Growing a beauty business is no easy task, but growing a beauty business that only offers blowouts might seem like the impossible. Alli Webb, 38, is the beauty genius behind the widely popular Drybar. Business started in 2008 with a simple concept: ‘No Cuts. No Color. Just blowouts.’ With over 100,000 blowouts each month, Alli’s simple concept has rocked the beauty industry and has women singing her praises from coast to coast.
Like many of us, Alli struggled to find a career but luckily, not her entrepreneurial spirit. After being a stay-at-home mom of two, Alli ventured back to her roots in hair and started a mobile blowout business. It didn’t take long before demand for Alli’s services got her thinking about opening Drybar. At $40 a pop, customers can sip a cocktail, watch their favorite chick-flick and relax in a chic bar-inspired interior. The catch? You leave with fabulous hair and fresh new confidence.
Translating great hair and self-assurance into a business has Drybar receiving press from Glamour to Entrepreneur Magazine, and Alli is being hailed as the queen of blowouts. Determination combined with a high bar for quality makes Alli an inspirational Career Contessa, proving that no idea is too simple for extraordinary success. Read the full story below
copy: Lauren McGoodwin
photos: courtesy of Drybar
Her Starting Point
Tell us about your career before Drybar? Where did you start after college?
I really didn't know what I wanted to do out of high school and even college. I pursued fashion because my parents had their own clothing business and I always loved clothes, shopping, fashion, etc. I moved to New York and I worked for Nicole Miller for a little while. After my gig at Nicole Miller, I decided to go to beauty school and worked in hair for a long time. Then I took a break in my mid-20s to work in PR for Rogers and Cowan.
Can you explain your transition into hairstyling? Where did you learn your hairstyling skills?
At the time, I was just trying to figure out what really worked for me and what made me tick. I'd always really loved hair and a part of me feels like I went to beauty school just so I could learn how to blow out my hair. I trained at Toni & Guy and then spent several more years working under John Sahag in New York City. It was an overall great introduction into hair and styling.
Where did the inspiration for Drybar come from? What were you doing before you started in-home blowout services?
I've spent my whole life perfecting blowouts. I have naturally curly hair and I always wanted it blown out straight—even as a little girl. After I got married and had two kids, I was a stay-at-home mom and loved it. I stayed home for five years with my kids before I started to get an itch to enter the workplace again. I missed talking to adults and I thought it would be a good way to get out of the house, socialize and have a nice side business. Because I had spent years blow-drying hair, I decided to start a mobile blowout business called Straight-At-Home. It was really that simple when I got started.
My husband, a partner at Drybar, developed a website and I posted information on a mommy blog that basically said, “Hey, I'm opening up a business, we specialize in blow-drying hair and are thinking about charging $35 or $40. Would anybody be interested?” I got flooded with emails from women all over town who loved the idea. At the time it was less about the money and more about getting out of the house. I got so busy so fast! I would stay at these womens' homes after I blew out their hair for another half hour just chatting. It was fulfilling for me at the time, however, I got so busy that I ended up at a crossroad: bring more people on to fill the demand or open a physical location.
Her Big Break
Tell us about the process of opening the first Drybar location.
I went to my brother with the idea of opening Drybar because he was a great businessman and I preferred to work with family. His background was in marketing, which was a great complement to my hair skills. I knew I wanted a blow-dry bar where all we did were blowouts and played upon the bar theme. He really made my idea make business sense, from figuring out how many blowouts we needed in a day, finding the right vendors, finances, leasing and designing space, etc. Everything. He quickly came on board and was happy to support and lend me the money to open the first location in Brentwood, CA. It took a solid six months of non-stop work with design, marketing, branding, public relations and even computer systems for us to be ready to open the doors. That first year was chaotic but it helped create the foundation for our brand and culture.
You’ve felt confident about the Drybar concept from the start. How did you know that a non-traditional approach to hairstyling would be successful?
Absolutely! As a young girl, I just felt more put together when my hair was blown out and, as a hairstylist, I couldn't wait to get to the blowout because that's when my customers would light up—that was the magic moment.
It's interesting because when I was doing my mobile business, I would be blow-drying hair with no mirror so when a client finally saw herself I would hear this squeal of delight. That is such a great moment and I could see an amazing transformation happen. When your hair looks great, you don't even need to have makeup on or the perfect outfit to feel good.
As long as your hair looks great, you feel great. We always say that by selling blowouts, we're selling the happiness and confidence that comes from getting blowouts. It's a beautiful thing. We hoped it would resonate with women like it resonated with me, and luckily it did.
You named it Drybar for a reason. How did you develop the concept for the overall brand, including décor, services and overall atmosphere?
Early on I knew that I wanted the store to be a bar. With a bar theme in mind, we worked with our architect, Josh Heitler, to create a concept around my feelings on what type of environment and look I wanted. I wanted the store to be very clean and girly, but not overly girly.
A lot of design aspects were driven from my mobile business where I did women's hair in their living room but never in front of a mirror. My appointments always felt more like a fun social outing versus a formal salon where you’re micromanaging your stylist, picking yourself apart, etc. This is why we made sure to put the mirrors behind the chairs and, instead, play movies, offer magazines, etc. I wanted these women to come in and feel pampered. Taking an hour out of their crazy hectic days should be relaxing and not cause more anxiety.
Once we knew it was going to be a bar, we came up with the name Drybar, played off the fun bar analogies and just allowed the design concept to flow from there.
Tell us about the decision to expand. How do you decide when and where to open next?
When we first started in Brentwood, it was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. We had many requests for us to open more stores and we opened up the idea to franchise so we could grow quickly. We have since decided to not franchise and instead raised money through angel investors to help with our expansion plans. We have 30+ locations spanning both coasts and other major cities in the US. We open where we are getting a lot of requests, our feeling for the marketplace and city and where we think the concept will work.
Even with rapid growth, you’ve maintained your brand. Do you ever find it challenging to keep up with the high-quality reputation you’ve created?
It’s not easy. This is our business and when you own your own business, you don't ever stop thinking about it. Nor do you want to. My brother and I share an office, we hang out on the weekends, it's all we ever talk and think about. You have to care deeply and passionately when you run your own business because it’s 24/7 hard work.
We grew up with parents that ran their own business so it's in our DNA to bend over backwards for customers and be incredibly passionate about customer service and the experience. Our success includes hiring great people to help fulfill that goal. There's a lot of passion behind this brand, including our employees. It's a ton of work, but it’s incredibly rewarding too.
How do you balance running a successful business and brand with having a family?
It’s a tough balancing act. I try to be as present as possible in the things that I’m doing. When I’m with my kids, I put the phone down. When I’m dragging and need a pick-me-up, I’ll go to a Bikram yoga class.
Honestly, I have so much adrenaline because I’m passionate about what I’m doing. I want to relish every moment and try not to feel too guilty about how my time was broken up that day.
Combining your passions and career is tough. What advice would you give women trying to figure this out?
I know it sounds cliché but be honest with yourself about what you love. It took me a long time to pursue beauty school even though I always felt passionate about hair. I truly believe that a huge part of Drybar's success is that I know what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are and I've brought people around who are good at what I’m not. That can be a hard thing for people to get comfortable with, but knowing what you're good at and knowing what you're not good at is everything.