Meet Merle Norman Cosmetics Franchisee Tammy Escobar
Studio owner is thriving in second career with two Illinois locations
Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio franchise owner Tammy Escobar’s relationship with our brand spans more than four decades. After a long, successful career in the insurance industry, Escobar decided to pursue a second career that catered to her (self-described) makeup and skincare obsession. She’s now a multi-unit Merle Norman franchise owner who loves her work, the people she serves and the products she sells.
Recently, we spoke with Escobar about her franchises, what she believes has contributed to her success, and the type of person she thinks would do well as a franchisee.
When did you first hear of Merle Norman Cosmetics?
I was introduced to Merle Norman when I was 14 years old. I begged my mother to let me wear makeup, and she agreed, but she said you’re going to do it “right.” There was a Merle Norman in my hometown in Indiana where I went for my first makeup lesson. This was 45 years ago, but I still remember that Merle Norman owner’s name. That’s how much of an impact she made on me.
Why did you decide to become a studio owner?
I am a self-professed makeup and skincare junkie. I have tried everything — all the different brands, including the high-end ones. I would always come back to Merle Norman, though, because it was the best.
For more than 30 years, I had a career with a major insurance company. Finally, I’d had enough, and the woman who I used to purchase my Merle Norman products from was selling her studio. So I decided owning a Merle Norman would be my second career.
I bought my first studio in 2014. Within eight months Travis [Richards, Vice President of Franchising] called me and asked if I was interested in a second studio. At first I was hesitant. The studio was in a small town and had closed. However, once I went there it just felt right. So in 2015, I opened my second studio.
Both studios are in Illinois. One is in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and the other is close to the Wisconsin border.
What do you love most about Merle Norman products?
I have always believed that the quality of the products is second to none. I always kind of knew that because when I’d try different brands, I would always come back to Merle Norman. However, here’s the one thing that solidified it for me.
After I bought my first studio, we went to training at the home office for two weeks. During that training course, we toured the factory where they make all the products. I was totally blown away as I watched them take all those raw ingredients and individually measure everything that goes into the products.
When you purchase products from other brands, you’re buying a lot of marketing that hooks you in. But once I saw what goes into a Merle Norman product, I knew that you pay exactly for what you are purchasing. The other brands are really marketing baloney, where our stuff is the real deal. Our products are absolutely the best on the market.
Why do you think your Merle Norman studios are so successful?
We work hard at it! I think building relationships with our customers is the key to success. There are so many companies out there right now vying for the makeup world. When I got my first makeover at 14, there wasn’t all that competition, and Merle Norman was great. Merle Norman is still great, but now there’s so much competition.
We have to set ourselves apart by showing people what we offer, like free Express facials and foundation checks. We make it a fun time when people come in, and they see our genuine personalities. They love working with us, and we’re not pushy. We don’t try to sell them the product of the day, but we want to make sure to get the right products on their face. Because once we do, they’re going to be our customer forever.
Social media has been big for us. People like to see humans, so we do videos. We’ll do a 5-minute snippet and talk about the gift with purchase or what’s going on in the studios. People get to see the real you, and they get drawn in even more.
What do you like best about being a Merle Norman Studio owner?
I love that I have autonomy to run my business the way I see fit. I don’t think Merle Norman is standing over my shoulder all the time telling me exactly what to do. At the same time, they are there for me, they support me, and they genuinely want me to succeed.
What does Merle Norman do as a company to help you succeed in your business?
One of the things that they do an excellent job of is researching the industry to stay on trend. That’s so important because we’ll get really behind because all those other companies are doing it first.
I love that it’s a small enough company that I can pick up the phone and call Travis, and he’ll pick up the phone and talk to me. I love that.
They provide us training and bring all of us together to share ideas at conventions. One of the things that I absolutely love is that I can call another Merle franchisee, and she’ll help me. It’s not like this competitive situation where nobody wants to help. We help each other all the time. If somebody’s doing something great, it’s nice that they’re willing to share it with you.
They give us free shipping on the first order of every month. That is a huge benefit! Then, if I place a second order later in the month and I order $2,000 worth of product, I get free shipping again. Literally, I never pay to ship my products for the whole year. I plan it accordingly so that I don’t have to do that.
They will pay a percentage of your marketing costs if you’re a member of the co-op program. They do a lot of things that help you become successful.
How would you describe the type of person who can be successful as a Merle Norman franchise owner?
You must have a passion for the product and be willing to understand your product so you can explain it to your customers. Successful franchisees will be energetic with a great personality and be somebody who likes to work with people.
You can’t be a person who is just going to open the doors and think “they will come.” Running a studio requires the owner to be entrepreneurial, always looking for ways to reach new customers. You have to be willing to have events in your studio and do things in the community to market your business. Merle Norman will give you all the tools you need, but you’ve got to be willing to take those tools and use them.
What are the greatest rewards in owning a Merle Norman Cosmetics studio?
The greatest gift of all happens every day: when somebody looks in the mirror, they smile and walk out with a little more confidence than when they came in. I believe if you look good you project more confidence. When you feel good about yourself, you’re a better mother, a better worker, a better wife and a better friend because you have the confidence to be that way. I love knowing I had a little part in helping somebody feel better about themselves and smile when they look in the mirror. I don’t think of my studio as a store; we are a place to come to build a relationship — where you let us help you be the best you that you can be.
What makes Merle Norman different from your competitors?
Try before you buy and gifts-with-purchase. I think a gift-with-purchase is a really great way to show people new products, get them to sample them and then come back and buy them. We don’t just hand out a gift-with-purchase when somebody buys new products. We actually write up a whole information sheet, which tells them what each product does and how to use it.
Have you ever bought another brand’s product and gotten a gift, but you don’t know what it is or exactly what you’re supposed to do with it? You’re excited to get the gift, but you never really use it, and it goes in a drawer. We make sure people know how to use those gifts, so they will come back in and buy them.
We offer a relationship. I don’t go into Sephora and find the same person next time. Who knows if they’re going to work there anymore? We know our product, and we’re going to sell the right thing for you. I don’t always believe that about those stores. I really feel it’s more like they’re selling you what they need to sell this week.
Why is right now a good time for somebody to invest in a Merle Norman franchise?
I don’t think there is a better time than now! Merle Norman is not a “one-and-done,” where somebody comes in and buys a moisturizer. They will replenish that all the time. It’s a consumable. This business is about building the relationship with the customer and then keeping that relationship and getting more and more and more people.
I wish I’d done this sooner. I tell my husband all the time that I wish I’d done this 20 years ago.
So start now. Start today. Don’t wait till next year; there’s no reason to wait. Get it going. I would say there’s no better day than today.
What has your Merle Norman franchise meant to you?
It’s given me passion, purpose, excitement — absolutely everything.
Learn more about becoming a Merle Norman Cosmetics
If you want to join an established brand with an exciting future, look no further than Merle Norman Cosmetics. We are recruiting passionate entrepreneurs who enjoy working with people and serving others. Retail or cosmetics experience is not necessary (we’ll train you on everything you need to know), and our startup costs range from $34,803 to $55,750 (not including real estate costs).