Merle Norman expanding

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2008

On average Americans consume $60 billion worth of cosmetics and toiletries a year. The lion’s share of that hefty amount comes from drugstore shelves and the makeup counters at mega chain department stores.

So the fact that in this day and age of mall shopping there are still boutique cosmetic stores rings up as a success story for the individual entrepreneur.

One such story is the Ironton Merle Norman cosmetic store. There in the 10 years since she took over, Diann Waggoner has seen a 40 percent increase in her customer base and 17 percent makeup sales increase in the last year and a half.

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Waggoner bought the business from Nina McConnell and Mary Lou Corn in 1998 after they had the business for 25 years. She came to the small business world after 31 years as an insurance agent, most recently with the Putnam Agency in Ashland, Ky.

A few years earlier, Waggoner had approached the longtime owner of the Ashland Merle Norman, which was located in the downtown section, with the idea to buy the shop.

However, when that business was put on the market, the company wanted it moved to the Ashland Town Center.

“I didn’t want to do the mall,” Waggoner said.

Soon after that McConnell and Corn decided it was time for their shop to change hands.

As eager as she was to be a small business owner, Waggoner quickly discovered how that life differed from her old one working for someone else. And it’s a misconception many have about being their own boss.

“It is not easy,” she said. “Once you close the store there’s all the paperwork. I spend time doing it at home. There’s stocking and cleaning. You put more hours in your own business than a full-time job.”

One of the selling points for patronizing a boutique shop like Waggoner’s is personalized service.

“I am big on service. When you walk into a Merle Norman, there is always someone at the counter,” she said. “(Customers) want someone they can actually talk to. You go to a big department store and the makeup counter and there’s no one there.”

During her tenure at the Ironton shop, Waggoner has diversified what she offers. She expanded her Vera Bradley inventory, remodeling the space next door for that line that includes handbags, tops, rain hats and rugs. She also added the Brighton accessory line of jewelry.

Her sales technique she says she developed in her years selling insurance.

“ I learned about sales and service. Not pushing. To relate to the customer. To just be yourself and present your product,” Waggoner said.

Looking back at her first decade as a small business owner, Waggoner sees it as the right decision.

“I wanted to do it for a long time. You’re afraid. It was at a time I didn’t want to be in the insurance business. I wanted to do something fun,” she said. “I love it. I’m at the age I don’t want to be in an office. I like owning my own business.”