It was a dream that made absolutely no sense to Michael Landau. But this was his sister and he loved her very much and so he set out to help her make it happen.
“I not only knew nothing about the hair and beauty business when this started, I also have no hair,” Landau says. “I’m completely bald and I didn’t understand why women would want a [professional] blowout, why they needed a blowout or why they would pay someone else to get a blowout.”
Landau’s sister, Alli Webb, had launched a small mobile hair blowout business in Los Angeles and it really took off. It was so successful that she couldn’t keep up with the demand, so Landau decided to step in and try to take the concept to the next level.
“I lent her the money to do her first store,” Landau says.
The response was staggering.
“We had an eight-chair shop in Brentwood,” Landau says. “When you’re in the restaurant business, sometimes it’s a good problem to have when you can’t get a reservation because you seem hot. For us, our clients were getting so annoyed that they couldn’t get in.”
Landau and Webb quickly opened three more stores and they were just as jammed with business. This new company named Drybar simply could not grow fast enough. Waiting lists were 40 and 50 people deep on the weekends and customers were driving from all over the city to get their hair blown out.
“It was fast and furious,” Landau says. “For the first year, it was all hands on deck, chaotic, working around the clock 24 hours just to keep the door open and everything happening the way it should.”
The company has grown in a little more than two years to more than 850 employees who do about 24,000 blowouts each month. A dozen new locations are expected to open this year, doubling the size of Drybar.
“It was just amazing how people were coming from what felt like all walks of life and they were traveling an hour or an hour and a half from different cities all over L.A.,” Webb says. “It was really amazing and humbling and gave us the fuel to keep going.”
So what’s the key to succeeding when your business grows infinitely faster than you ever imagined it could? Landau says it all comes back to satisfying your customers, even if that means chasing them out the door, following them down the street and buying them a cup of coffee to make them happy.
Keep your customers content
If you asked Webb about the moment her brother chased a disgruntled customer out the door at Drybar, she might tell you Michael had it coming. It was his zeal, after all, that often left the store bursting at the seams.
“In those very early days, Michael would be in the shop sitting in the back answering the phone and telling anybody, ‘Yeah, come in, come over!’” Webb says. “I was like, ‘No, stop, because we had a line out the door.’ We didn’t have enough stylists, but Michael couldn’t say no because he was just so happy and excited to have all the interest.”
But back to the unhappy customer. She saw a sign that said walk-ins were welcome and came in, but quickly discovered it was going to be a long time until she was serviced. Then she had a bad experience with a cashier and that just made things worse.
“I witnessed this whole thing,” Landau says. “I watched the woman leave the store so upset. So I followed her out and ran down the street because I was determined to not let this person leave so upset.”
He brought gift certificates and tried to give them to her as a peace offering. She wouldn’t accept it and continued walking and Landau thought he had indeed lost her. But then he decided to give it one more shot.
“It was in front of a Starbucks and I said, ‘It’s going to ruin my week if I can’t apologize properly to you. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?’” Landau says. “She actually got a kick out of it and we went inside, and I bought her a cup of coffee and I started talking to her.
“The bottom line is this woman ended up not only becoming such a great client, but she told so many of her friends about that story and how the owner did this and did that.
“We learned early on that you can take a negative situation and really turn it into a positive. It’s one thing when people just like you. But it’s another thing when a leader is put to the test in terms of dealing with a negative situation or a problem. That’s where you can show your true colors and turn a customer around and keep them for life.”
When you have a business that is really taking off, that’s obviously a great thing. But there’s also the potential to create hard feelings if someone doesn’t get to experience your business because of the high volume. You won’t please everyone, but you’ve got to try.
“We’re dealing with a high volume of customers and sometimes, things go wrong,” Webb says. “Michael and I established early on that we care so much about the customer and the customer experience and we want everybody to be happy and we don’t want to let even one person leave unhappy. You see that with our girls and all our people in the shop how they bend over backward for the customers.”
In an attempt to ease the chaos in the stores, and reduce the risk of another disgruntled customer storming out of the store, Landau and Webb decided to move the act of taking reservations to an off-site location.
“We hired and trained very quickly a call receptionist who could work from home and just plug in the Internet phone to the computer and we could route our phone calls to them,” Landau says. “It was such a breath of fresh air because now our customers were calling and it was a quiet place where they could have a conversation, the client could hear us and we could hear them. That really took the pressure off in one certain aspect in a major way.”
Manage your culture
In the styling business, it’s obviously critical that you have people who can do great things with their hands. But if their personality is abrasive, you may not get much return business.
“We’ve come across great stylists who are amazing at hair, but they are just not all that friendly or personable,” Webb says. “To us, that’s not a winning combination and that’s not what we look for. Unfortunately I’ve had to let stylists go who were fantastic at hair, but they were divas or they didn’t share our over-the-top customer service. That is definitely a challenge.”
Landau learned just how much people value great customer service and a welcoming personality when he finally gave into his sister and let a stylist go who had great skills, but not a lot of personal skills.
“Alli really wanted to get rid of her and I was so scared because she had such a following and so many people coming to her,” Landau says. “We debated ad nauseam over it and Alli won and we got rid of her. I have to tell you she was so right. The whole attitude in the shop changed. There was such a change in the energy and the vibe of the shop in terms of the other stylists and how they got along.”
Webb says you can’t underestimate the value of having team players who your employees and customers like being around.
“If you’re causing problems with the staff and the stylists and bringing things down, it’s just not a good fit,” Webb says. “It’s not going to work.”
Landau says Drybar has found success by developing leaders and grooming them for more responsibility in the company.
“As we grew and became more sophisticated organizationally, we tried to bring in more experienced managers,” Landau says. “It didn’t work as well. They didn’t have the respect of their co-workers. For us, it just works so much better when we bring people from within that we’ve had a chance to get to know and we’ve nurtured.”
You need to share with people what your vision and culture is all about and make sure they understand it so they can live it with your customers.
“There’s a lot of training that we do, but I think it’s more philosophical,” Landau says. “We’ve worked on defining and articulating what our core values are as an organization and making sure our key managers have an active part in that.
“That way, there can be broad-based buy-in for that, and you’re making sure you’re building a foundation where people really understand what the vision is. They can become leaders within their individual organizations and kind of extend that.”
Get good people
When a business is growing as fast as Drybar, there can often be a lot of pressure when it comes to hiring. You need people fast and you may be tempted to skip a few steps just to get people out on the floor faster.
It would be a mistake. But there are ways you can learn more quickly whether a person is a good fit for your organization.
At least for me personally, I feel like I can tell when I’m interviewing somebody if they’ve done their homework on Drybar,” Webb says. “They know a lot about us. Our website is pretty extensive and they come in with that hunger and excitement saying, ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for something like this. I love styling hair and I really want to be part of it.’
“You can get that as opposed to the person who comes in and says, ‘Oh, you guys don’t do haircuts?’ That person hasn’t taken the time or the interest to really see who we are. That would create a huge red flag for me. You haven’t even checked out our website.”
If a prospective employee is more concerned about their own future, that’s not always a good thing. You want people who want to grow as individuals, but in an interview, you want people who are excited about what you do.
“You really have to dig deeper,” Landau says. “We would rather have somebody who is so passionate about what we’re doing and our brand and about what’s going on and who really wants to be here because that person, we can teach certain stuff. But you can’t teach that passion. You can see that attitude.”
Webb says she always has her eyes open for people who show the ability to be a leader so that she can provide encouragement and get them to show even more.
“We’re always looking at people and we’re always even encouraging stylists who are showing more leadership capability and tremendous enthusiasm and passion for the brand and the company to consider management,” Webb says. “We put a bug in their ear and that starts it.”
How to reach: Drybar, (877) 379-2279 or www.thedrybar.com
The Webb and Landau Files
Born: We were both born in Long Island, N.Y., but grew up in Boca Raton, Fla.
Education: For 25 years, our family had a retail clothing store that both Alli and I grew up in, sweeping the floors. It’s where we really learned many of our philosophies on customer service. We come from a family that is a fourth-generation retailer.
It was just what all the kids in our family did.
Webb on working with her parents: I feel like I learned so much early on. My first job was actually in retail because that’s all I knew and that’s what my parents did. But I remember so well being young and treating wherever I worked like I owned it because that’s what my parents did.
I feel so incredibly grateful for how much of those values we got from our parents without even really knowing it. A lot of that comes through in our business now and it helps us to be successful.
Who has been the biggest influence on Landau?
Seth Godin. I speak to him or e-mail him on a daily basis and he’s just been a mentor of mine. His philosophies on marketing have shaped everything that I do and I definitely, without being overly dramatic, wouldn’t be who I am today without Seth.
Who has been the biggest influence on Webb?
Michael thinks it’s Michael. He has taught me a lot, even in Drybar, with more of the business side. I still kid him that I’ve taught him about the hair side. But I think if I had to pick, it’s probably mostly my parents.
Keep your customers happy.
You can’t cover up a bad attitude.
Encourage people who show leadership.