing is, our cost of doing business skyrocketed, and our ability to attract higher clientele did not happen immediately. Sometimes you wondered about maintaining quality or feeding your kids. 

So what was the result?

We lost our corner store location as a result of overhead. But once we had the knowledge of appropriate best practices, we couldn’t go back. It would be like running a restaurant and sacrificing best ways to prepare food. We still had a mall location, but were struggling. We decided to open a clothing store, and at one time even a restaurant, but it wasn’t what we wanted. I was familiar with Colorado from an earlier visit, and decided to move to Colorado with my girlfriend and my brother and his wife. We were all living in a 27-foot camper. That did not go so well. We were trying to launch a business in Grand Junction, maybe not the best location. My brother moved into a house, and the two of us stayed in the trailer. In late 2013, we learned we would be parents. As the challenges grew over the winter, we temporarily moved into a La Quinta Inn until my son was born, then we finally got a minimal house. At some point, my girlfriend decided getting into drugs was her primary motivation. We ended up closing the Grand Junction store, moving back to Iowa, and put my girlfriend into rehab. When that proved fruitless, I took my son back to Colorado, and the boy’s mother never came clean.

So here I was, end of 2014, with a camper, a kid and a dog. My mom came out to help, we left the Denver area and headed south. We ate at Cy’s Diner and I had the feeling this was where I should be. My son and I tried to homestead at 13th [Street] and Colorado [Boulevard], but ended up being evicted because the landlord decided to sell the property. The woman next door to that property decided to help me build the business. She literally said, ‘It’s OK, I’ll be homeless with you, let’s make this work.’ It sounded a little off the wall, but she was my primary motivator. She kept emphasizing that there was no high-end piercing option in Colorado Springs. That got my brother interested in sending some jewelry down, seeing if this might work. We found a halfway-decent building on Academy [Boulevard], which we renovated and started talking about a ‘boutique model.’ She was the one that came up with the idea of a locked-door, by-appointment business. My brother thought the entire business model was a joke. And at first, the business model was hard. We lost the Academy building because the numbers month to month just couldn’t work. Our neighbors were far from supportive — my trailer even got towed one night from the building’s parking lot because our neighbors didn’t like us. I started fighting with my new partner, I had a bit of a breakdown, and decided to close the business. I attempted with my brother to partner with an existing piercer, but the real problem was promotion and visibility. No one knew we existed. We could not find a partner that was interested in the quality model.

So you decided to try an independent operation again?

We found a place on 21st and Colorado, a former State Farm agent’s building, which required some significant remodeling. But it did have living quarters in back. We had a customer base from the beginning, but lived month to month for a while. Literally, it was a scenario of ‘This piercing will pay this bill.’ But it did teach me to never give up on a dream. And I stuck to my philosophy of the high-end jewelry, the ultra-clean environment, the boutique. But it became clear that the neighborhood, the particular neighbors we had, wasn’t what would take me there. And at that point, I chose to go homeless for a while — a conscious choice. I knew I wanted to stay on the Westside, and I was very picky about what I wanted. At a certain point, I stumbled on the current location [729 W. Colorado Ave.] and the landlord, who was a priest, decided to take a gamble on my dream. I immediately started rebuilding inside. The wooden walls were from a fence we removed for an old man; the wood was sanded and whitewashed and used as the basis for the central gallery. At one point, I literally moved an 8-foot by 8-foot display cabinet in the back of a pickup at 3 in the morning, hazard lights flashing. The rustic theme I was using in remodeling was supposed to reflect the rough path that got me there. 

How soon did it become clear that this time, your model might really work?

My brother came down to see it before we opened back up, and he didn’t call it a joke anymore. He said, ‘This is a gold studio.’ That meant a lot, since he was my mentor and life coach. Something about this particular 7th-and-Colorado corner changed everything. People noticed us from the beginning. The boutique originally was called ‘This Is Piercing,’ and we had bookings immediately. We got a website up, and were booking out several weeks — and before you know it, I was moving from buying quality jewelry to making my own jewelry. Learning to make jewelry, how to melt and bend metals and become a goldsmith, allowed me to put more of a personal artistic element to my work. I spent a lot on equipment to be sure, and I’m not sure if the jewelry-making is profitable yet, but it got my name out there in the jewelry industry.

So now the jewelry is known under its own name.

This is where the KF logo came into its own. I went with ‘Kind Find’ because I thought the notion of always emphasizing kindness is an important one. Show kindness always, because you don’t know what other people are going through. So This Is Piercing became Kind Find. We keep saying, ‘We’re just like our clients. We are all in this together.’

When did the Professional Piercing Education classes arise? Could they come back once COVID has waned?

It was when we were still This Is Piercing — pre-COVID, but just barely. The idea got established with another piercer, Pat Tidwell, in 2019, and we had our first class in January 2020. In fact, we freaked out about that class, wondering if it would be a spreader, but that was before the pandemic really hit here. Pat and I saw a lot of instances in the piercing world of proprietary information, people bullying and belittling and not supporting each other, so teaching piercing methods was a way of countering that kind of attitude. We had a room big enough to put a stage in, so we said, ‘Why not?’ PPE became a good stomping ground for making regional connections, but I don’t think it really changed local piercers’ business practices, which saddens me. 

I had students who have become APP members, who have started making their own jewelry, and I think there’s a lot of value in bringing PPE classes back. We still have an active Facebook page and active phone number, so there’s no reason to stop educating. ... When we were finally able to reopen the boutique part of the business, things went crazy. Word spread that we were ultra-clean, we were taking temperature checks, we disinfected the entire studio, and a lot of people were very grateful. When a father is taking a kid to get a first piercing, and they look at our studio and give me a high five, that makes everything we did worthwhile.