Chelle Neff founded the salon in 2005 as a 27-year-old with passion and experience in the field as an independent stylist ready to take on a bigger challenge.
“I joke that when I first started Urban Betty, there were only six chairs, and I didn’t want any employees. Now we’re pushing 70 employees,” Neff said.
Since launching in a small suite at the 26 Doors Shopping Center in North Austin more than 15 years ago, Urban Betty has moved into a 3,400-square-foot space in the same center and in 2019 opened a new location at South Congress Avenue and St. Elmo Road in South Austin. In that time, Neff believes Urban Betty—which she named after her given name, Betty Michelle—has grown a brand Austinites associate with artistry and comfort.
“I think what makes us different is it feels more homey when you come in—I try to give the vibe of not super industrial or modern,” she said. “I wanted people here that are artists to feel free doing their art. ... I feel like if your employees feel comfortable, they’re going to make the guests feel comfortable as well.”
The salon offers a range of services, from hair cutting and styling to coloring. Neff said Urban Betty’s strength, however, is in color, with around 75% of clients coming in for some kind of color service, including high-skill processes such as balayage and hand-painted blonde. Now, she is preparing to expand those offerings to include a product line, including shampoo and conditioner, to be sold at Urban Betty before possibly expanding to broader markets.
Urban Betty had to brave the financial hardship of a two-month closure during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, but Neff said it gave her the opportunity tighten her budget and get smarter about business.
“It was an awakening for sure,” she said.
Now, the salon is growing again: She is scouting properties for a Round Rock location and planning an expansion and renovation of the flagship salon in North Austin, making way for a facial room and other additions. With business booming, Neff has accepted new roles in her business, putting down her styling scissors in 2017 to focus on growing the salon—and a new passion.
“I never expected to find a passion in marketing or in being an entrepreneur,” she said. “I feel like the artistic side of the business is marketing, social media, even the aesthetic of the salon. ... I love all that stuff. It doesn’t feel like work to me.”