As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelle Neff.
Chelle Neff has been a leader in the U.S. salon industry since founding Urban Betty in 2005. As the CEO, Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty year after year and today has a salon company that houses more than 60 employees and has 2 locations. No stranger to innovation, Neff designed and developed an app, FyleStyle, which allows stylists to track client information and color formulas, and in 2017, she launched a series of educational classes called Betty Bootcamp. Since 2018 Urban Betty has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies by Inc 5000 three times consecutively.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
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. I jumped at the offer to enroll in cosmetology school while in high school at sixteen. This opportunity was unique because it meant directing my path toward exploring a real passion of mine. During my junior and senior years, I attended half days of regular classes and a half-day in cosmetology school.
When I received my license, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts. I slowly worked my way up the ladder to more high-end salons. Five years later, I got a small suite at the Gallery of Salons in Austin, Texas, and became an independent contractor. That was my first stepping stone towards running my own business. In 2005, Urban Betty opened and now has two locations and just over 60 employees.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I worked at a poorly ran salon, and 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. It took me about six years before the dream became a reality. In 2002, I launched urbanbetty.com as a way for me to showcase my work. “Betty” comes from my first name Betty Michelle (named after my grandmother). A seed was planted, and in 2005, Urban Betty became a full-service brick and mortar salon.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In 2002, I launched a website with a terrible logo. At the time, I thought my logo looked good. It was a lady with a city background, and she seemed very cartoonish. Think Sex and the City if it were a children’s book. Not good. We reworked it after a couple of years. I recently found an old scrapbook with my first brochure and the original logo. I showed it to my employees, and they couldn’t believe how bad it was. We all had a good laugh! I learned that you should always be re-evaluating your brand and evolving to stay current.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My purpose and vision were to elevate the salon industry. In a world that considers college as 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).
I have brought on two current employees to be shareholders in our salon company — encouraging entrepreneurship and helping women achieve their dreams of owning a business. I’m also creating a plan in 2021 for more employees to become future shareholders. We host personal growth retreats for our employees and have developed an innovative system of mentorship. We want to shatter the glass ceiling and elevate our industry.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
In 2019, I had every staff member of my salon collectively create a Code of Honor for the company; a set of 10 simple, powerful rules that govern our salon company’s internal behavior. These rules determine how we treat one another and our guests. They are what people are willing to stand and defend and be held accountable for. They will keep the team moving when the pressure is on and help us work towards our vision. We printed and framed the Code of Honor and placed it in our office, break room, & color room. It changed our conversations with each employee and helped us resolve conflicts by treating our salon as a collective whole.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
You can’t control the conditions of another human, and you never will. I say this to myself several times a day. It’s a principle that takes a massive amount of weight off of your shoulders. And this is proven easily. Can you control my thoughts? Can I control yours? The answer is no. And for that reason, we can’t control each other’s conditions. Only I can choose what mindset I want to have or what I’m going to let trigger me. If you eliminate the need to make everyone else’s life better so that you can feel good and focus only on yourself, your life and your business will shift dramatically.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first opened Urban Betty, my leadership ability was pretty weak, to be honest. I was usually behind the chair, and I delegated everything that I could to my manager. I had one admin day a week for bookkeeping and one on ones. I wanted to be liked by my clients and my employees, and it was hard to step into my power. And to be honest, I felt worried most of the time. I didn’t know if we would make it or not. There were times I questioned why I was even doing this. I could be in a studio somewhere making more money with way less stress. The drive within me to keep going came from a desire to do better than where I came from. I grew up pretty poor, and I never wanted to struggle again. Not having a safety net or an option to fail is what propelled me to keep going.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are great! When this pandemic is over, I will know that because my business can survive and thrive during that, we can overcome anything!
I can honestly say that my leadership style is much better. I got out from behind the chair in 2017, and I’ve learned to take control of situations and delegate, which is one of the hardest things to do. Working “on” the business instead of “in” the business made a HUGE difference.
We like to describe Urban Betty Salon as an ecosystem that purifies itself. The people that don’t match our vision and culture phase themselves out eventually, and the morale only gets stronger. It took years to get to this point, and I firmly believe that’s why we continue to evolve and grow.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
I have owned and operated a service-based salon for almost 16 years! Here are the five things I suggest everyone should know to be a success
1. Hire for your culture
To start, I strive to keep Urban Betty’s culture intact through hiring the right people for every position. We hire people to fit our vibe; the employees at Urban Betty treat each other like family, being genuinely open, friendly, and helpful to each other at all times. We look for these qualities in the service providers, receptionists, and managers we hire. In addition to this, we have all new hires complete a DISC personality analysis. This ensures their communication style fits into our salon’s DISC group culture; their personality fits the position they are applying for, and that most importantly, they will be happy in our group culture.
2. Owners should work on the business, not in business.
In the first twelve years of owning my salon company, I was still doing hair. And it wasn’t by choice the last five years of that. I was burned out, exhausted, and ready to quit. The larger that we became, the more I had to do behind the scenes. It was too much. When I finally brought on Summit systems with a business coach and could make enough profit to pay me without my income from behind the chair, I retired from doing hair. I was then able to focus on our hiring, marketing, and culture. It made a significant difference. I seriously don’t know how I used to do it all. After taking the leap, the salon company has only grown and become more profitable!
3. Hire with intention
I wish the past Chelle could know this! I received the advice to hire nice people and train them to do the job. But if you only employ nice people, they may not have the necessary skills to do the job you are asking for. Case in point, I hired a marketing manager a few years ago that had a master’s in a completely different field. And while she did a decent job, I could tell it just wasn’t her passion. We struggled to come up with new ideas and make the position fit. When the position was up for hiring again, I listed the job specifically for people only with marketing degrees and only interviewed them under that condition. I can tell you the position is filled, and the new marketing person is a fantastic asset to our team.
4. Provide scripts for all of your service providers
When we first opened almost 16 years ago, I let everyone handle their own business. There wasn’t an “Urban Betty” way. After a few years, I learned that everyone must be on the same page to remain consistent. You have to give your staff and your front desk the same scripts for guests. The process should be the same every time that they come in, no matter whom they see. We ensure that customer service is standard and consistent through training and our orientation for each new hire. We have created a specific PowerPoint presentation that directly states our codes for greetings and consultations. We have one for service providers and the front desk staff. When we hire service providers, they are required to watch the service standards PowerPoint presentation and learn scripts. We also maintain a yearly class to refresh everyone’s memory on the proper protocol.
5. Consistently follow up with your guests about their experience
We follow up with each guest after their appointment. After their appointment, we send out an email that provides the guest the opportunity to rate their experience, leave a Google review, give a video testimonial, and provide personal feedback regarding their consultation and service experience.
Our management team continuously monitors Yelp & Google reviews. We always write back to anyone within 24 hours, which has left a review of our salon. We love to thank them for their feedback and offer a solution if it’s a negative experience. We also thank them for a positive review. Many times this has helped save a guest from leaving us, and we gain respect and loyalty in that process. This tactic also produces new business for the salon, as it shows people that we are paying attention and will always rectify or resolve conflict.
I recently had a guest tell me that the one reason they picked our salon was not because of the GOOD reviews but how we had responded to the negative ones. Because we care and always come across as professional, she felt safe coming to our business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without my life coach/therapist, Rebecca Hamm. I met with her once a week for the first five years after I opened my business. I am down to every other week now. When you are an entrepreneur, you frequently need someone in your corner who can call you on your BS in a gentle way. She does that for me. She has helped me overcome my ego and become a boss in every sense of the word.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to meet Bethenny Frankel. I love the empire that she has created with her brand. She has had many challenges in life and has overcome them all with laughter and even more success. I am so proud of her!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram & Twitter: @urbanbetty
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/urbanbetty/