Ten years ago, stay-at-home mom Alli Webb noticed something missing in the beauty biz: there was nowhere that just focused on blow-drying hair.
“It was in the middle of a recession when I had this idea,” says Webb. “So, I went to my brother (who’s bald and knew nothing about hair!) and he was a little like, huh…you don’t want to do any cuts and color, just blowouts? And I was like, yeah, that’s all I want to do!”
After just a little convincing, Webb enlisted her brother Michael and his wife, Sarah, as well as her husband Cameron in bringing her idea to life. Together, they set out to open their very first Drybar store in Brentwood. “The first day we opened we only had six stylists working because we were scared that nobody was going to come,” reminisces Webb. Well, fortunately for the family, they were instantly packed. “You could feel it in the air that we were on to something.”
Now with more than 80 stores (and counting), an ever-expanding product line, and 3,000 stylists across the country, Drybar’s success mirrors Alli’s motto: Focus on one thing and be the best at it.
In this episode of Project Luminary with Kristen Aldridge, learn how this beauty boss is turning the art of the blowout into a booming business and a nationwide phenomenon.
You are a true pioneer in the beauty industry. As a founder of a $100 million dollar empire, you’ve turned the art of the blowout into a booming business and a nationwide phenomenon. Take us back to the early days. What was life like before you created Drybar?
Alli Webb: I was born with naturally curly hair, and that’s really where it all started. I was kind of a little bit lost out of high school and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do and eventually went to beauty school in my early 20’s and became a professional hairstylist. But I always loved the styling part, and I loved getting through a haircut, so I could see it come to life, and I felt like that was really my strength.
So right before Drybar, I was staying at home with my kids, and I was looking for a reason to get out of the house and do something for myself, so I started a mobile blow-dry business. I was running around town blow-drying all my mommy friends, and then I’d run home to get my kids from school. I wasn’t really making any money, but obviously it was very serendipitous, because it really is what gave me the idea for Drybar. It was in the middle of a recession when I went to my brother, who’s bald and knew nothing about hair. He was a little like, “Huh, you don’t want to do any cuts and color, just blowouts?” I was like, “Yeah, that’s all I want to do.” So that’s kind of how it all began, and that was what I was doing right before we launched.
What I love about your story is how confident you were about your idea from the very beginning. How did you know that this nontraditional approach to hairstyling would resonate with so many women?
Alli Webb: I knew it was different. It was untraditional. And on a very small scale I thought it would work. I mean our first shop in Brentwood was eight chairs, and I think the first day we opened we only had six stylists working, because we were scared that nobody was going to come. We didn’t know. It was a big risk. Back then it was me, Michael, and Cameron, and I was on the phone with the cosmetology board every day, trying to figure out what we needed, and it was such a big push to get it open and figure out how it was going to run. I truly would stay awake at night thinking, “If we can do five blowouts an hour and we’re open 10 or 12 hours a day…” just trying to make heads or tails of this. And then when we opened, we were instantly packed, and you could feel it in the air that we were on to something.
New competitors are constantly entering the marketplace, yet Drybar always seems to stand out far beyond the rest. What is your secret to success?
Alli Webb: I was raised by entrepreneurs. My parents had their own business. I grew up in that environment where you treat everything like it’s your own; it was their own. They would bend over backwards for customers, and those values, I think, just kind of seeped into us over the years. You know, I learned the value and the importance of falling in love with the brand. When we were starting this, we felt really strongly about not being that competitive, cut-throat environment, that as I client and as a stylist you feel very intimidated, and so we love that Drybar feels really high-end, but it still has that “mom and pop” undertone. And there are all the other little details: the cleanliness of the shop, the fact that you can charge your phone when you’re sitting, even working with our architect who does the spacing and acoustics and things like that – we think about all that stuff.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you faced as you expanded the business, and how did you overcome that?
Alli Webb: In terms of scaling the business, I think it’s bringing on really great partners. I was actually very apprehensive about bringing on a professional CEO; Very nervous about changing the culture of the company. I was just really against it, but it actually was one of the best things we’ve ever done. When you get to the point when you have over 3,000 employees and over 83 locations, and we have 3,000 points of distribution on our product, it’s like – I don’t know how to do all that – and I don’t claim to. And I always say, and I will say it until the end of time, “Bring in people who know stuff you don’t.” I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also learned the importance of having a really strong team behind you.
When you look back at your journey thus far, what are you most proud of?
Alli Webb: I’m so proud of the fact that we are empowering women in this way that I never imagined. So many times, when I’m in our shops, and I meet a woman for the first time, and she’ll give me a hug because she’s like “Where has Drybar been all my life?!” And I’m like, “I know, I know, I get it!” The reaction of women when they leave Drybar – unbelievable! A pep in their step, and bouncing, and looking at every mirror, and I’m like “this is amazing, we need to bring this to women everywhere!” and so… we have.