Alli Webb, Drybar
Drybar in Los Angeles, Calif., was started in February 2010 as a “blow dry bar” specifically focused on one thing: no cuts, no color, just blowouts for $35.
‘Ah ha’ moment that led to launching the business: Even though I’m a licensed hair stylist, I was never able to blow my hair out exactly how I wanted it myself. I got fed up overpaying at the salon that cut my hair, and really didn’t love going to a discount chain. The “ah ha moment” for me was when I realized that if I created a fun, beautiful atmosphere but was able to charge a discounted price, it would be the best of both worlds and women would come running. And that’s exactly what happened.
Ideal customer: It’s funny, when we first opened we focused a lot on figuring out our target demographic. But after several months in business we quickly realized our true demographic is “women with hair.” We get women of all ages who fall in love with the concept and the results – from teenagers who feel more comfortable with the approachable price-point and decor to uber-wealthy women who can certainly afford a much more expensive blowout (Marie Shriver is a regular customer) but really prefer the Drybar experience.
Landing first customer: My best friend Paige was my first non-paying client – she was ALWAYS asking me to straighten her super curly hair. It was that weekly blowout for her that prompted me to start a mobile blow out business. I posted an ad to a local mommy group and instantly got inundated with blow out requests. I started heading all over town blowing out everyone’s hair! It was really exciting how fast my little business took off. Because of the success I had with my mobile business, I felt like an actual physical location would be a huge hit.
Measuring Success: Drybar has literally been a dream come true – a dream that perhaps I didn’t realize was even possible until we opened our doors almost a year ago. I always personally loved getting my hair blown out and hoped this would be something all women would also enjoy. I worried that I was starting a business that was slightly vain, but I have found I was so very wrong. The positive feedback I hear every single day about how great our clients feel after 30-40 min at Drybar has been so incredibly rewarding for me. The success we have had in such a short time and the outpouring of support from woman in LA has been truly incredible. I feel extremely humbled, lucky and fortunate.
Biggest Struggle: Candidly, the biggest struggle is not directly related to the business itself, but how to juggle my personal and professional life. Running and growing Drybar has become a complete, all-encompassing 24/7 labor of love. It’s my passion and I discovered an ambition I never knew I possessed. But I am also a wife and a mother to two little boys that mean more to me than anything in the world. Figuring out how to balance the two is an ongoing challenge that often leaves me feeling guilty no matter what I do. When I’m working late every night of the week I feel guilty for not spending more time with my kids. Then when I’m with my kids I find myself thinking about the business and feel guilty about that as well.
Surprise! It’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s a whole different ballgame to pull it all together and build a company. There are literally a thousand decisions, big and small, that need to be made every single day. It’s definitely way more all encompassing than I imagined. Thank goodness I have great people around me to help.
Getting Sales: We’ve spent a lot of time and energy on reaching out to influencers and tastemakers in every new city we open, and we are much more focused on the lifetime value of a customer. So we’re very willing to give away the first service in order to gain trial. We’ve learned that once they experience the service, if we do our job well, they’re likely to get hooked.
What I wish I would’ve known: I wish I would have known just how much work it would be.
What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)?: Nothing, because I’m so exhausted at the end of the day.
Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job? Not a chance. The benefits of owning your own business, at least for me, don’t compare to working for someone else. Even though it’s really hard work, it doesn’t feel like “work” when it’s your own.
Moving Forward: My biggest business goal is to continue putting the infrastructure in place to support a rapidly growing organization. We’re likely to have over 200 employees by the end of the year and it’s critical that we hire the right people to help us manage and support that many people, without sacrificing our culture.
Pricing, Getting it Right: For our business, where we basically only have one service, getting the pricing right was everything. We put a lot of thought into the $35 flat price point. My advice is to put yourself in the shoes of you target customer and try to really understand what motivates them.
Funding: Our funding needs changed quickly as we fully realized the opportunity in front of us. Fortunately my business partner is my brother, who I trust explicitly, and who is much more versed in the financial side of the business than me. Our initial plans called for about $1.5 million, which we raised via a private equity placement. Most of the investors were clients who loved our business. We’re now in the process, however, of raising another $4 million to expand even faster. My advice is to make sure you have someone around you who you trust completely because how and who you raise money from is so important.
Must-Read Online Resources: I love looking through all the fashion websites and blogs to see what stylists are doing with hair. Seeing different styles and different ways of doing things is so inspiring to me. Seth Godin’s blog, InStyle.com and Luckymag.com are among my favorites.
The absolute best part of owning my business is: how rewarding it is. I love going to work every day, I love what we have created.
If I had to start over again, I would: don’t think I would change anything. Sure, we made some missteps along the way, but I’m a big believer in learning from your mistakes. And truly don’t think we would be in as good of a position as we are lucky to be in right now had we not made certain mistakes. Ok, actually, I wouldn’t have tried to save money by not adding a new AC unit in our first shop – it’s causing us so many problems.
I never imagined: finding great stylists would be so difficult.
If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “Go for it!”