Surround yourself with people who appreciate you. You are worthy of kindness and love. I’m not going to give the old spill about hair and makeup. You’ve got that. What you need now is good, clean, positive energy around you that will help you radiate beauty. I remember this when I ordered a weird facial mask and had it lying out on the counter. My husband left a post-it on it, saying, “You don’t need this. You’re already gorgeous.” It was something so powerful yet so simple. You know what? I threw that mask away, and I kept that post-it. It’s now in the drawer with all my beauty creams, and I take time to look at that note often. That’s what helps me feel beautiful.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelle Neff. She has been a leader in the U.S. salon industry since founding Urban Betty in 2005. Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty year after year and today has a salon company that houses more than 60 employees and 2 locations. In 2018 & 2019, Urban Betty was named one of the fastest-growing privately held companies by Inc. 5000. If you want to learn more about Chelle, please follow her on Instagram @urbanbetty or visit chelleneff.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ibegan my journey as an entrepreneur first by being an employee in the salon industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do hair. I jumped at the offer to enroll in cosmetology school while in high school at the age of sixteen. This opportunity was amazing because it meant directing my path toward exploring a real passion of mine. During my junior and senior years, I attended half days of regular classes and a half-day in cosmetology school.
When I received my license, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts. I slowly worked my way up the ladder to more high-end salons. Five years later, I got a small suite at the Gallery of Salons in Austin, Texas, and became an independent contractor. That was my first stepping stone towards running my own business. In 2005, Urban Betty opened and now has two locations and almost 60 employees.
Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I initially structured the pricing list for services at my salon, I offered package deals and all sorts of special discounts. I thought surely this was the best way to draw in new business. After struggling to make ends meet, I finally ran a report to see how much money we were giving away. It was an astonishing $50,000 in just one year! After that, I hired a salon consulting company and a business coach — Summit Salon Business Center. Within the first three months of hiring Summit, we restructured the pricing on our service list to an a la carte menu with only a limited amount of discounts. Our revenue grew by 30% the following year! Once our profits quickly turned around, I was able to retire from doing hair in 2016 and focus solely on managing Urban Betty.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Yes, there was a massive trigger for me that I regard as my tipping point. I was in a relationship with a person who wasn’t right for me. I started having extreme dizzy spells, and I knew then I needed to get out of that relationship and focus on myself and get in a safe place. I started therapy, and after a few years, only then did I slowly learn how to love and accept me. I immediately noticed a reflection of that within my business. When you’re in a bad spot emotionally, your business will always reflect that. Once I started to improve myself emotionally, my business took off financially. Whenever we want something to happen on the outside, we have to start with the inside.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would not be where I am today without my life coach/therapist, 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 overcome my ego and become a boss in every sense of the word.
Okay super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The beauty industry today has access to technology that was inconceivable only a short time ago. Can you tell us about the “cutting edge” (pardon the pun) technologies that you are working with or introducing? How do you think that will help people?
The future of technology and beauty is rapidly changing, especially this year with the pandemic. We have utilized virtual consultations, product affiliate programs, and checking guests in through text messaging. It’s just a few ways we’ve been able to serve our guests in the beauty industry with technology instead of touch. I feel this is going to remain the norm and forever change how my salon interacts with guests. I believe that virtual consultations are the wave of the future for guests seeking hair color, cuts, or even full makeovers. With Zoom becoming so popular during the pandemic, this has enabled us to consult with guests without them entering the salon company. This technology will help people who live far away or otherwise skip coming in because they don’t want to take time out of their day for a consultation. This solution makes it simple and something that they can do from the privacy and comfort of their own home.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Yes, I can. With all the beauty filters out there on popular social media apps, it’s created a crazy sense of false expectations from the public. People seek out doctors to get their faces sculpted to match a filter, but they are also asking for hair colors that aren’t achievable. We have guests consistently bringing in photos that are over-filtered and not real life. It’s a constant explanation of why the Kardashians can have black and white-blonde hair in the same week. Wigs and app filters give people this perception that you can do anything with your face and hair. And unfortunately, people get upset if you can’t deliver that. There needs to be more awareness around people using technology to morph images with over filtered color. I can only imagine what it’s like for all the kids growing up, seeing that, and expecting that they can look like that one day. We need to think more deeply about accepting our bodies and faces as they are.
Can you share three things that most excite you about the “beauty-tech” industry?
Three things that excite me about the beauty-tech industry are:
- Hair scanners. This tool is super exciting, and the technology keeps getting better every year. You can now use a handheld device, which the hairstylist uses to scan the guest’s hair. It utilizes near-infrared and visible light sensors to measure factors such as “inner hair quality,” moisture level, and actual hair color. The hairstylist sends the reading to an app on their phone where the results are analyzed. The guest can then consult with the hairstylist about things like hair color, which they can view on their phone within the app.
- Lamellar Technology. We carry the brand Kerastase. They have launched a new product with this technology. The radiance-revealing hair treatment is composed of a unique blend of ultra-lightweight molecules, which are up to 10 times smaller than those found in traditional conditioners and masques. When activated with water, these molecules form an ultra-fine topcoat on the surface of the hair. The result? An outstanding, flawless finish. The lamellar technology means that only areas of the hair that need it are targeted for a truly lightweight treatment. Being able to shrink ingredients so that they can further penetrate the hair shaft makes products more efficient, super conditioning and hydrating.
- E-Makeup. I love the thought of seeing what colors look like on your face before actually applying them. And I can’t wait to go to a store one day, look at a screen, hold a product up to it and see what it looks like on my face. Technology like this will forever revolutionize the makeup industry.
Can you share three things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement three ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- The first thing that concerns me, and honestly should concern everyone, is safety in ingredients. Technology is making great strides with ingredients. However, they should also take time to ensure that they are safe to use. Natural beauty products used to be sold mainly in health food stores. With all the studies around health combined with beauty, new brands are positioning themselves as “cleaner” alternatives. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. We need to hold more brands accountable for their ingredients and make sure that they are safe, not just labeled that way. I would reform this by blacklisting cancer-causing/unsafe ingredients and making sure that products are tested before going on to the market.
- Again, I am concerned about what people see on social media and what is real life. We need more support for people out there, sharing that we shouldn’t all look the same. What you were born with is okay! It seems like everyone posting has the same “app face.” It’s almost snakelike, and the skin looks weirdly smooth. It seems to be even more prevalent, with everyone hunkered down at home. Embrace your natural beauty!
- Exclusivity and diversity also should be a concern for all brands. Companies need to make sure that they implement beauty and technology that are affordable and usable to everyone. Technology products are usually designed for a specific clientele that tends to be masculine. For example, V.R. headsets still don’t exactly fit everyone’s head perfectly (especially women). At first, I thought I just couldn’t figure out how to put them on correctly, Now I know!
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share five ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t compare. Too often, we look at everyone else’s world and think, I could never look like that. Or what is this person wearing, eating, doing to look so good? And most of the time, it’s angles, filters, and some people even use photoshop! I remember one time at the beach, I took a photo with my husband, and my friend taking the picture told me to stand to the side and turn straight towards the camera. I couldn’t believe how much better I looked in the photo. I never knew this trick, but you know I use it every time now. Sometimes something as simple as changing an angle can help you feel better in photos. And then you’ll notice it the next time you see someone doing it, and hopefully, you won’t compare yourself to them!
- Know your worth! Self-worth is the value we put upon ourselves. It is also how we communicate to the world what we believe we deserve to receive back. You must improve your beliefs around your self-worth to feel better. And when you feel better, guess what? You look better! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and your eye is most important. I used to base my worth on what everyone else thought about me. I constantly asked for validation after making a change at work, and it felt right for about 5 minutes, and then I was questioning myself again. When you know your worth and step into your power, you learn to ask the universe, “Did I just do that right?” And you know what answer you’ll get, YES! Trust that and let that be your validation, not people around you.
- Praise others. By lifting others, you, in turn, bring that same energy back to yourself. When’s the last time you said that you like how someone looked or complimented a specific attribute about another person? Remember how good you felt after that? And guess what? When we feel better, we feel beautiful. When I arrive at work, I walk around and make an effort to say hello and talk to people, and if I like something about them, I take time to say it. It’s important, and people will remember that. Nothing will make you feel more beautiful INSIDE than knowing you’ve lifted someone else up.
- Surround yourself with people who appreciate you. You are worthy of kindness and love. I’m not going to give the old spill about hair and makeup. You’ve got that. What you need now is good, clean, positive energy around you that will help you radiate beauty. I remember this when I ordered a weird facial mask and had it lying out on the counter. My husband left a post-it on it, saying, “You don’t need this. You’re already gorgeous.” It was something so powerful yet so simple. You know what? I threw that mask away, and I kept that post-it. It’s now in the drawer with all my beauty creams, and I take time to look at that note often. That’s what helps me feel beautiful.
- You are what you eat. And when you eat better, you look better. When I was in my 20’s I could put away a large pizza or a foot-long sub, no problem! And guess what? I always felt bloated, had headaches, and zero energy. When I started having dizzy spells in my early 30’s, I assessed my health. I changed my diet to “mostly” gluten and dairy-free (let yourself live, every once in a while) and started exercising. Now in my early 40’s I look better than I did in my 20’s, and I have TON more energy. The dizziness has all but gone away too. And again, when you feel better, you look better and that is beautiful.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most 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!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your 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 thing like having coffee with another business owner — asking them one question may help you get to where you want to go.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram & Twitter: @urbanbetty