Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Chelle Neff. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Chelle, appreciate you joining us today. Folks often look at a successful business and imagine it was an overnight success, but from what we’ve seen this is often far from the truth. We’d love to hear your scaling up story – walk us through how you grew over time – what were some of the big things you had to do to grow and what was that scaling up journey like?
I was all by myself for the first week when I opened Urban Betty Salon and had only one hairstylist/contractor for the first three months. I didn’t hire my first employee until six months after opening. At that point, everything that I did behind the chair paid for the entire salon and my household. It was a very stressful situation. My company also had many other complications, such as not knowing how to structure our pricing lists or manage cash flow. So what does one do when trying to stay afloat? Upgrade to a larger location? Why yes! I naively thought if I had more people and square footage, I would make more money and solve my problems. So, after six years, I had over ten people working at my salon, and we were running out of room (and I was out of sanity).
I upgraded to a space twice the size, and upon moving in, four of my contractors and one associate quit, leaving me with a salon twice the size with only half the staff. I embraced this as an opportunity to eliminate contractors from the salon, making Urban Betty a 100% commission-based salon. Again, I thought this was a silver lining because employees were a more profitable option than contractors. And yes, it was…later. In the meantime, I had to borrow money from friends to pay my bills and live off of a tax return. I was at my wit’s end, so I finally decided to ask for help and hired a business coach in 2014. It was then that I finally learned how to structure our team and our pricing list. Thank goodness! This small change is what saved my business from closing. I learned that you shouldn’t try to do it alone. I tell people that I built my business on making mistakes. And after nine years of failing forward, I’m so thankful that I hit rock bottom and had no other option but to ask for help and hire a coach; it changed my life. That same year my salon company grew by 30%! It’s great to have a person who can be a sounding board and give you educated answers based on industry experience for all of your questions. It eliminated many sleepless nights for me.
Some of the things that I learned along the way were that when I originally structured the pricing list for services at my salon, I offered package deals and special discounts. I thought this was the best way to draw in new business! After struggling to make ends meet, I finally ran a report to see how much money we gave away, and it was an astonishing $50,000 in just one year. After that, with the guidance of my Summit business coach, we restructured the pricing on our service list to an a la carte menu with only a limited amount of discounts. This action put my mostly negative account in an actual positive state of upwards of $50k. It was a game-changer.
Once our profits quickly turned around, I was able to retire from doing hair in 2017 and focus solely on managing Urban Betty. It continued to grow in people and profit! From 2014 to 2018, we grew a whopping 82%. We went from 1.5 million per year to 3.4 million. And we opened a second location!
I found my passion for marketing, networking, and philanthropy through this growth. Having the freedom to do this helped my soul, but most importantly, the salon company continues to thrive and evolve for the better. I would tell every person out there that is working “inside” the company that they own to make a plan to get “outside” of it eventually so that you can see what’s going on from a different perspective and do what makes you happy.
Through these ups and downs, I have discovered that my purpose and vision are to elevate the salon industry. In a world that considers college the only option for success, my salon company empowers women and gives each person that works here the ability to become a future shareholder and grow to have an income well over 100k without a college degree. At Urban Betty, we pay our employees well above the industry average WITH BENEFITS (¼ of the stylists make six figures in my salon, where the industry average is $22k).
In 2021 we launched our own Urban Betty haircare line, and we are on track to open our third location in Round Rock, Texas, in 2023. I am thankful to have the honor to continually evolve Urban Betty into a company that sets the standard for the salon industry and continues to grow.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I began my journey as an entrepreneur first by being an employee in the salon industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do hair, and I jumped at the offer and enrolled in cosmetology school while in high school at sixteen. When I received my license, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts, and I slowly worked my way up the ladder to more high-end salons. While working at one of these high-end salons, I heard a little voice tell me that I should open a salon one day. I was unhappy at the salon I worked at and wanted to make a better place than I could one day work. The first stepping stone to making that happen was launching urbanbetty.com as a way for me to showcase my work. “Betty” comes from my first name Betty Michelle (named after my grandmother), and in 2005, Urban Betty became a full-service brick-and-mortar salon. Over the next few years, my core goal was to create a salon company that elevated the industry.
I know our attention to guests and the service standards set us apart from other salons in town. We have won numerous awards and have been an Inc. 5000 recipient four times consecutively since 2017. The service experience at Urban Betty Salon is designed to exceed expectations from when a guest walks in the door until the very end of their reservation. We ensure that customer service is standard and consistent through training and orientation. We have created a PowerPoint presentation that states our codes for greetings and consultations for our service providers and the front desk staff. When we hire each service provider, they must watch the service standards PowerPoint presentation. This protocol is how we remain consistent and above the industry average.
We test our team on their service standards through surveys, guest satisfaction cards, and Yelp reviews. After each appointment, we send out a survey that lets guests rate their experience and give overall feedback regarding their experience. We continuously monitor Yelp reviews and write back to anyone who has had an issue with the salon. We love to thank them for their feedback and offer a solution. This level of consistency has often helped save a guest from leaving us, and we gain respect and loyalty in that process.
I am most proud of becoming a mother. In February of 2021, I became a mother and met the love of my life through adoption. So balancing work and parenting was the next big obstacle for me. We were on an adoption list for 1.5 years and had three days’ notice that our son had come into this world. I quickly had to take unplanned maternity leave for three months.
I announced to my staff that I would be putting my family first and handling all things. I wasn’t going to be answering texts, emails, or anything unless there was a literal fire (even then, I wouldn’t have been much help). I learned that my team is full of earnest, ass-kicking rock stars. My business flourished without me.
It’s incredible once you get out of the way and empower others how much they can soar and take everything to the next level. I cannot thank my salon company general manager, Hallie Spurlin. She gave me the gift of being a stay-at-home mom for three months. Our salon company had its highest retail sales, service revenue, and new hires from February through April. These records have given me the confidence to put family first and let my staff make decisions independently.
Okay – so how did you figure out the manufacturing part? Did you have prior experience?
In 2018 when I started creating my hair care line, it took over three years before I had a product in hand and could launch it to the public. I began with one lab to help me create it, and after several rounds of formulating and testing (and a pandemic…ugh), I decided that they weren’t the best fit for my vision.
I cried lots of tears and was sad about wasting the first few years. I quickly reached out to some of my contacts the next day and hired a new lab to help me within the week. And guess what? They were even better and had the same vision that I did to create a clean, sustainable shampoo and conditioner. After several rounds of formulating and testing, primarily done in my shower on my head, I found a formulation that I liked. It was color-safe, free of phthalates, sulfates, silicones, parabens, dyes, pore-clogging oils, and formaldehyde/formaldehyde releasers. And last but not least, It is gluten-free and soy-free. It took about one year after hiring the new lab before Urban Betty Haircare was on shelves.
After seven years of trying to get pregnant and struggling with migraines, I was inspired to create this haircare line. I hired a nutrition coach to focus on what I needed to change in my diet to become healthier and more fertile (with fewer migraines). She recommended that I cut out everything scented. Essential oils, laundry detergent, candles, (and sadly) flowers trigger a hormonal response that can cause migraines and infertility. You don’t realize how many scented products are in your home until you go through and start to eliminate them. Products as simple as hand soap and flushable wipes all have scents! During this process, I started ordering and trying every unscented shampoo and conditioner on the market, and I could only find ONE that I liked. We didn’t carry anything like that inside our salon company, so I decided to create my own.
I learned that you have to be patient and not sacrifice quality to rush product development during this process. Suppose you are working with a manufacturer that doesn’t value you or put your ideas first, move along. And just because your product starts small doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. My goal is to create more products and have a boutique line. If I had waited until I could afford to make every product, it probably would have never happened; go with your gut and start with what you can, and the rest will fall into place.
Consumers expect high quality, low ingredient, sustainable beauty products in this day and age. Our goal was to make that happen, and I’m proud to say we did.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
We survived closing for two months during a pandemic. That is what I call resilience. And in all actuality, the pandemic made our salon company a better place to work! Our salon implemented a new streamlined hiring process due to the pandemic by adding zoom interviews and combining two in-person visits to the salon into one! Doing this created an easy onboarding for new employees and gave them the confidence to choose a place that prioritized their safety and time.
Our salon company also updated the pay structure for new hires during their mentorship program. Previously, new stylists were paid hourly, so we upgraded the process to include commission pay when the stylist had guests. This process directly increased our new hires and, as a result, our service revenue!
Urban Betty had previously implemented a 30-hour workweek during the pandemic to allow all workstations to be used efficiently and increase the number of employees able to work. Our salon company decided to make this a permanent change to increase growth by fully utilizing all stations while giving employees more flexibility with their schedules.
- Website: https://urbanbetty.com/
- Instagram: @urbanbettysalon
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/urbanbettysalon
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/urbanbetty/
- Twitter: @urbanbettysalon
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/salonurbanbetty
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/urban-betty-austin-3?osq=urban+betty
Photos by Thanin Viriyaki