Merle Norman Franchisee Profile: Barbara Norris
Merle Norman multi-unit owner encourages young entrepreneurs to ‘go for it’
Merle Norman cosmetics franchise owner Barbara Norris is a customer who became a multi-unit owner once she decided it was time to leave her corporate career about six years ago. Now, Norris owns two successful Arizona studios. She’s passionate about sharing our outstanding products with her loyal customers, and she has words of wisdom for younger female entrepreneurs who may be researching Merle Norman studio ownership.
Norris gave us a few minutes of her time to discuss what she finds most rewarding about her business, how the home office supports their franchisees and what makes Merle Norman stand out in today’s crowded skin care and makeup landscape.
How did you get started with your Merle Norman franchise?
I was in the right place at the right time. One day, I went to my favorite Merle Norman to buy a jar of Brilliant-C Moisturizer. And the lady who owned the store there was 74 years old at the time. She was such a nice lady and had had the store for 34 years. I always went to her store because she was so welcoming and warm. She would serve coffee, and my sister and I would go there for makeovers.
So that day when I was buying the moisturizer, I told her how much I loved her store and wished I could have a business like hers. And she said to me, “I’m selling.”
That was music to my ears! I was ready for a career change anyway, eager to leave my corporate job as an account manager with American Express. Again — right place, right time, ready for a career change. So I ran home, did some homework, and ended up buying that studio in 2012.
The store actually was in a cute little town called Carefree, Arizona. Five years later, we moved it three miles down the road to a beautiful location in Scottsdale.
My second store is about 30 minutes from first, down Carefree Highway in Anthem, Arizona. I happen to live between the two, which makes it perfect. I purchased the Anthem location, too, from an owner who was ready to sell.
What are the greatest rewards of owning a Merle Norman cosmetics franchise?
The best thing, I would say, has to be the feeling of pride. Just being able to help other women be confident and look their best — and having a network of women, honestly, who end up becoming your friends because they come into your store.
Pretty soon, you’re not only building confidence with the other women, but within yourself. I now am more confident than I’ve been in my life. Not to mention the fact that I look better than I’ve ever looked in my life because of the skincare and the makeup.
How do you attract new customers and retain existing ones?
It’s all about providing great customer service. Actually Merle Norman herself said, “Just be honest.” When I’m selling products, I’m honest. I’ll say, “Well, you know, I really think you need this one and here’s why, or I don’t think you need that one and here’s why.” So, honesty with customers is key. Customers don’t like it when a salesperson pushes things on them.
You need to be caring and listen to the customer. You also need to be positive, ambitious and reliable — all qualities that the customer will notice.
You need to keep a fabulous database. So you need to be sure and gather all of a customer’s information when they first come in. You need to take their address, see if they want to be on your email list. Get a phone number. Get their birthdate. Tell them the birthday special they’ll get for their birthday to bring them back, things like that.
My girls and I make phone calls every month to our customers on their birthdays. We call because we haven’t seen them for a while. We also send out wonderful postcards and brochures. Every month there’s something going on at our studio.
Why should someone — especially a millennial woman — consider opening a Merle Norman franchise?
For a younger woman, this a great business to start now. They need to start when they’re younger because this is going to be a great retirement plan for them. I think that’s what I’ve learned. I started later in life, but these young women need to think about their futures. What are they going to do when Social Security is not around? I really do believe owning a Merle Norman franchise is a great retirement plan.
Plus they’re young enough, they can be in the business for 30 or 40 years, enjoying a career that’s fun and profitable. They can make their own hours and be their own boss. They won’t find an opportunity like Merle Norman franchise ownership anywhere else.
I would absolutely tell them, “Get started now.” They could have five franchises or more by the time they’re in their 50s or 60s, and they could probably retire sooner. So that’s what I have to say to the younger ones. Absolutely, go for it.
I think that once the millennials look into Merle Norman, they will see that we are so different from the department store brands, such as Lancome and Estee Lauder, because of the support. Merle Norman is like one big family because of the support. You’ve got everything at your fingertips. Free training. An internet site. And so much more.
Tell us more about the support the Merle Norman home office provides its franchisees.
So, I’ll start with when you’ve made the decision to buy a franchise. You’ve signed on the dotted line. Immediately, home office requires that you go to L.A. to their factory and their home office training. That is key. You get started there. You get to meet everybody at the home office again and are welcomed into the family.
Then you’re immediately assigned an RBC, a regional business consultant. That person comes and visits you. She helps you figure out ways to keep the business in line and teaches you new things so that you can be successful. But she’s there in person and a go-to contact all the time. I text mine any time, day or night. It could be 11 at night, and she will answer my text.
We have access to all sorts of marketing materials: free email account, graphics, posters, postcards, brochures, and gifts with purchase. I don’t have to worry about a thing. It’s there.
We get free shipping if we order $2,000, which is pretty easy to do. And then we have every kind of support contact at our L.A. office. I can pick up the phone and call to get help with anything. You name it. I’m never alone. Even though I’m an independent owner, I’m never alone.
It’s awesome, and so different from any other company that I have heard of.
What sets Merle Norman apart from your competitors?
When a customer comes into our store, they get nothing but Merle Norman. They go into Sephora and Ulta, and it’s just a jumbled variety of this, that and the other. There’s too many name brands. It’s confusing. We’re all one brand here, and we’re more personalized.
We’re immaculately clean. We pride ourselves on that, too. And you’re just not going to find that anywhere else. We have everything that Sephora has — every darn thing. But it’s more organized and cleaner.
With our competitors, you don’t get to try before you buy. I have had numerous customers come in and say, “Oh my goodness. I got this foundation at the drug store. I paid this for it. And it’s horrible. Oh, I just love yours.” And even though ours may cost a little more money, it works. They’re actually saving money and getting a better brand.
What does Merle Norman mean to you?
Freedom. It means I no longer work for corporate America.
It gave me total freedom to make a difference in helping others be their best, and it’s given me the most confidence that I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Get information now about becoming a Merle Norman cosmetics franchise owner
There’s no better time than right now to join Merle Norman as a cosmetics franchise owner. We are actively recruiting entrepreneurs to open new studios and buy existing ones in communities throughout the country.
Retail or cosmetics experience is not necessary (we’ll train you on everything you need to know), and our start-up costs range from $34,803 to $55,750 (not including real estate costs).