We want what we can’t have… Especially when it comes to our hair. Straight haired women want bounce, and curl, and volume, while naturally curly haired women want those stick straight and smooth locks. Alli Webb built a business around exactly that.
You may have met her how I did: from her episode of NPR’s “How I Built This”. Or you may know her from her little business called DRYBAR! Today’s guest, Alli Webb, founded Drybar in 2010 after spending 15 years as a professional stylist. Alli first started Drybar as a side hustle where she would do weekly blow-outs for her mommy friends… but word spread. The business exploded strictly by referrals from loyal clients, which led her to the decision to expand her mobile operation to a physical location. The first Drybar opened in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2010 and was an overnight sensation.
Drybar has since expanded to 100 locations throughout the country. Alli still is working passionately for Drybar, but is also empowering others to turn their passion and dreams into a reality. Her unique approach to business has awarded her with numerous accolades. In 2013, Fast Company named her one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business,” and she was featured on the “Cosmo 2013 Power List” by Cosmopolitan magazine. She was also included on the prestigious Fortune “40 Under 40” list, recognizing her as one of the top young businesswomen in the world.
And today, we are going to learn how Alli turned a niche into a full-blown empire… in 8 years time. If you are in the beginning stages of dreaming up a business, and wondering how the heck to make a niche business SUSTAINABLE, how to attract clientele, if franchising is a good idea — ALL OF THE THINGS, we are going to talk about Alli turned a very niche business into an EMPIRE. You know how I always say there are riches in the niches? Today’s episode proves that. Ya ready?
What Made Her Niche Business So Successful?
At first, Alli’s approach to launching her business wasn’t deliberate. She started doing blow outs for her friends and other moms for $40 in their own homes. She had lots of interests, and when it began to grow at a steady rate, she turned to her husband and brother with the idea to move her traveling blow out biz to a brick and mortar location.
Ultimately, Alli believes she was successful starting and growing her niche business into a $100 million empire was the combination of all the things she loved from her previous experiences, and none of what she didn’t love, wrapped into one idea. Alli worked in salons for years and she knew she loved getting through the cut to start the blow out because that was the magical moment that clients loved, too. Alli, herself, loved having her naturally curly hair blown out smooth, so it seemed natural to her to build a business around the blow out experience.
But what she didn’t love was the cutthroat, competitive environment of hair salons where everyone was working for themselves. Alli didn’t like the mirror that forced clients to stare at themselves for an hour, picking apart their face and what they didn’t like about themselves. So Alli created an experience for clients — a flat screen TV playing a chick flick (with subtitles so you never miss a thing), a true “bar” setup so you’re never staring at yourself in the mirror, and other details that tipped every industry standard on its head.
Alli admitted that if you asked her 8 years ago, she wouldn’t have articulated what she wanted as clearly. At the start, she didn’t know she wanted to create an “experience”, but she know what she liked about the salons she had visited as a client, and where she worked as a stylist, and she combined everything into the first Drybar location in Brentwood, California. Fast forward to today: 107 locations and counting.
One Location to One Hundred Million Dollars
They started scrappy. Alli, her brother, and her husband put in the muscle to make the business grow. By the time the 7th store opened, Alli had done every job for the business from blow outs to payroll, which she believes is an important rite of passage for any entrepreneur. You have to be able to do every job.
The team was at a crossroads with that 7th store. “We had lighting in a bottle,” as Alli described it. They could either manage what they had or continue to expand, and the market seemed to want more from Drybar. Copy cats popped up, and Alli had to decide if she wanted to bring the experience to women everywhere… Spoiler alert: They decided to move forward with growing the company, starting with raising capital ($16 million worth) to build more stores.
It was baby steps for Alli to grow the business to where it is today, but the biggest step forward was building her team. Drybar continued to bring on smart, experienced people who knew how to scale a business. With the 107th store opening, Alli can now walk into a store on opening day and ditch those feelings of stress and anxiety she used to get when a new store opened because she continues to build her team with smart, educated, and dedicated people who know what they need to do to make a new store a success.
Hiring people to support the business goals, while ultimately the right decision for Drybar, was one of the most challenging aspects for Alli. There were times when she felt she was giving up control, or decisions were made differently than how she would’ve liked, but Alli ultimately found inner peace while handing over control of some aspects of the business knowing that she was freed up to build the business in her other areas of expertise.
Dealing with the Naysayers
“If you think you have a good idea, and you think you really have something, you keep pushing.” And if you keep pushing, Alli believes, you will encounter fans of your idea who believe in it, too. Building that support and working hard to make your idea happen simply makes it easier to power past the naysayers and the doubters.
Alli’s has a piece of cautionary advice, though: “If you have an idea, and every single person you’ve told about it doesn’t think it’s a good idea, maybe you want to look a little deeper and figure out if it really is a good idea.” You need some sort of support group, someone who you trust and respect, to believe in your mission and goals. Those are the people who will motivate you through the doubts and worries of launching your business.
Franchising: Protecting “Your Baby” As It Grows
As the company exploded franchising became the best option for growth in the early days. Alli shared that it wasn’t the easiest thing to allow someone else ownership of your vision. She explained, “It’s tough to find people who will really honor what you’ve build and not try to change it, or ‘make it better’.” Protecting the brand through franchising was one of the more challenging aspects, and for that reason Drybar pulled back and refocused on opening company-owned stores for several years. Yes, they still franchise (and receive over 10,000 requests per month!) but an entire team of people vetts the applications to ensure the people who love the brand, and who don’t want to change it, are getting through.
From Alli’s perspective, “You as a consumer should never know which location is a franchise and which is company-owned because if everyone is doing their job right, you will have the same experience everywhere you go.” Have they made some wrong decisions? Yes. Have they had to buy some franchises back? Yes. But Drybar continues to vett and award franchise opportunities to those who will uphold the brand her team has so carefully built.
On Working with Your Family
Should you start a business with your family? How can you work together effectively when you’re related or married to your business partners? Tune in to the episode to hear how Alli makes business work with her brother and her husband, and how the trio’s clearly defined roles within the company help them to collaborate and grow Drybar to the empire it is today.
The Product Line, the Podcast & More
Alli wanted to launch a product line from day one, but of course it took time to raise money and create the products that would best compliment the Drybar experience. That was key for adding to the business for Alli — It had to contribute to the overall goal of the business and make sense for the experience. A product line at a blow dry salon is pretty spot on. Now, the Drybar product line is available in tons of retailers and is a major part of the business.
As far as Alli’s podcast goes, she and her brother were constantly approached by other entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners with questions about raising capital, and growing a business, and getting into franchising, but Alli was simply too busy to sit down for a cup of coffee to talk about her experiences in the business world. So she started their podcast “Raising the Bar” with her brother to talk about all the business related lessons she and her guests have learned along their entrepreneurial journeys.
This episode is packed with powerful lessons and an inside look at how Alli and her team grew Drybar to be the mega-million dollar business it is today. She shares her most impactful piece of advice, how she has changed as a person through it all, and the most important thing she learned about starting a niche business. Be sure to tune in with the player above to hear allllll the goodness for yourself. If you’re listening today, what are YOUR favorite takeaways from Alli’s inspirational story?