There's a very personal reason why Drybar feels more like a social hub than a hair salon.
Alli Webb, 38, was inspired to start her mobile hair-drying business in 2007 as a new mom. She was feeling a little stir crazy but wasn't exactly eager to return to the kind of salons where she grinded out a decade's worth of workdays. Plus, between baby-sitters and gas money, she barely broke even. "I was so in mommyland at that point, the idea was less about making money and more about getting out of the house and socializing," Webb says. But when she asked her brother, Michael Landau, for a loan to start a brick-and-mortar business that focused on blow-outs only—no cuts, no color—her through-the-roof client demand convinced him to not only lend her the money, but open shop with her, as CEO.
The first Drybar, opened in the tony Brentwood area of Los Angeles, brought a totally new service to image-conscious women: quick, quality blow-outs at addictively affordable prices. "In our business plans, we figured we'd need 20 to 30 customers a day to keep the doors open, but when we sent out our first email blast, we had 1,000 bookings in the first eight hours," says Webb. "Our grandma's generation went to the salon once a week, probably to get beehives. We want to modernize that behavior. Women don't go to a full-on salon once a week; they want a quick pick-me-up that will boost their confidence for days."
Now pulling in $22 million in sales—one $40 blow-out at a time—from 27 stores in affluent urban areas in six states and Washington D.C., Webb is obsessed with maintaining a consistent brand. "When you're in a Drybar, you know you're in a Drybar—no question." Here's why.
"I was adamant early on that we're a bar, not a salon," says Webb. "We're more fun." The Drybar message—that looking sexy and polished can be a social, everyday indulgence—is echoed throughout the nightclub-like experience: Clients choose from five cocktail-sounding styles, like the Manhattan (sleek and smooth) or the Cosmo (loose waves). They sip Champagne, watch subtitled chick flicks, and tap their feet to Taylor Swift while getting their hair done. Gift certificates come printed on drinking coasters. To score a discount, loyal customers can sign on for "the barfly" or "the regular" packages.
Stylists are trained to work on hair with clients facing the mirrors. But when working in clients' homes, Webb would often set up in the kitchen or living room. Then, "as soon as I'd finish, they'd run to a mirror and there'd be this squeal moment," Webb says. "Who wants to sit scrutinizing yourself in front of a mirror, with your hair wet? Instead, I wanted to recreate that squeal moment, that big reveal." So all clients face away from the mirror and are spun around at the end.
Between the raging blow dryers and the loud pop music, calling Drybar in its early days was "such a disaster." Webb quickly moved the phones off-site (there are now 50 customer service reps working remotely to book appointments across the country). A sleek website and frequently updated booking app allow users to make on-the-fly appointments and snag spots from last-minute cancellations.
[Photo by Adam Fedderly]