Chelle Neff of Urban Betty: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Become More Sustainable

Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine
Published in
9 min readJul 27, 2020

I would love to inspire a movement of supporting other people’s successes. The world is not one pie for everyone. We each have our own pie! When one person is successful, they are never taking away from you. Your worth and all that you have are based on your emotional well-being and your beliefs surrounding that. Whenever you celebrate another person’s success, you draw that same energy onto yourself. I would love for everyone out there to want others to succeed and be happy for them!

As a part of my series about the strategies that companies are taking to become more sustainable, 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 and has more than 20 years of experience creating innovative practices in the salon and beauty worlds. Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty’s revenue year after year and today has a space that houses more than 60 employees. So successful was the first location that she opened the second Urban Betty Salon in 2019.

In addition to her work with Urban Betty, Neff is fascinated with Austin architecture. She and her husband, David J. Neff, created The Weird Homes Tour, and their first book came out in 2018, {Weird Homes: The People and Places That Keep Austin Strangely Wonderful}.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was led to this career path from my sheer motivation to do better in my life. My parents had me when they were teenagers, and we lived from paycheck to paycheck when I was young. I knew that if I wanted to go to college, I would need to find a way to pay for it myself, along with my cost of living. I naturally had a knack for doing hair and art, so when I was 16 years old and had the chance to enroll in cosmetology school while in high school, I did so and became fully licensed at 18. The beauty school route was much more affordable for me than the traditional college route, so that’s what led me to pursue it. Ten years later, I bootstrapped my brick and mortar called Urban Betty.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

“Here at Urban Betty, we empower each other to grow. We remain connected with each other and our guests while constantly evolving.”

I created this mission statement to encapsulate the essence of Urban Betty. We’ve created an environment at my salon company where each employee is supported in their career paths, while collectively working towards the company’s goals. We don’t believe in micromanaging our staff as we value each team member having autonomy in their day-to-day jobs, and having the power to their success. I also wanted to emphasize the kinship of our staff, our community, and our passion for growth and sustainability. Urban Betty started in 2005 with just myself and one employee and has since grown to over 50 employees; hence, why Urban Betty is a place that genuinely welcomes evolution and change.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Last year, we became a Green Circle Salon. Green Circle provides the world’s first sustainable salon solution to recover and repurpose beauty waste. At our salon company, we collect, recycle, and repurpose all of our hair clippings, used foils, color-tubes, excess hair color, papers, plastics, and glass. We have separate bins for each item located in our break room and color dispensary, and we send them back to Green Circle every month.

We charge a small (optional) Eco Fee of $2.50 per guest to cover the cost. So far, Green Circle has diverted over six million pounds of waste from landfills and waterways. We are so excited to be a part of that revolution.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or an example?

A business can become more profitable by being environmentally conscious, a fact clients reveal to us all the time, both through the research they are conducting online when searching for a sustainable salon and from what they say to us directly when they come in for a visit. It is important to them and therefore of great significance to us.

We draw in new stylists for that reason as well. Most recently, we had a new stylist apply to work for our salon company because she liked that we were an eco-conscious salon. As more and more Millennials become your customers and employees, they are choosing your business because of your practices around the environment.

The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are five things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Give back. Teach your children about climate change by having them be involved with a non-profit that focuses on climate change. Get them involved with the Sierra Club or something like-minded.
  2. Get them outside. Taking kids to pick up garbage along the beaches or in nature is a great way to help them feel empowered to clean up the environment.
  3. Teach them how to garden. Learning about plants and how they help the earth is HUGE. It’s also a fun thing to do and very rewarding to see plants give you food.
  4. Drive an electric car. We have a Tesla, and nothing speaks louder than actually living your truth. When your kids see you in an electric vehicle, and you’re not dependent upon gas to get around, it will make a difference and an impact on how they view sustainability.
  5. Plant a tree! This is a great way to show kids how to give back to mother earth. It may seem like a small thing, but if we all did it, it would make a substantial impact.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Don’t sweat bad reviews. The busier you get, the more online reviews you are going to receive. And that’s not a bad thing AT ALL. Let me warn you though, about 1% of them are going to be negative. You’re not pizza; you can’t please all the people all the time. I remember the first negative review that we received on Yelp. I cried for several hours and couldn’t sleep all night. Now when we get one, of course, I am peeved. However, it only lasts 30 minutes max. I will warn you, take time before you respond to that review. Get your emotions under control and be professional.
  2. Let people go with love. Employees are going to leave; it’s a fact of life. The average lifespan of a stylist in the salon industry is 4–5 years. I made the mistake of trying to talk several of them into staying and letting them know what a terrible choice they were making. Guess what? That only made them want to leave more. (It’s the same philosophy as when someone tries to break up with you.) If they are choosing to leave under reasonable circumstances, cheer them on and let them go in peace. I remember one time when I made a whole spreadsheet for an employee about how much more money they would make by staying with me instead of leaving. That DID NOT work. They left feeling as if I thought they were stupid. I later apologized after learning this and guess what, that employee came back to work for me. Never try to talk someone into loving you or staying at your business if they want to leave.
  3. You probably won’t make a profit or even get a paycheck for a while. For each business, the timing on that can be different. I was keeping my head just above water for the first 10 years. I remember after I first expanded in 2010 and added 6 chairs, half of my staff left. They felt like the company was getting “too big” and wanted to stay in a smaller space. I understand that now, at the time, it was like a knife in my heart, both emotionally and financially. I had to live off of tax returns and a small loan from one of my best friends just to make my house rent, bills, and car payments for about six months.
  4. If you’re a recovering perfectionist, aka control freak, don’t hire contractors. Instead, have employees. Your brand is your brand. If you have people that have their own brand (contractors) inside your business, that can be much harder to control. I quickly learned that the best way to achieve a profit and a cohesive culture was to switch to an all employee-based business model with structure. In 2010, I changed my salon company to 100% commission, my brand flourished, and everyone was on the same page.
  5. Hire a business coach or consulting group. In 2013, I was floundering and in the negative in my bank account a lot of the time. I remember my banker calling every other day to make sure that deposits were going to come through so that we could cover expenses. It was embarrassing and extremely stressful. In 2014, I joined the Summit Salon Business Center and hired a business coach. Since bringing on the consulting group and coach, I have grown Urban Betty’s income by a whopping 82%. In 2018, Urban Betty Salon generated $3.4 million in revenue, making it one of the highest-grossing salons in Austin. That same year, Urban Betty made Inc. 5000’s list of Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies in the country and was one of only four hair salons to make it on the list. I was also able to retire from doing hair and focus solely on the branding and marketing of the business, which is what I now love!

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 about that?

Yes! I’m going to give credit to my spiritual mentor, 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 always need someone in your corner who can call you on your B.S. in a gentle way. She does that for me. She has helped me to overcome my ego and become a boss in every sense of the word.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would love to inspire a movement of supporting other people’s successes. The world is not one pie for everyone. We each have our own pie! When one person is successful, they are never taking away from you. Your worth and all that you have are based on your emotional well-being and your beliefs surrounding that. Whenever you celebrate another person’s success, you draw that same energy onto yourself. I would love for everyone out there to want others to succeed and be happy for them!

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

My favorite quote is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I heard this quote right after opening my salon company and I was utterly overwhelmed with all of the things that I needed to do. I believe that all movement is forward movement. Even the smallest action like having coffee with another business owner — asking them one question may help you get to where you want to go.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

Instagram: @urbanbetty

Twitter: @urbanbetty

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!



Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts