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Drybar Founder Alli Webb talks to HC about starting a business with family, the importance of branding, and her top hair tips

After getting the perfect blowout on opening day of national blowout salon Drybar’s newest location in Boston’s Back Bay, we had an opportunity to sit down with founder Alli Webb and chat about all things Drybar, from its storybook launch and immediate, explosive growth, to what it’s like to work with family, to some of Alli’s favorite beauty tips!

HC: Tell us the story of starting Drybar and what that process was like, who was involved, etc.

First and foremost, I founded Drybar out of personal necessity. I’ve always struggled with my curly hair, and always wanted it blown out, ever since I was a little girl (I have some pictures of my mom blow drying my hair and she wasn’t very good at it)! After playing around with a lot of different careers I went to beauty school, but fast-forward all these years later, became a stay-at-home mom. As much as I love my two little boys, I kind of got the itch to get back out there.

So I started a little mobile blow dry business because I could do blow outs in my sleep, having done hair for fifteen years. I was charging $40 to go to people’s homes, which was very inexpensive. That little business really took off and I got too busy and ran out of time to meet all the demand I had.

What I learned from that business was that women had two bad choices: they could either go to the regular cut-and-color salon and pay upwards of $60-80 for a blowout plus tip, or they would go to a discount chain but not really know what they would get with variable pricing. There was just no good option out there. I thought to myself, I should open a place where all we do are blow outs. I went to my brother Michael, who’s my business partner now, with the idea for Drybar. He didn’t get it at first, asking me, “Can’t women blow out their own hair?” And I was like, “Oh no, they can’t!”

So he put the spreadsheets together and ran the numbers. Back then, we thought it could be a great business if we could do 40 blow outs a day. Now if we did 40 a day we’d be in trouble!

My brother gave me the money, and we opened our first Drybar location in Los Angeles almost four years ago, in February 2010. It was supposed to be my own little shop and I could like take care of my kids and run my  shop at the same time. But we quickly realized there were other plans in the making, that we were onto something and that women really liked the experience. We felt like we had to keep going, and so we did! Now, we have 31 locations.

HC: I love the Drybar brand. You are so specific about the look and feel, and all the branding. Tell me about the inspiration behind that.

I had a vision in my head that I wanted Drybar to be an actual bar. This [Boston Back Bay] location is a unique one because there are 3 floors, but most of our shops very much look like a bar. There’s either a round bar or a straight one. I wanted it to feel like a bar and to be very clean. And feminine, but not overly feminine. The pops of yellow are very happy and are a feel-good color. As much as I love pink, which I do, I fought the urge to go pink because it felt too girly, and you can only be in a space that’s pink for so long!

My husband, who came from an advertising background, is the creative director behind all the product and branding and marketing. He put that all together with my brother. We got really lucky that my brother has such a strong business sense and is so smart, and my husband is so creative, and I’m all about the hair! It was the perfect storm of us all coming together and having such incredibly different skill sets to make this all come together. It felt very meant-to-be.

Blowout in progress at Drybar’s new Boston Back Bay location!

HC: So how is it working with family?

It’s funny, I think we’re the exception to the rule because people always say we’re crazy to be working together. But I’ve always had a strong sense of family. We’ve always been so tight, even now. My brother and my husband are my best friends and we all just get along so well. I know we’re lucky and it’s not normal, but it’s just how we all are. We just got lucky.

HC: When did you realize you had hit on something big?

We realized very early that we were onto something big. Funny story…before we launched our first location, Michael and I would get notifications on our phone anytime an appointment was booked. Weeks before we opened, these would trickle in. And then Daily Candy ran an editorial about us and all of a sudden – I’ll never forget – Michael and I were at lunch and both of our phones started blowing up and we were like, What is going on? All these appointments were flooding in and we realized Daily Candy just ran and they linked to our site. It was really such an amazing moment. When we looked at the books, they were all full!

The first day we opened, we had a line out the door. We used to have printed on all our collateral “Walk-ins welcome.” They are still welcome, but we don’t advertise it like we used to anymore, because our customers would walk in and point to the sign and we’d have to say, “Sorry, we’re full!” So we realized on day one that we had hit on something big.

HC: What does success ultimately mean to you?

I think success comes in a lot of different forms. There’s so many things I’m so proud of, like the fact that we have 2000 stylists, which means we’ve created 2000 jobs. That’s really amazing for me. We’ve also given stylists another avenue of work. A lot of our stylists are part-time with us and also work at a full-service cut-and-color salon, so Drybar is another option for them. We’ve also turned many of our stylists into managers and education trainers. A lot of them go into Sephora and teach product education. I feel so happy about the fact that we’ve created this niche.

And then there’s the way we’re making women feel. It’s amazing. I don’t think I realized right away the impact we have on women. You see it time and time again, this transformation; the way our clients are when they’re leaving, with a pep in their step! We say we’re not selling blowouts, we’re selling the happiness and confidence that comes from a great blowout. And I truly believe that! I have women come up to me all the time and say, “You changed my life. I feel so good about myself.” This is so rewarding. There’s so much to be proud of!

Me with my beautiful Drybar blowout!

HC: As you mentioned, you did hair for fifteen years. What are some of your favorite beauty tips for hair?

I have so many of them! If you’re doing a blow out at home, I always tell people there’s a couple things you have to make sure you do. First of all, make sure to have really clean hair. It’s such a kiss of death and such a simple tip that people don’t think about. But having clean hair will make your blowout last so much longer. It’s important to get all the dirt, oil, and residue out of your hair before you blow it. When you’re doing your own hair, making sure you work in small sections and get everything perfect before you go on. Making sure you start from the front is important too. For years stylists have perpetuated this method of starting in the nape of your hair and working forward, but nobody ever sees that part of your hair!). So starting in the front is a big tip. And using really good tools and products makes such a big difference.

HC: Speaking of products, I noticed that Drybar stylists use all Drybar-developed products and tools. What went into making that decision?

It was such a labor of love. The fact that I was cherry-picking products from all these different lines to try to get the perfect assortment; it was just not sustainable. We needed products that would work and hold curls, but wouldn’t weigh you down and only work for a day. I couldn’t find anything out there that I loved, so I needed to make my own products specifically crafted for the perfect blow out. Even our tools, like Buttercup [the Drybar blow dryer], have technology that you won’t find anywhere else. It dries hair super fast, and it’s lightweight so it makes a huge difference for our stylists who are holding blow dryers for 8 hours a day! There are a lot of great dryers out there but most of them are really heavy.

HC: Are there any big things in the works for Drybar that you’d like to tell our readers?

We’re working on a couple little things here and there, some things I can’t talk about yet! We’re continuing to flesh out the product line, opening new locations, and thinking of going international. We’re playing around with different hairstyles and other fun things. All coming this year!

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