Alli Webb’s mobile hair-styling business led to an idea for a salon that offers only wash and blow-dry services. Since it opened in 2010, Drybar has become so successful--with 42 salons nationwide and counting--that the copycats are proliferating. Webb explains how she stays ahead of the pack.
--As told to Liz Welch
From the beginning, we’ve stayed very true to what we do--give great blowouts. Many investors have said, “We have this captive audience. That’s a huge opportunity to sell a lot of other things.” I’ve always resisted that--and I think it resonates.
Our clients know they’re not going to be pitched to or bombarded by our stylists to buy products. It’s hard to be really great at a lot of things. I have never entertained the idea of adding on services--but I have seen all of our competitors do that. Let them.
From an outside perspective, the barriers to entry appear very low: Hire stylists, build a space, and you have a blow-dry bar. But we have spent a lot of time and money to make the experience great, which includes everything from the spacing of our chairs to the lighting and the iPhone chargers at each station. We could put up to 10 more chairs in most salons, but we don’t, because the space is built in a special way, so it feels like you are sitting at a bar.
We have a robust training program, which I’ve refined over the years. Before stylists even make it to their hair audition, they meet with our human resources department to make sure they’re a good personality fit. Not every stylist wants to wash her client’s hair or be part of our family mentality. But that’s part of what makes up our culture.
At Drybar, every client’s happiness is a group effort. I think that keeps us ahead of our competitors more than anything. The best way to get a customer to come back is to give her the best possible experience. If she’s not happy with her hair, instead of getting defensive, the stylist will get another one to help fix it.
Bartenders--our cashiers--are instructed to ask, “How was your experience?” at every checkout. We train them to watch body language and facial expressions for those women who won’t admit that they’re not happy. We want to make sure that someone’s experience was perfect, not just OK. Most places won’t ask that question because they’re afraid of the answer, but for us, the worst thing that can happen is for a client to leave unhappy.
And for those who are unhappy, we respond--whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp. It really amazes me how many businesses take a defensive stance. I take that feedback as a gift and a way to improve the business, which is an ongoing challenge. But an important one, because at the end of the day, Drybar’s success is based on how we make women feel.