Seeing a gap in the market between overpriced and cheap hit-and-miss salons, LA hairstylist Alli Webb began her mobile service providing blowouts to clients at home. It soon took off, and with the help of her family, Webb launched the first Drybar salon offering only blowouts in the exclusive suburb of Brentwood, California. Fast-forward eight years; Webb now owns more than 90 salons across the US and Canada, with plans to expand internationally. The Drybar empire also includes a growing line of products and signature yellow styling tools sold exclusively at Sephora, Nordstrom, Ulta and Bloomingdales.
Our founder Emma Isaacs sat down with Alli Webb to find how she turned her side-hustle into multi-million dollar business.
I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mum. I loved it, but after 5 years, I started to get that kind of itch where I felt like I needed to get out of the house. I needed to do something for myself again. That’s when I decided to start the mobile business, Straight At Home, because after doing hair for as long as I had, I felt like that would be easy. I could do it on my terms. I could do a couple of blowdries and still pick my kids up from school; it was the perfect answer for that time.
It’s a huge leap of faith to go from that to a bricks-and-mortar operation. Did you have a pivotal moment where you thought, ‘This is it, this is what I’m going to do’?
I came to the crossroads of “Am I going to bring another stylist out to help me manage the clientele I was building?” Which is a great problem to have, or should we open a brick-and-mortar and try to do this. And this is when I went to my brother and said, “I’m having so much success in this mobile business, I really think that if we open a shop instead of me going to my clients or them coming to me, I think that could work.” It was definitely a leap of faith, my husband and I put in everything we had in our life savings, and Michael, my brother, had some money he was willing to put it in and we all crossed our fingers.
I read that you said if you could do 40 blowouts a week that you’d be happy with that. How many did you do in your first week of trade?
I use to lay awake at night and think, okay if we could do 30 or 40 blowouts, that would be a nice little business. We were completely floored at how crazy it was when we first opened. We were doing close to 60 or 70 blowouts a day. And now between all our locations, we do around 100 blowouts a day. So we so significantly underestimated the demand and how much people would love this.
So does the success of the brand surprise you?
I don’t think any of us expected just how quickly it took off and how it resonated with women. We thought it was a good idea, but I always say to we didn’t invent blowouts; we just invented a much better experience around it. I think at the beginning, women thought that getting a blowout was something a celebrity or someone who had tons of money did. We made this a behaviour that woman everywhere could do. I didn’t realise the opportunity that was in front of us. There was never a business plan; we were very scrappy in the beginning. So yes, I am completely surprised by this success and even now, my brother and I text each other and say “Can you believe this?”
You were first to market, how do you manage competitors and your mindset around that?
There are days when I’m like “Oh we’re so far ahead, we’ve got all these locations, we’re doing really well, and I’m not that worried about it.” Then there are days when it drives me crazy. But I think overall, it has actually raised awareness of that category. So in most ways, it’s a good thing. I think we have a secret sauce, I don’t think it’s really as easily duplicable as people think. We see a lot of copycats open, and there’s a lot of people who have lifted verbiage from our website, that drives me crazy. We certainly keep very, very close attention to it but we also keep our head down and stay focused on what we’re doing.
What is your day-to-day role in the business? Are you very hands-on still?
Yes, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges as you grow, is to not make every single decision anymore. Britney, my Head of Marketing is over there and I’m sure she’s chuckling at this question because it’s really hard for me to not be involved in every single decision and as you grow, as a founder, you have to turn the decision over to the people you hire and trust them. So for me, I think that besides writing a book this past year, it is mainly product development and the training of the stylists. It’s tough handing over the reigns but you have to do it to grow.
One thing that makes Drybar unique is that you don’t do colour or cuts, it’s just simply blowouts. Has there ever been a point where you’ve expanded to do more?
No, we’ve felt very strongly about focusing on one thing and being really great at it. Although I understand we’re all so busy that it’d be nice while you’re having your blowout that someone could do your nails while you were there. And we know how hard it is to deliver that great experience, to make sure the hair is great. I think that it would convolute the brand too much if we tried to do other things.
You mentioned international expansion, what’s on the cards? What are your plans?
We are looking at Australia; I get that request all the time. Australia, London, and I just went Paris for the first time. I really fell in love with it and was constantly asking, “Why don’t we own a Drybar here?” The first email I sent to my board was “You guys, we need to get onto this.” So I think there will be international expansion in the next couple of years, we’re definitely pursuing it.
I want to finish off by talking a bit about your book, “The Drybar Guide to Good Hair for All: How to Get the Perfect Blowout at Home.” What was the process like?
That was quite the undertaking. Just like you don’t know what’s going to happen when you start a business. It was quite an exercise for me to make these instructions make sense for everybody, not just a hairdresser. I never thought it would ever get done because it took so much time, energy and people helping to bring it together but I’m so proud of it, I still can’t believe I have a book. It’s crazy. All of it is crazy.
Alli Webb will be our special guest speaker at our Networking Night next Tuesday in Sydney. We only have a handful of tickets left, head to our events page to grab yours before they’re all gone!