Meet Chelle Neff, an accomplished Austinite who has built her business Urban Betty from the ground up. Urban Betty is a hair salon that is located in central Austin with more than 30 employees. Not only does Urban Betty specialize in hair, but the salon has been known to host many events giving back to the Austin community.
Chelle Neff has been doing hair since she was 18 years old in Austin, Texas. In 2002, Neff needed a website to showcase all of her work since she was doing quite a few weddings at the time. When her web designer informed her that she needed a “catchy and cool” name, Neff went home brainstorming that night for a name that would forever stick with her business. “I was thinking Betty’s do’s, Betty’s Salon, these all sound like grandma’s places. My Grandma’s name is Betty and my full name is Betty Michelle (although she goes by Chelle). I was like, think of brands that you like the name of and I thought of Urban Decay make up. Urban and Betty just kind of collaborated in that moment so I was like, that’s it! Urban Betty! So I launched UrbanBetty.com and put all of my work on there so when clients called I could tell them to visit my site. Then cut to 3 years later when I was going to open my own salon; by then I had already incorporated Urban Betty. I had the website and figured I might as well just call the place Urban Betty!”
When Neff opened Urban Betty in 2005 at the age of 27, she already knew she would eventually retire from hair and focus on running her business full time. “That was my original goal when I opened the salon. I had been doing hair for 9 years and was like, this is really tiring and it’s a lot of work being on your feet all day. It’s hard on your body and I need to get an exit strategy because some people can do this till they’re 80! That’s awesome, but I know I physically can’t do that. So I decided to see if I could work on this and get a business that eventually helps me get out from behind the chair. I didn’t know when or what that would look like and it was actually me working more when I first opened. For 30 straight days in a row I was up here, but doing hair 6 days a week just to pay the bills. What actually helped fund my business is being able to do hair. So I can’t imagine being able to just step into somewhere and not having an income already there to help fund it. Every few years I would take an extra day off or a half-day off. I actually started taking Tuesdays off for admin. days, and then the next thing was every other Saturday I’m going to take off. Then it was every Saturday, every Friday, and the last thing was deciding to work a half-day on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s been a very slow gradual process. The end of 2016 I got this idea in my head like, ‘OK, we have a decent profit and when I’m 40 I’m going to retire from doing hair.’ That will be in March so I was like why don’t I just do it at the end of 2016. That’s how it all came about.”
When Urban Betty salon isn’t busy with hair clients, they open their doors to an annual clothing swap, as well as hosting various non-profit events. “Since 2006, the second year we were in business, someone told me they had a clothing swap at their house. It was super cool and all these people came. I was like, “Oh my God, why don’t we do this at Urban Betty!’ We just invited all the clients to bring their clothes and it’s a free for all. All it takes to get in is a bag of clothes and you can take whatever you want with you. Then whatever’s left over we donate to Safe Place. People are allowed to make monetary donations as well, which is really cool. We usually have over 100 large trash bags of clothing every year to donate.” Another great non-profit Urban Betty works with is Project Princess. “So Project Princess approached us first about doing hair and make up for girls that couldn’t afford to go to prom and get all the special things done. We were like that’s great, we’ll help you do the hair and make up for the girls. They asked us if we would be a drop-off location for them as well. So we have a storage closet and have a ton of dresses in there for the girls. People can bring in their old prom dresses anytime they want as long as we’re open and can drop them off.”
In addition to Urban Betty giving back to the Austin community, the salon annually hosts an Austin Fashion Week event and always pairs with a local non-profit to raise money for. “So we raised money for DSACT which is the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, Austin Pets Alive, and Austin Classical Guitar, which I’m on the board of. Every year we rotate out who we raise money for. We do Leukemia Awareness, so for the month of November anyone who comes in and donates their hair, it goes towards Pantene Beautiful Lengths. We use them and not Locks of Love because they don’t charge the kids for wigs. If you’re donating 8 to 10 inches of your hair we give you half off your hair cut. In October, we do Breast Cancer Awareness. We do pink extensions. If you just want to get some pink pieces in your hair it’s $10 an extension and we donate all of that to Breast Cancer Awareness.”
At this year’s SXSW Urban Betty went on the streets of downtown Austin to give haircuts to the homeless in the “Pop-Up Care Village”. Around 350 homeless were able to receive haircuts as well as yoga lessons. “We love to give back to the Austin community, and that helping to empower others through our services is why we do what we do.”
On top of Chelle Neff’s packed resume, she has created an app for hair stylists called “FyleStyle” available in the iTunes app store. “Three years ago I saw a need for it, but of course it takes so long to get one done. I was constantly writing my clients hair color formulas down and just had a stack of cards. I’m like, this is so stupid, and there should be an app out there where I can just write all my clients information in and their color formulas. I guess I could’ve put it under your contact in my address book, but I was just like I need a cool streamlined app. At the time there weren’t any similar apps, but by the time I went through the testing phase, there were a couple. But, I didn’t not open a salon because there were other salons, so I thought I might as well do it and do it the way I want to do it and work on making it better. So I came up with the app for hairstylists and they can put all their clients information, birthday, address, email, and before and after pictures of the hair as well as color formulas in the app. It’s free for the first 10 clients and if you like it you can pay $5 a month.”
Urban Betty has big plans for the future. “We are looking to expand into a second location from a year from now. Just a small studio location with 6 chairs in South Austin because I feel South Austin needs an Urban Betty. We have a lot of clients that drive from the South Side and we actually have a lot of stylists who work here that live on the South Side as well.” Replicating the same energy Urban Betty has at its current salon is an important factor for its second salon. “A lot of salons are real modern, clean, and have a sterile environment that you feel kind of like everyone is judging me. So I really want to have a place where people feel comfortable in a non-judgment zone for clients. You can come in, just rolled out of bed in your PJ’s and get your hair done and no one cares how you look. I tell our stylists who work here to just look professional, they don’t have to wear certain colors; just be yourself. Because that’s what you want artists to do. So I definitely want the second location to have the same feel that we have here….there.”
Urban Betty now has over 30 employees and 24 hair stations. “We also have administrative staff, so I have a manager, assistant manager, and 5 receptionist.” To learn more about Urban Betty be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photography by John Pesina