Tired of house calls, Alli Webb built a Drybar styling empire

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A decade ago, Alli Webb was a hair stylist who made house calls, driving all over Los Angeles to shampoo, style, and blow-dry clients’ hair before big nights out.

Alli Webb, owner of Drybar, appears in an undated handout photo provided by Alli Webb in Irvine, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. Courtesy of Alli Webb/Handout via REUTERS

Huge demand for her services led her to open Drybar, a Brentwood hair salon that exclusively offers blowouts. Today, the business she built operates 115 salons across the United States, with 3,000 employees and over a $100 million in annual revenue.

Webb spoke to Reuters about financial lessons she has learned over the years.

Q: Did your parents inspire your entrepreneurship when you were growing up in South Florida?

A: When I was in elementary school, my parents opened a clothing store, called Flip’s, which was my dad’s nickname. We sold older ladies’ clothes. Our whole family revolved around the store. Entrepreneurship was bred in us.

I started working there when I was around 10. We’d go over after school, and do whatever our parents made us do - sweeping the floors, putting tags on the clothes. There were thousands of little menial tasks. We didn’t realize we were getting an education, but we really saw how they operated their business, how they bent over backward for customers.

Q: Did that influence how you worked when you were older?

A: When I was 16, I got a job at the mall, at (clothing store) Express. The other employees got annoyed with me because I was working too hard, they thought I was showing off. But that was something my parents had instilled in us - that you always treat the place where you work like it’s your own.

Q: Before starting Drybar, you worked as a hair stylist. Your husband worked in advertising. Was money tight in those days?

A: When our first son was born, we had just moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We’d gathered up money enough to buy a little one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica and we were stretched.

There was definitely a period where we were arguing a lot, because he would be working all day, and I would be staying home with the baby and spending money all day - I signed up for every mommy group, every kid activity. Finally, we got super disciplined. I started tracking every single thing we purchased in a budgeting app. It helped so much. After that we kind of stopped arguing. I always tell my newly married friends: Get a budget app!

Q: How did starting Drybar change the way you think about money?

A: I started the business with my husband and brother. At first financing a business was such a foreign concept to me. My brother said, ‘I’m going to put up the capital, and you’re going to do the sweat equity.’ I said, ‘what’s sweat equity?’ I was prepared for hard work, but over time I became aware of just how much money it takes to build a business - that you have to raise it from investors. We raised and raised, I was like, God can we ever stop having to raise money? But you have to keep doing it to keep growing.

Q: You have two sons, 11 and 13. What attitudes about money do you want to pass onto them?

A: The mentality I grew up with was, if you want to spend money, you’re going to have to earn it for yourself. We do nice things as a family, but my sons certainly know that just because mommy and daddy have money, that doesn’t mean that when they leave the house that it’s coming with them.

Q: Now that Drybar is established, how are you thinking about philanthropy?

A: It’s still relatively new for me. So far I just give to causes I care about - gun control issues, helping immigrant families. But I’m in the earliest stages of setting up my own foundation, we’re just starting to map it out.

I am very involved with Baby2Baby, a local charity here that raises money and items like diapers for mothers in need. I also just joined the board of The Little Market, a non-profit company that empowers women from impoverished communities to sell their crafts online. For me it comes down to women and families. Whether with my business or charity, helping women is very important to me.

(This version of the story has been refiled to change number of salons to 115)

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Susan Thomas