Beauty Launchpad is spotlighting the winners of its Top 20 Salons contest for 2024.
Here, Chelle Neff introduces us to Urban Betty in Austin and Round Rock, TX, founded in January 2005.
Beauty Launchpad (BLP): What is the backstory of your salon? What motivated you to start your business?
Chelle Neff (CN): I knew I wanted to have a career in hairstyling and hair care since I was 10 years old; it’s a passion I had my entire childhood. My devotion to the field and determination to reach my goals brought me to this career path. I became licensed from cosmetology school at the age of 18, and I worked as a hairstylist at a few salons. My short-term goal at the time was to make it into a luxury salon, but my ultimate goal was to open my own high-end salon, and nothing could stand in my way. In 2005, the opportunity I worked tirelessly for finally came to life when I opened Urban Betty Salon in central Austin. Starting with just one employee and six salon chairs, I handled every aspect of the business, from hairstyling and marketing to sales and accounting – you name it! My mantra is that clients will naturally gravitate towards your business if you create something exceptional and have confidence in your abilities. This is precisely what happened with Urban Betty. My business's growth resulted from a decade’s worth of relentless work. In 2019, after being awarded one of the largest independent hair salons in the city, I launched a second location in Austin. We have over 80 employees and will be opening our 3rd location in January of 2024.
BLP: What was the most challenging thing that happened while opening your salon?
CN: My most significant challenge revolved around overcoming the impacts of the pandemic. In 2020, the salon industry took a massive hit, and Urban Betty wasn't spared. We had to shut our doors for a daunting two months, during which many salons faced permanent closures. However, rather than succumbing to the adversity, we took it as an opportunity to learn and thrive. By strategically cutting our budget and boosting productivity by implementing split shifts and a seven-day, 13-hour schedule, we not only weathered the storm but, in 2021, broke records and emerged stronger than ever. Navigating this challenge gave me valuable insights into running a more efficient salon company. I swiftly adapted, meticulously identifying fixed costs, and thankfully, we had just enough savings to keep everything afloat. This experience has instilled in me a profound understanding of what it takes to sustain Urban Betty, and I am confident that we are resilient enough to endure anything that comes our way.
BLP: What is the overall aesthetic of your salon? What inspired you when designing the space?
CN: We drew inspiration from Monica Geller’s apartment in “Friends” to infuse that comforting "homey" vibe into Urban Betty. Our walls are adorned with vibrant colors, and we've incorporated wallpaper with gold accents and flowers, evoking a charming vintage atmosphere. What sets us apart is the personality and flair we inject into each station with different mirrors, creating a unique salon experience. At Urban Betty, our goal is to make every client feel right at home. In a departure from the typical modern and industrial salon aesthetic, we opted for a warm, inviting ambiance. From a plush couch with pillows to a burst of colors, stepping into our salon feels like walking into your own living room. We've even set up a delightful coffee bar and a TV to enhance that cozy home atmosphere in both locations. When we expanded with our second location in February 2019, I was determined to maintain this distinctive vibe. With a more generous budget, I enlisted the help of designers to ensure the space echoed the warmth and style of our original salon. Our second and third locations exude a luxurious aesthetic, featuring vibes of gold and black. As Urban Betty has grown, so has our evolution in brand and design, ensuring that our spaces continue to reflect our unique identity.
BLP: What services do you provide your clients? Are any of these services signature and/or exclusive to your salon?
CN: We are a one-stop destination for a complete beauty and wellness experience, offering a diverse array of both hair care and skin care services. Whether you're seeking a fresh haircut or a vibrant color transformation, our talented stylists are dedicated to bringing your vision to life. From classic cuts to modern trends, including blunt bangs, layered shags and vivid color options, Urban Betty Salon caters to all your hair care needs. In addition to our exceptional hair services, we provide a luxurious range of skin care treatments designed to pamper and rejuvenate. From soothing facials, such as our Signature Betty Facial and The Ultimate Treatment Facial, to effective peels that brighten and reverse signs of aging, our skin care services are crafted to leave you with radiant, glowing skin. We also specialize in waxing and hair removal services, including brows, upper lip and more, ensuring a comprehensive approach to your beauty needs.
BLP: What products are used/retailed in your salon? Do you have a personal favorite?
CN: We take pride in using and retailing a carefully curated selection of premium hair care brands. Our very own Urban Betty (UB) Haircare line is a standout, formulated without any compromising ingredients. Personally, I have a soft spot for the Urban Betty Unscented Shampoo and Conditioner—perfect for those with scent sensitivities like mine. For a touch of luxury, we swear by Kérastase, and Pureology is our go-to for vibrant color care. One of my personal favorites is the Reverie Milk—it's a game-changer for anyone with bleached hair, offering the strength and nourishment it needs. And, of course, we stay fashion-forward with Redken products and hair color.
BLP: Is your salon active on social media? If so, where can our readers follow your salon, and what content can they expect to engage with?
CN: Our readers get to know us by delving into the diverse content on Urban Betty's Instagram. From insightful how-to videos unraveling the secrets behind our salon-perfect looks to showcasing our active involvement in the community through partnerships with local charities, we offer more than just hairstyling expertise. Urban Betty is about making a positive impact, and our social media videos capture the heart of our commitment. Additionally, our "Get to Know Us" series goes beyond the salon chair, providing an intimate look into the lives of our stylists. Whether it's weekly "getting to know you" questions or the artistic flair of "Tattoo Tuesday," we aim to build a personal connection, celebrating the unique personalities that define Urban Betty. Join us on Instagram to experience the beauty, community and individuality that make Urban Betty truly exceptional.
BLP: What makes your salon unique and stand out?
CN: At Urban Betty Salon, what sets us apart is our emphasis on the Queen Bee Role (QBR). You might be wondering, what exactly is a QBR? It's not a person or a machine; rather, it's an integral activity within our salon company. Just as the Queen Bee is crucial to a beehive's colony, laying eggs and sustaining the entire community, our QBR is the heartbeat of our business. For us, the Queen Bee's Role is all about human connection with our guests. During our recent Leadership Team meeting, we collectively defined our QBR. Each staff member listed the six most important things they contribute to the salon company and, step by step, eliminated the least important ones. The outcome revealed our brand's commitment: to deliver outstanding customer service that results in beautiful hair. The key lies in fostering a strong connection with our guests, creating a sense of belonging. Our success is deeply rooted in presenting ourselves authentically, both in person and online. Beyond showcasing hair photos, our website and social media platforms provide a behind-the-scenes look at the salon, our day-to-day activities and the human interactions that define our culture. We've found that our most successful posts are those that allow our audience to 'get to know' us. Initiatives like Tattoo Tuesdays, where our team shares their favorite tattoos and the stories behind them, bring a personal touch to our brand. This human connection is at the core of our salon's purpose. By defining and prioritizing the QBR, we're not just delivering exceptional service; we're nurturing lasting relationships and connections that make Urban Betty Salon truly unique.
BLP: What takeaway do you hope clients have after a visit at your salon?
CN: We prioritize creating a memorable experience for our clients. From a warm welcome at the front desk to personalized attention from our stylists, every aspect is designed to go beyond meeting expectations. Expressing gratitude to our first-time guests, we offer exclusive gifts and discounts, fostering a sense of appreciation. After each visit, we initiate a follow-up email, encouraging guests to share their experiences through Google reviews or video testimonials. This digital approach to person-to-person referrals has significantly boosted positive feedback and engagement, with videos uploaded to our YouTube channel and social media outlets. At the heart of our success lies our team. We understand the importance of hiring individuals who not only excel in their roles but also embody our salon's culture. We look for qualities like openness, friendliness and helpfulness, fostering a family-like atmosphere among our employees. To ensure a seamless fit, we conduct DISC personality analyses for all new hires, aligning their communication style and personality with our salon's culture. A happy team translates to satisfied guests, emphasizing the significance of going above and beyond in every aspect of our salon experience. Many companies focus solely on their products, but at Urban Betty, we believe in investing in both the experience and the people we bring on board.
BLP: What piece of advice would you give to a new salon owner?
CN: I absolutely love the saying: 'How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.' It resonates with me profoundly. I often reflect on it. My advice to any entrepreneur is to persevere no matter what and remain flexible. Don't get too caught up in when or where things will unfold. Manifesting requires setting specific goals, but it also involves relinquishing control over the when and how of the manifestation. What eventually materializes may look very different from your initial vision. The most significant mistake we can make is imposing a rigid time frame on substantial goals we haven't achieved yet. My journey involved various stages—loss, changes in my business structure and personal growth to become my best self. When I started Urban Betty in 2005 with just one contractor, I was focused on launching my salon company, not contemplating its longevity or where I'd be 15-20 years later. Setting goals is crucial, but it's equally important to recognize that life evolves and experiences shape us. Where you end up might be 1000 times better than expected. Stay open and flexible to allow that extraordinary journey to unfold.
BLP: What’s next for your salon? Do you have any goals for the year?
CN: In terms of what's next for Urban Betty, I've got some exciting plans on the horizon. We're currently in the process of completing the buildout for our third location in Round Rock, scheduled to open this January 2024. The expansion doesn't stop there—I envision adding even more locations all across Texas. Additionally, we're gearing up to enrich our product line, bringing new and exciting offerings to our clients. It's all about enhancing the Urban Betty experience in every way possible. On the business front, we're welcoming two more shareholders this year, with plans to continue expanding our team. This growth is not just about numbers; it's about creating a diverse and dynamic group that contributes to our success. These steps are more than just business milestones for me; they are part of a broader vision. My ultimate goal is to evolve into an angel investor, particularly for women initiating their own ventures but facing challenges in securing capital in today’s markets. I've walked that path myself, and it was the support of a local non-profit that made all the difference. If it weren't for them, Urban Betty wouldn't be here today. I want to pay it forward and be that guiding force for aspiring female entrepreneurs, helping them realize their dreams just like I did.