At first glance, the chic Drybar hair salon in Midtown Manhattan seems to have everything a luxury-loving customer could crave
Champagne — check. A selection of cookies — check. Chilled water infused with pineapples and strawberries — check.
But if clients ask for a haircut, highlights, manicure or pedicure, they're out of luck.
Drybar's 16 U.S. salons offer one primary service: washing and blow-drying hair into straight, wavy, "beachy" or other stylish hairdos.
Its motto: "No cuts. No color. Just blowouts."
The beautification options are limited, yet Drybar's customer base is swelling. The company, which started in February 2010, is on track to have 25 salons by the end of 2012, and 44 by the end of next year.
Drybar has about 800 stylists who collectively cater to thousands of clients daily. Celebrities such as Maria Shriver, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Cindy Crawford have had their hair done. Actress Rose McGowan — who first discovered Drybar as a customer — is an investor.
Patrons such as Manhattan resident Bess Freedman appreciate that the salon focuses on one specific service — so-called "blowouts" — and trains stylists to do that task quickly and skillfully.
"Every person is good," says Freedman, an executive at real estate firm Corcoran, who comes twice a week to have her curly tresses blown smooth. "They do a great job."
Starting at home
The Drybar concept is the brainchild of hair stylist and former public relations practitioner Alli Webb, 37.
In 2008, Webb launched a small business named Straight-at-Home, in which she did blowouts at client homes in the Los Angeles area. As demand increased, she approached her brother about teaming up to open a bigger business.
"When she came to me with this idea, I thought she was crazy," says her brother, Michael Landau, who was previously a marketing executive for Yahoo and other firms. "I didn't understand why a woman would need a blowout and why she just couldn't do her hair herself."
Webb convinced him of the potential, and they opened a shop in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles.
The first salon was funded by Webb, Landau and architect Josh Heitler, who was given a small stake in exchange for his investment and his design help.
"We were hoping to do 20 to 30 blowouts a day," says Landau, 40, now Drybar CEO. "And the thing took off beyond our imaginations."
Landau and Webb rapidly capitalized on the potential, opening four more stores, then raising $2.5 million from early investors in November 2010 to keep the growth going.
"For us, it's been about mobilizing quickly when you realize you have lightning in a bottle," Landau says.
Drybar took advantage of two trends: the popularity of smooth-looking hair, rather than curly or frizzy locks, and the rising number of women who want a quick salon service rather than an extended beauty parlor visit.
Express salons such as "blowout bars" are "poised to be a trend with ample opportunity for growth, post-recession," research group Mintel said in a June report on the salon industry.
During the downturn, consumers were likely to cut back on salon services, says Mintel, but with the economy improving, "the salon industry seems to have a promising future."
As blowout demand increases, competition has heated up.