The reason owner Erin Williams named her nail salon Red Betty is simple.
“I have red hair and I always have on red lipstick, and Betty is a retro term for chicks,” she says.
The type of “chicks” that frequent Red Betty are adventurous, stylish, and find amusement in the five ceramic cats that are strategically placed throughout the quaint and colorful salon. It doesn’t feel too kitschy, just perfectly quirky, and mirrors the personality of Williams herself.
The lipstick-loving redhead has an eclectic background: She sang opera in college, worked in tech sales for over a decade, and humorously reflects on the days she spent partying while in between jobs. But most importantly, Williams decided to go to cosmetology school four years ago and discovered a knack for painting kick-ass nail art. From there, everything kind of fell into place.
It’s only been one year since Williams and her husband opened Red Betty’s doors last March, but it has quickly caught on as one of Austin’s premier boutique salons, managing to receive nothing but five-star reviews on Yelp.
“People daily tell us our reviews on Yelp brought them in. I think that’s pretty awesome,” she says.
Austin is awash with boutique salons, so it’s more than the quality of its services that accounts for Red Betty’s success; it’s the emotional connection to clients.
“One of our clients had to go to a different salon one weekend because we were all booked up,” Williams explains. “She told us that while the other salon was beautiful, she didn’t get that ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ she gets when she’s in here.”
With an extensive background in sales, it makes sense that Williams emphasizes building relationships with clients. She is instantly likeable and fills her conversations with genuine and infectious laughter, but finding other nail techs who are both personable and artistically inclined has been tough.
Despite the underwhelming list of qualified applicants, Williams has been fortunate to find four cooperative and talented nail technicians who can paint intricate designs as they happily converse with clients. While painting anything from hot dogs to unicorns, the team often sings along to their favorite Pandora station, ’90s R&B trio TLC.
Austin plays host to several famous festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest (SXSW), attracting music enthusiasts from across the nation. “I’ve been surprised at the number of people coming to us for festival nails because we’re not exactly in downtown,” Williams says.
Located on a street called Burnet Road, Williams divulges her affinity for the area with the same admiration of a lifelong resident. “When I first moved here 10 years ago, this was the neighborhood I lived in,” she says. “There are lots of cool restaurants and tattoo shops and trinket stores. It’s got an older vibe to it. And there’s a honky-tonk bar down the street where I first learned how to dance to proper country music.”
Because Williams was an established nail tech prior to owning the salon, getting the word out came naturally. Many clients live in the affluent neighborhood where the salon is located or decide to come through word-of-mouth. One client even offered Williams a free marketing opportunity to express her satisfaction and loyalty.
“I have a client who does the PR for this really big theater called the Alamo. So when ‘Bad Moms’ came out, she invited us to come do nail art in the lobby,” she says. “That was huge because thousands of people go to that theater every weekend. We were even on the local news.”
Her passion for nails aside, Williams is so giddy when discussing the decor of Red Betty that one might expect her to eventually dabble in interior design as a profession. She made bold, loud choices for the salon: An Astroturf rug lies beneath an antique, white metal bench in the waiting area; flamingo wallpaper wraps around the bathroom; five vintage ceramic cats hide amidst the salon almost like a Where’s Waldo game, which she says often reminds clients of childhood trips to their grandma’s trinket-filled house. Somehow her unconventional accents all come together.
“It makes me so happy that people come in daily and say they love how it looks in here, because I designed all of it myself,” she says. “Getting nail art is supposed to be fun so I wanted the decor to reflect that.”
Nail art is the Red Betty team’s forte, and they only perform natural nail manicures. “I really want to focus on nail health, so that’s why we only do gel-polish and natural nail manicures,” she says.
In addition to nail services, Red Betty offers eyelash extensions, facials, massages, and waxing.
Although the focal point of Red Betty is the high-quality, professional services offered, like the funky long-lasting nail art or sparkly men’s manicures, the salon’s uniqueness relates back to what is offered implicitly: the entertaining conversations that go beyond polite small talk and elicit joy from both sides of the interaction.
“I just love all the feelings that come with it. It’s very powerful when you’ve never owned a business before and all the tables are full and we’re talking together in one big group conversation and laughing and singing and just being silly,” she says.