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57 locations & counting!
Short Business Description:
Drybar: Making the world a happier place, one blowout at a time. Peace, love & blowouts!
Alli Webb is as warm and cheerful in real life as her brand may lead you to believe, and her salons truly spread the love – you see women leaving Drybar everywhere with a spring in their step, a bounce in their hair, and a smile on their face. Her nation-wide chain of fun, uplifting and perfectly branded blow-dry bars, appropriately called Drybar, have made the business synonymous with accessible blow-dry’s everywhere. Born with curly hair, and having experienced the transformative effect of a blow-dry herself, Alli opened Drybar to serve what she saw as a personal need. The business is truly a family affair, with her brother and husband as partners, and employees treated as part of the family. Read on to discover how Alli re-entered the workforce after years as a full-time mom, why you should take risks, and words of wisdom on how to build a successful business.
Why did you start DryBar?
Alli: Because I have curly hair. It was a personal necessity.
Before launching DryBar, what did you do?
Alli: Most recently I was a stay-at-home mom. I really wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, and I felt really lucky that I was able to do that. I ended up being home for almost five years. And I loved it. I love my kids. But I just started to feel itchy to do something again, and do something for myself. I had previously had a lot of careers, but mainly I went to beauty school in my early 20s, and had spent years working in traditional salons. Like many of us, I jumped around. But I remember, I was sitting in my living room with my best friend Paige, and I was like, “maybe I should start a mobile blow dry business and blow dry all our mommy friends.” So I started that, and got sort of a local following, which then led to me opening Drybar.
What is it like working with family?
Alli: My brother Michael is my business partner, and runs the business side of things. My husband Cameron is the creative – he really understood branding and taught it to me. And then I am the hair. I always said it was the perfect storm – it was lightning in a bottle. I think it would be hard to duplicate the magic that the three of us have. It really came together, and we happened to be at the right place and the right time in our lives, which is crazy too.
Did you all plan to work together from the beginning?
Alli: No. My husband always said, “You know you get your nails done once a week, but I never notice. But when you get your hair done, it’s the first thing I notice.” So Cameron was all in, but Michael was kind of like, “Why does a women have to get a blow out, can’t she do it herself?” His wife has stick-straight hair. So it took a little more convincing for him, but eventually I convinced him.
We certainly were never cocky about any of this, and we still aren’t. I don’t think we realized like what we had when we started because Michael was still operating his real estate marketing business, and Cameron had a really great job as a Creative Director at Secret Weapon. And I wasn’t working. I was staying with my kids, then I started my mobile blow-dry business, Straight-at-Home.
Did you have any formal business training before launching?
Alli: Yes and no. I think that because Drybar is a service business, and it’s dealing with people, I really knew that piece of it well. I didn’t know the business side as well and I didn’t know the branding side as well, but that’s where I was lucky. One of the biggest pieces of advice I always give to people is to surround yourself with people who know what you don’t.
What was your biggest fear before launching a business?
Alli: I still have the fear before we open a store that people won’t come – that there won’t be enough women out there to support the business.
I also thought in the beginning that it was kind of a vain business, and that it’s just blowouts. But then I realized, how impactful it is. Now I feel like we’re changing lives. I mean, women, I cannot tell you over the past six years how many, whether it’s having a conversation with someone or emails or whatever, how many women tell me they won’t go to a board meeting without a blowout, or that they won’t go on date without one. Just to get their hair done and what it does for their confidence. That confidence you get from having great hair is amazing. I think I’ve always known that – even as a little girl, I think I knew that.
Is there anyone in particular who influenced your journey?
Alli: It probably started with my parents. From the time I can remember, my parents had their own business – I just grew up in that atmosphere. I think it’s in my blood. I always had that mentality to treat everything, every job, like it was my own, because that’s all I ever knew.
The Business of Your Business
Did you have a business plan?
Alli: There was never a business plan, although Michael started to put spreadsheets together. It never even occurred to me – getting all our expenses on paper, really figuring out how many blowouts we needed to do to make this business work, the towels, and all the other stuff that we needed to do.
So thank god for him, in that sense, because I didn’t have it all mapped out. Now we do, and the business has gotten so big. We have a professional CEO, and we have a corporate office of 70-something people. Now they have systems in place, and we hired right people who know how to scale businesses; but none of us imagined that we would get this big.
How did you finance your business?
Alli: My brother worked for Yahoo back in day, and didn’t end up making as much money as a lot of people did in Yahoo, but he made some money. He financed $250,000 to open the first store, and then my husband and I put in our life savings, which was a fraction of that. And then we realized we needed to raise more money before we actually opened the store, so it ended up being about $300,000.
Since then we’ve gone out and raised institutional money and private equity. And very early on, we had customers who just loved the concept and wanted to invest.
Did you take money from them?
Alli: We did, because if we didn’t, short of getting a loan, there would have been no way to grow organically at that point. It would have taken us years. We knew people were going to start knocking us off because we were getting so much traffic. We felt like we needed to keep going.
How long ago did you raise institutional money?
Alli: About three years ago. We needed to grow from 11 stores, and we wanted to develop a product line – that was expensive. We needed to raise big money. We’ve raised $53 million thus far. It takes a lot of money grow the business. And we’re still in growth mode.
What has it been like as a women navigating that world?
Alli: It’s definitely foreign to me. Again, that’s where my brother comes in, and it’s so nice to have someone that you trust, the way I trust him. I remember someone talked to us about deal fatigue. It took us about six months to close that deal. He would explain a lot of things and terms to me, and I understand the big picture of it, but it’s a lot. For me, it was not just about taking a check. It was about being in business with the right people.
Your brick and mortar salons are so iconic. How did you find your architect?
Alli: My brother knew our architect, Josh Heitler, from his other business. There was a big competition of who was going to build this casino, and Josh was one of the architects up for the job. He actually won the job, but the project fell through. But my brother became friendly with Josh through the process, and was like, “The casino isn’t getting built, but my sister wants to open this salon. Would you be interested in like helping us?” and he was! So we talked about the idea and told him what we wanted. He’s amazing – he still designs all our stores today.
How did you get your first customers?
Alli: I don’t know if you remember this, but in 2010 DailyCandy was still around. Crystal Meers wrote a piece they released in DailyCandy, saying we were opening in Brentwood. It was very pithy – something about hot air – I don’t remember what it was, but it was really cute, and that was couple days before we opened the first shop. Michael, Cameron and I went to get lunch, and all of us used to get appointment notifications on our Blackberries. All our phones started going crazy, because all these appointments were getting booked, and we were like, “what the hell is happening?” We thought it was a glitch in our spa-booker. We opened on that very first day, booked-solid. I only had about six stylists scheduled, because I didn’t know.
Also before we opened, my brother put on our windows: “The first 250 people to register on the Drybar website get free blowouts.” And I was like, “are you out of your mind? That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard.”
But of course they trickled in, and that wasn’t the majority of people who came that first week. I also had a lot of support from the other business, and I knew so many women in LA because I was blow-drying everybody’s hair around town. That first day we were all crying. We were like, “Oh my god, we did it!”
Have you experienced any growing pains?
Alli: None. Easy Peasy. [Laughs] We still experience them. I think with every store, we get better and better. Certain things, and the functionality of the shops improve.
For example, in the very beginning, when we opened the shop, we thought when you open a business, you put a phone in your place of business. But we couldn’t answer the phones because it was so loud and crazy! We had to put the phones outside of the shop, and now we have an offsite call-center.
What obstacles have you face that you were most surprised by?
Alli: In the beginning it was hard to get landlords to give us a lease. They were like, “What is Drybar and why do we want this?” Of course now they realize we bring hundreds of women in every day, but at the time, it was hard to get good deals on rent. Things like that were really challenging in the early days, because people didn’t know what we were. I mean, you try to tell a male landlord who’s never heard of it about Drybar.
Honestly, real estate is still a big obstacle. Now it’s about finding the right spaces and right co-tenants.
Have you ever thought or considered about going into like cuts and color?
Alli: I think the question I get more is whether we will ever have manicures or makeup. We really try to position ourselves as, “We do one thing, and we do it really well.” You could probably be good at several things, but not be great at several things. That’s why we always felt like we wanted to just stick to one thing and be the best at it.
How did you decide to start a product line?
Alli: We were using so many different lines in the shop. Because we had such a specific point of view, and all we are doing is blowouts, we want products that make a blowout last and do what they’re supposed to do. It wasn’t a cohesive story, and I felt like we could develop a product line that was specific for just a blowout.
How do you stay sane with a growing business?
Alli: Everything is a balance. All of our shops have from 70 to 100 employees – it’s a lot. To manage them and put systems into place has been a lot work. We started hiring people before we could afford them – people who understood how to grow and scale a business. It was very hard, and it’s always hard, to let go of the reins. You don’t ever really get to stop thinking about it when it’s your own business.
There are certainly days where I’ll walk in shops and everything is running the way it’s supposed to, everybody is saying what they’re supposed to, and the hair looks good, but more times I walk in, and I’m like “why is this like this? And why is that like that?” That’s the nature of being a business owner – I’m so naturally drawn to what’s wrong.
When you think of DryBar you think of Alli Webb. You are an integral part of the brand.
Alli: That’s an important differentiator, in any business – I think you want to associate a business with a person so you feel like there’s a person in that who really cares. There are a lot of people who really care at Drybar, for sure, but I think that’s a real advantage, especially in terms of our competitors. I think women love the fact that I’m a woman, and a mom, and are kind of rooting for me. That’s a really nice thing about the brand. I don’t think any of us ever expected it to get it as good as this, but we founded a business by someone who just wanted a good blowout …and it’s really relatable.
Has motherhood changed how you do business?
Alli: I always felt like everybody’s mom was always nicer. Like when you become a mom, you had this empathy. There’s just something that happens to you – you really become a caretaker, and it’s so much less about you. This is such a personal business, and the stylists are family, so there’s making sure that they’re taken care of.
We have our 10 core values up on the website – one of them is we’re family. That’s a big thing for us. When someone new joins Drybar, we say, “Welcome to the family.”
What is the best thing about running your own business? The most difficult?
Alli: The best thing is when you have your own business, you get to call the shots and you can kind of do what you want – that’s really fun and empowering. But I think it’s a problem too. It’s your business and you never get to stop thinking about it. And you know, sometimes you just want to shut it off and you can’t.
What are you most proud of?
Alli: I’m most proud of the jobs that we’ve created. Nearly 3,000 people work at Drybar. That’s crazy. It’s shocking to me that this little company we built to be one shop employs all these people.
Also, with that said, having been a struggling hair-stylist when I came out of beauty school, I had no money and very few paths to go down as a stylist. Becoming someone’s assistant and having to do that for two or three years – there just weren’t a lot of options. Drybar created another avenue of growth and development. The managers at almost all 57 of our locations were employees who were already working for us as a stylist or a bartender. We’re really big on promoting from within.
What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in business?
Alli: I think that people, specifically women, should be more risk-taking. And if you have a great idea, make sure you’re ready for it, because it’s 24×7. The craziness, time, energy and money that goes into starting a business – and then putting your whole heart and soul into it, is a lot. Having the right people is also huge. A good idea can only take you so far, which is why I got the people who executed it and helped me get there.
Photography by: Darcy Hemley