Four Generations of Merle Norman Franchise Ownership
Meet New York studio owner Susan Slamka, whose family has been in business since the ’70s
For almost 50 years, Susan Slamka has been connected to the Nanuet, New York, Merle Norman Cosmetics studio franchise. Her mother, Nancy Laiosa, first started working there in 1970 and then purchased the business in 1974. Slamka followed in her mother’s footsteps, working alongside her until Liaosa died in 2018 at age 90. Slamka now owns and operates the business with help from the next two generations.
Slamka’s daughter, Nicole Williams, and granddaughter Taylor Williams, too, grew up behind the makeup counter. Today, Nicole Williams is a “silent” partner in the business with her mother, but 21-year-old Taylor Williams is pursuing a career in the field and is primed to take over the family business one day from her grandmother. Taylor is going to school to get her cosmetology and esthetician licenses and has big plans of adding more services, including the Merle Norman Spa, to the existing business.
We sat down with all three ladies to hear their perspectives on working with Merle Norman Cosmetics, their matriarch’s legacy, and why they are excited about what the future holds for their family business and for anyone else who is looking to join the Merle Norman franchise network.
What are the greatest rewards of owning a Merle Norman Cosmetics studio?
Susan Slamka: The satisfaction you see in your customers. Most of them become friends and are repeat customers through the generations. Once you build a rapport with them, they trust you. You are not just a salesperson; you’re someone who wants to satisfy their needs. When you help someone to feel beautiful, their world becomes more beautiful.
Nicole Williams: I have grown up in the studio with my mother and my grandmother. For me, the rewards have been getting a greater knowledge of cosmetics and the skills for running a business. Watching them with clients and how they built those relationships has helped me do the same in my field.
Because of what I learned from them, I was able to become an office supply store manager at age 17, and I went on to work for 15 years as vice president of a large corporation. Today, I manage a medical care facility. What I’ve learned from these strong women has been foundational for my career.
Taylor Williams: I was very lucky to grow up with my grandma being a makeup artist and being able to know and work with my great-grandmother for 20 years of my life. To me, it’s been extremely rewarding to spend this time with my family, learning from them and growing as a family business.
Susan: My mother taught us work ethic and taught us how to succeed in business. That’s why the three of us are the way we are today.
Tell us more about your mother and the example she set for you.
Susan: She worked in the studio until a few days before she passed away; she worked on Friday and passed away that following Monday — six months shy of her 91st birthday.
She was the greatest salesperson with her customers! She did all calculations — right up until she passed away — in her head. She could have a $500 order, she would add it all up in her head and she would always be right.
Mom started working for the studio in 1970, eventually bought the business in 1974 and then bought the building we’re in today in 1984. We’ve been at this location for 35 years, and Mom was actually able to purchase a building for her business.
She started out in a man’s world, owning her own business when very few women did that. She was also into real estate. She always worked from when she was a little girl. My mother was never without a job. That’s what she passed on to us.
My mom was a lot like Merle Norman herself. Merle Norman defied the norms in the 1930s when she started her company. I have been very impressed with how Merle Norman had the guts and glory to be a business woman when that’s just not what women did back then.
What sets Merle Norman apart from its competitors?
Susan: The products, number one! There is no comparison to any other company. I call these products “magic” because they transform women’s beauty before your eyes. That keeps women coming back year after year. The company is always updating their products so there’s something for all ages.
Nicole: Yes — recently, the company introduced updated lines and colors that really appeal to the younger generation.
Susan: Right, yet we keep our older customers, too. I have customers who range in age from 13 to 98. And I will tell you, when you see somebody’s skin in their 90s who has used this product for 70 years, the benefits are incredible! A 90-year-old lifelong Merle Norman user will look better than a 40-year-old who doesn’t use our cosmetics. I can tell the minute somebody walks in my door who is a Merle Norman customer and who is not — just by their skin.
Taylor: When I would bring my friends to family parties, and they would see the older women in my family. They’d ask, “Oh my gosh, how old is your aunt? She looks so young!” I said, “I’m telling you, you’ve got to use Merle Norman.” And now every single one of my close friends will only buy face makeup from me at Merle Norman. It’s really changed their lives, too.
It can be hard being a small cosmetics business, especially when it comes to attracting younger customers. Sephora and Ulta are such big brands; they get advertised way more, and that’s just where the younger generation leans toward. But all of my friends are like, “I don’t even know what I’ve been doing with my life” because once I introduce them to this, they have never gone back.
Growing up, anytime I tried something other than Merle Norman, my face would break out. The only thing I will ever put on my face now is Merle Norman because it always just looks so flawless, and it never breaks me out. Even the foundation is helping my skin instead of clogging my pores. I’ve never tried any other foundation; well, I did try one, but after that, I was like, I’m never doing it again.
Nicole: You can definitely see a difference in quality over the other places that sell cosmetics. We’ve all tried other things — that’s natural — but we always come back to Merle Norman because they are the best. It speaks for itself, really.
Why is right now a good time to become a Merle Norman Cosmetics studio owner?
Susan: In the field of cosmetics, there’s so many different companies that come and go all the time. But Merle Norman has been in business for almost 90 years. Merle Norman is doing something right! Today, everything is about beauty, so why not start now?
Taylor: I think it’s definitely a great time because beauty always changes, so there’s always something new about it. Just what we’ve seen recently with Merle Norman is that their products just keep getting better and better. So, for someone in their 20s like me, to purchase a studio now and just grow with the company and be a part of all those exciting changes? I think that would be amazing.
Susan: After so many years, when you think they could not get any better, they do, and they come out with newer products. They’re always keeping up with the times.
Nicole: If you have the drive and it’s something that you really have passion for, it’s definitely a great time. Cosmetics, beauty and facial care are super-important nowadays as people are shopping in high-end cosmetics stores for the so-called “best” stuff. And they want to look younger, so they’re doing all these injections and things to turn back time. But Merle Norman has products that can do all those things. It’s a great time to join Merle Norman because you can promote products instead of surgery to achieve the same — and sometimes better — results.
How does Merle Norman as a company help you succeed in running your business?
Susan: Being a part of Merle Norman cosmetics is like being a part of a great big family. Merle Norman is there for you all the time, no matter what. All of these years, I have never, ever had a problem that wasn’t addressed immediately. No matter what comes up, they take care of it. Merle Norman wants us to succeed, and they do everything they can to help us prosper.
What has your Merle Norman business meant to you and your family?
Susan: It has meant the world to me, being able to share a business like this with my mother, my daughter and my granddaughter. It has meant having a wonderful life and being able to make the business our own. It’s fun and not stressful. I feel like we’re blessed to be able to have this business as long as we have.
I can’t say enough good things about working with the Merle Norman corporate office themselves and how wonderful they have been through the years. I could never thank them enough for continuing to help us studio owners create the kind of business that one would dream about.
If you set your goal to own a Merle Norman Cosmetics studio, the company will be there for you every step of the way. They will help you make your dream come true. Merle Norman Cosmetics is not a job; it’s a lifestyle — and one to be proud of.
Learn more about opening a Merle Norman Cosmetics studio franchise
Merle Norman is an American success story. For nearly a century, our studios have been an attractive business to own. Extended to entrepreneurs beginning in 1931 by Merle Norman, our franchise opportunity gives franchisees personal and professional fulfillment as Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio owners.Find out more by exploring the research pages on our website or requesting a copy of our free Franchise Information Report.