Female Disruptors: Chelle Neff is revolutionizing the hair industry for stylists and customers
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelle Neff, Founder of Urban Betty. Recently listed on the 2018 Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was driven to style hair from a young age and I intuitively knew at age 10 that this was my calling while growing up in Abilene, Texas. By the age of 16 I was enrolled in cosmetology school and by 18 in 1995, I was officially licensed.
I was hungry to learn more and keep challenging myself to upgrade to higher end salons before finally nabbing my own chair at a Salon Suite space.
Being independent led to a need for a business identity. And thus the Urban Betty brick and mortar was born in 2005, inspired by the name Betty which is mine and my grandmother’s name. My legal name is Betty Michelle and I go by Chelle.
Why did you found your company?
After 10 years of being behind the chair, I needed something else. My inspiration wasn’t being fulfilled and I knew I couldn’t keep doing hair. So I opened my own salon for the freedom and the ability to create something different that no one else was doing. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, not a hairstylist.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I opened my own salon in 2005 and in 2017, I had the best year ever, grossing $2.2 million dollars in my 24-chair salon, paying my employees above industry salaries WITH BENEFITS (¼ of the stylists make six figures in my salon, where the industry average is $22k) and opening a 2nd location in 2018.
I am bringing in three current employees to be part stakeholders at the new location — encouraging entrepreneurship and helping women achieve their dreams of owning a business. I’ve created an app for stylists called FyleStyle, which tracks client information. We host personal growth retreats for our employees and have developed an innovative system of mentorship.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I can think of 2 right now. The first is my life coach/therapist/healer, Rebecca Hamm. I met with her once a week the first 5 years after I opened my business. I am down to every other week now. When you are an entrepreneur you constantly 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.
The second mentor is the great Michael Cole, who is a former hairstylist and the founder of Summit Salon Systems. He created a system for salons which allows structure for your entire team and a business coach. This literally changed my life and saved my business by helping me create systems and structure within my salon
How are you going to shake things up next?
My latest and greatest project is called Betty Bootcamp. For the longest time in our industry, no one has been able to show customers how to style their own hair at home successfully after their appointment. We are offering one on one classes that our stylists teach. Guests can come back into the salon for a Betty Bootcamp workshop and learn how to curl, style and blowout their own hair.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
One of my favorite sayings is “How do you eat an elephant?” I started saying this to myself after learning it in a self help group. It came at a time where I was starting my salon and when I got overwhelmed thinking about the finish line, I would say this to myself. The best thing I could do was to stop and just keep doing the next right thing.
The best words of advice I have ever received are: “You can’t control the conditions of another human being, and you never will.” When you have 40+ employees and 100+ guests in your business per day, it gets hard to be everything to everyone. I literally say this advice to myself in my head at least 4 times every day.
“Make it work!” Tim Gunn used to say this on Project Runway. I would watch that show and hear him say that and it clicked for me. I say that so many times to so many people when they come to me needing help at work. Like when we are out of a certain hair color and you have to make it by mixing other colors together or we’ve only got 20 minutes to do a highlight. Saying “Make it work!” instead of just giving up always does the trick.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I have a terrible fear of public speaking. I would get so in my head that I didn’t even want to get up and talk in our monthly staff meetings. I knew I needed some serious help.
Last year, I took the 12 week course by Dale Carnegie and I read that book. That class literally changed my life and my thoughts on public speaking and how I interact with my staff and the public. I even won an award in on of the classes for a story that I told!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I really have become a big fan of Marcus Lemonis. I watch The Profit on CNBC and I can’t get enough of what he does and how he helps other businesses. I would love to pick his brain and find out how he became so intuitively aware of what to do in problematic situations within your business. I would also love to find out how to franchise my salon with his help!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
IG: @urbanbetty Twitter: @urbanbetty