Episode 127: Chelle Neff, Founder and CEO of Urban Betty
Updated: Jun 17
I have the pleasure of speaking to Shelly Neff, the founder of urban Betty Shelly.
I am from Austin, Texas. I have lived here since 95. I grew up in Abilene, TX. I'm like a fifth-generation Texan, and I did cosmetology in high school, so in the late 90s, I graduated with my degree in hand and just started working at Supercuts of all places. Because I wanted to see, you know, should I cut her is this really what I want to do, and I learned quickly, yeah, I can do this. Still, I don't want to do men and children here all day. I tried to get a little more creative and do bridal stuff in color and all that, so I just worked my way up up up up and to hire and salons and ten years later opened my brick and mortar, and my real name is Betty Shelly.
I'm named after my grandmother, so I called it urban Betty. It came from that, with six chairs in about 1500 square feet. It was myself, and then I had one contractor just renting a chair for me. She wasn't an employee or anything, and six months later, when I was ready to jump off a cliff, I decided to hire the first assistant. She came in and said I'm looking for a job. I would love to be an assistant. It was a godsend because I was like, I don't know how anyone does all this by themselves, you understand, and I only had one other person working there. So she was my first employee, and that they're in started me trusting the process to let myself have employees, and once I got her out on the floor a year later and saw, OK, I can do this.
I can you know I did have a panic attack trying to figure out how to create the first paycheck but that was OK and she still works for me to this day which is fantastic and we're now that was in 2005 So what are we 17 years and now I have two locations that are up and running I just purchased a third location we have a product line I have over 70 full-time employees now and we've been on the Inc 5000 list four times so it's just it's and I retired from doing here in 2017 because I had to get my head in the business and not be behind the chair anymore just got to be too much trying to balance both of those and I I look back now and I'm like I honestly don't know how I ever did that anyway so I mean it's it's it's been a great ride that's amazing so you kind of started get started from the ground up yeah cutting hair and you kind of climbed the ranks what inspired you to go ahead and launch your own business in in in pursue that path I think you know it's I've always joked with people that adversity in my life has given me the drive to do things and I I looked at my parents and kind of sometimes some of the things that they did and I said this is not what I'm gonna do'cause they had a very hard life they had me when they were teenagers all these things and so I was working at a salon company and I was so unhappy and the owner there and like sat in her glass tower and it was this million dollar salon but you never even barely looked her in the eye and she just doesn't seem like a natural person to me and there were all these things with our pay and just weird stuff that was happening that I just was like you know what I think I wanna do this one day and of course I was like I'm gonna do all the things that she didn't do and I'm gonna do it right.
That's not the way you run a business. I learned that very quickly, but that's how most of us start just by learning, like here are all the places I've worked, and I'm going to do my own. I'm going to do it better, and then you start to get humbled, so I think it just had an awful experience in just wanting to try it myself. It took me five or six years, I think, before I opened my salon gotcha, you're doing well, you have a lot of success, and a lot of times in entrepreneurship, people see the shiny finished product, and they don't see the challenges along the way. Can you talk about your experience starting your own company and what it was like growing your business over the years? Yeah, so like I said, we opened in 2005.
I was only 27, which is crazy to think about now because you know when you're 27, you're like, Oh my gosh, I'm over the hill. I just started winging it and doing everything because all you see, I had a high school diploma, now a cosmetology license I didn't have any business classes. It just got more complicated and complex, but we were growing, and I thought, well, how do you make more money? You keep bringing in more people. We got a bigger space, and then I was like, OK.
I walked into our office here in my manager said there can only be 10 people in every business at a time and here we have now 30 stations so that means we can have not all of the stations are usually pull at once but we can have up to 50 or more people in this location alone and so that's uh like but I just I it's funny 'cause she's usually the one that talks to me off the legends the column person but I in that moment was like we've got it we can get five stylist separatum here five people only go in there every other chair will make it work little did we know a week later they were just gonna shut everything down I think but we just went into to plan mode and I think a lot of times people go into freeze mode but I just went into like I if I if I can sit there and think about something and then have another person again like she went in and actually executed that and and work with it it it even helped us 'cause when we came back we were only using every other chair just to be safe and so it helped us learn how to utilize that order schedule and then we added we were closing early on Sundays but now we're literally open from 8:30 AM to 9:00 PM seven days a week and we double shift our stations that way we can have someone that's here from 8:30 to 2:30 and then someone that's here from 3 to 9 so we consensually have two employees at every chair instead of one employee just working at midship and we just we went in full force and said this is the new protocol here's what we're doing so we can get more clients in and more people in but still keep it safe.
It was another thing that we we never went back to the old way we just kept it that way and actually was better for my business at the end of the day and so I I can't again say as awful as having to close down and and going through a pandemic happened we came out ahead in the end that's great and right now there's a I mean I think all the restrictions are clear right folks can so like number of people that are limited to masks or they changed that and we don't we're not masks are not mandatory but obviously if people want to wear them they can we have some place that still do and some that don't it's just kind of up to you great so you talked a little bit about your locations earlier you have one on 38th St and one on South Congress currently and then you have the third one that's in the works is that right exactly yeah and the people go in there another one and I'm like just let me breathe no it's nice OK let's let's jump into the services that you offer for your clients yeah so talk a little bit about what you offering are they are the same services that you offer in the two locations currently yeah they are so we're all right now only her but what's exciting like we do column maturity of what we do is hair color I would say 85% of our businesses hair color but we are super excited because our expansion on our 38th St location just finished and we actually added a treatment room so we're gonna be doing body waxing facials dermaplaning all the things I think they're doing ground laminating I don't even know all the it's I can't wait just to get these services for myself honestly but also then when we open our Round Rock location we're gonna have two treatment rooms there where we are doing facials and body waxes and such it's not a pool spa by any means but it is just something a little extra that people can come in and get you know a facial or they can get their wax because before you know our stylists were doing waxing but they would do it at the shampoo bowl so we wanted to upgrade that make it a little more special and have our when word dedicated to that so her and esthetician services are what we offer so for folks that are interested in in to checking out urban Betty is it best if they make a reservation is it that you do walk-ins or how does it work we we don't turn away walk-ins if we have the space it's it's just kind of a gamble.
I always love to when I come in go can anyone just do a quick blow out on me and that never happens and I'm like oh man I should know like make an appointment myself so the best thing is to go on our website which is urbanbetty.com and I'm at the bottom there's a tab that says book now and that's the easiest way to get in and then if you live in South Austin so Co is closest and then if you live in north Austin or central Austin 38 is perfect for that area gotcha so you said you have your own product line I you know I think my experience when you go into this line you typical to see salons have a product line that's or products that are not theirs right and so you have your own product line that's super interesting how did you get interested in doing that and you just talk a little bit about it generally yeah so I gosh in 2017 I was at the eight 5000 conference and that's when I had the same year I retired from doing her and I was like you know I I'm I really want I'm curious to take on like what's the next pivot for our brand for our business and I met a woman there who created products and just called Texas beauty labs at the time there something different now and they create a product for other companies and I'm trying to think I can't think of one but the deodorant was one of their main CPG goods that they were making for someone and I just talked to her a little bit about it she ended up not being a fit for my company but I ended up going with another company to help formulate this product for me and in that process it's funny because I have dealt with fertility issues and headaches and all these things call my wife and I was talking to a dietitian and she said well I'm gonna need you to cut everything out of your life that's scented because that caught triggers a hormonal response in use what's causing these migrate sounds like scented you know I work in a salon what hair color believe it or not that's a synthetic scent that does not have this body does not have the same reaction but floral scents flowers candles hand so your dish detergent like literally everything you can think of that has the scent triggers a hormonal response and so I was like let me test out some unscented shampoos and conditioners great I can't even bring anything home from my own salon now and I kept trying home and I was like God these are all terrible especially 'cause I'm a whole head of bleach here so I need some serious like good products and in that I had this all home and I was like well I'm already creating a shampoo and condition why don't I make an unscented version too so that was more where I came in and said OK now I really have a passion behind this project because I wanna be able to buy something for my own salon that I can put in my own shower that's good for me and I know a lot of people probably have this issue and they don't even realize it.
I know I had a guest for many years and she would usually just use whatever she had at home and I would rinse her hair because everything we have is 2 strong ascent on her so that's where it all kind of came from so we have the lavender sentence did shampoo and conditioner for people that are OK with conviction and then obviously have the same it's the same formula but it's an unscented version of the shampoo conditioner and my goal is to expand the product line add more products just for it to remain a boutique product line but most just most of the things people everyday in their hair and that is something that I would love to you know if anyone is listening and wants to be an investor or has any knows anybody that you know wants to help out with that I am all about it because as anyone knows creating your own product line in marketing it and all that this is separate from urban Betty even though it isn't Urban Betty product it's listen to itself and so I need help growing that because she even sure what it's like how many years and so it's not easy if it was everybody would do it they say so that's that's my goal I want to expand that that's amazing and so that your product line you you cell there at your locations but you also sell them online I do sell it online so it's shop urbanbetty.com OK and so is that a website that is floor bed if you have like a separate one for the product line or is it just on on your row separate so you can find if you go on urbanbetty.com you can click the products tab and it'll take you to that too or you can just go to shopurbanbetty.com so they're both you can utilize both.
I've had a few of our stylists and myself went in and just did some hair tutorial videos showing different ways you can sell your hair and it's exciting too because I just thought of this we actually have something called Betty boot camp in hair salons and if you go to our website you'll see that too and it's me teach classes to normal everyday people that wanna come in and learn how to do their own hair 'cause how many times do we leave the salon and you're like I can't do this at home are you kidding me so if you come in we have like a beach waves class we have a breeding class we even a scalp massage class I don't think we haven't launched it we were just excited we're able to actually launch these again because of the kovid restrictions so we are doing that so a blowout class so you can learn how to round brush your hair too so that's exciting so the videos are almost kind of complementary to that but I know I wanna know that in the classes are small they're like four to six people you can bring your friends you can bring your wine and just kind of learn how to fix your own parents taught by one of our stylists it sounds like fun it's really cool yeah so I notice you have quite a few awards and accolades for yourself and for this alone can you just talk about some of those I mean that's not entrepreneur startup of the year Austin under 4020 nineteen you got one of the best CEOs by Austin Business Journal talk about some some of the other ones that that that you've been awarded mean the most important ones to temiar Inc 5000 I you know submitted like three or four times and before we made it on that list and to me that was really important because that's nationwide I mean it's it's amazing to have the ones in Austin too in the Austin woman magazine one was really amazing because all these are not easy like you're submitting your financials or essays or it's a group of your peers looking over all the things that you've written and so I and I tell most people you know when we started the only awards I knew about were like Austin city search which I don't even think that's around anymore but we submitted for that and it doesn't matter what size you are 'cause I think we had six people working there like look in your town and look at what like you'd be surprised and most of the times there's a voice in my head that always says are you even good enough for that or can you do it who cares like fill it out that's a lot I mean and you probably won't make it the first few times it's just keep doing it because then what was cool as I got to see the questions and it was like what have you done to get back in your community and what have you and I was like this is what I need to get on like these are the important things and it's not don't just do it to one in award is not what I'm saying but it was cool to look at these are things they value that are important in a business owner so I should value that as well and so not only did it give me this glimpse into what it is to be a Better Business owner I ended up being able to win some of these awards at everyone like get out there and network and apply for every single award you can if your nonprofit apply for every single grant you can just get your name out there don't be scared.
we're always hiring we always you know we love everyone here, and so we're people always ask like we're looking to hire we you know I don't know I'm just excited everything is growing, and I'll probably think of a million ways I could have answered this question once we get yeah that that sounds good for folks that are they want to find more information about you urban Betty online and social media what's the best way for them to get in touch with for them to find information, so urbanbetty.com is our website we are at urban Betty salon on Instagram for the salon, and it's just at Urban Betty for myself you can DM me on there that's where I'll see it, and then the best way to contact the salon through e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org