By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
Some people retire and buy a recreational vehicle, or a boat or a cabin in the mountains or just hang out and have fun. Other people become more involved in volunteer roles. And then there’s Nina Sinibaldi-Delasandri. She retired as Director of Revenue Cycle after working 29 years at UTMB—and she got a little bored.
While she was feeling a bit bored during her first year of retirement, the owner of her favorite Merle Norman cosmetics studio announced she would be closing the doors. That was unless someone wanted to purchase the business. Now this was not on Nina’s list of things to do, but a need was created.
“’I would have had to drive to Bay Town to buy my cosmetics, I told my husband,’” Nina shared.
She pondered the situation, thinking of how, in addition to being a little bored with retirement, she loved the convenience of shopping for her favorite cosmetics at a store located right off Interstate 45—in the same plaza as a Shipley Donuts.
Her accountant gave his professional nod of approval, she shared. She explained that part of the reason for his approval was that no matter what happens in the economy, women will continue to purchase cosmetics.
So, she bought the shop.
“I asked my husband what he thought, and he thought it was a good idea, but then he didn’t realize I was serious,” she shared. She smiled as she remembered his reaction as she was getting down to the nitty gritty details of becoming a business owner.
Using Merle Norman cosmetics has become a tradition for many women since its original founder and creator, Merle Norman herself, began cooking up cold cream and selling it from her home in early 1930, according to the “Our History” page on the brand’s website.
With years of research, she was able to perfect her product and added basics such as foundation and night cream to her line along with other products including a full line of makeup. Then, in 1931, she opened the first Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio on a corner in Santa Monica, California, according to the website.
Merle’s original intent was very simple: get customers in and “let them try before you buy.” Her business model was successful and soon there were 94 studios and she needed larger facilities for manufacturing.
Today’s Merle Norman studios are designed with the original slogan in mind.
Stepping inside Nina’s studio, you are invited to try every product. There are play stations with stools where you can perch yourself and play with makeup, and you can ask Nina or her staff for expert advice on the company’s products.
Nina’s studio is filled with light and has an airy spa feeling that beckons customers to come in, relax in a private setting and try on make up or get a lesson in skin care. Customers are also invited to schedule an appointment for a full makeover or just walk in for one. Nina said makeovers are always free.
“We do hope they will purchase a product, but I want my customers to be happy, so there is no big sales pitch when someone wants to try on our products,” Nina explained.
Nina shared what she loves most about her new endeavor.
“Customers come in and we try to do a whole face makeover and it is so wonderful when they see themselves in the mirror and express how beautiful they feel,” Nina said.
Among the services offered at the studio are getting young ladies ready for their prom and applying make-up to an entire bridal party. There is a fee for special-event makeovers, Nina said, but a customer can select an item to purchase and avoid the fee.
For customers who want the free goodie bags that are part of department store cosmetic lines, Nina offers four gift-bag giveaways each year.
Nina took over the shop about a year ago and has made a few slight changes to the studio by adding some fresh design touches inside along with a new area for her esthetician to work.
She speaks highly of her loyal customers, and they, too, speak highly of her and the product.
Cindy Totty is one such customer. She worked as a cable splicer for the phone company. This career kept her outside in the Gulf Coast sun for many years.
“I’ve been using Merle Norman since I was in sixth or seventh grade, and everyone has always complimented me on my makeup. (Merle Norman is) the only product I use, and I am just tickled to death that Nina bought the studio. She’s doing a wonderful job!” Cindy exclaimed.
When Nina was a teenager, she remembers, her mother took her into a Merle Norman studio in California and since then, she too, has been hooked on the cosmetic line. She has numerous clients who, like she did, become Merle Norman enthusiasts at a young age.
Trying on makeup themselves is part of the daily fun for Nina and her staff, who are all trained in the Merle Norman products. Nina is proud to share with her customers the newest skin care line, which includes ingredients to help prevent the appearance of aging skin.
Right alongside the newest line sits the company’s older skincare products that are still delighting customers with their formulas reminiscent of cold creams from years gone by.
Jennifer Delesandri, one of Nina’s staff members declares, with a twinkle in her eyes, “I’m a skincare junkie.”
Jennifer is eager to answer customers’ questions about the product.
Originally, Jennifer came in to work at Nina’s studio just to fill in for someone, but she enjoyed her time so much that she has stayed on. Just like her boss, she’s passionate selling makeup and making women feel good about themselves.
A blessing Nina reports for both her and her staff is that there is no corporate quota that they need to fill. Their goal is to make sure their customers are happy and keep coming back. Of course, Nina does have her operating expenses and she said that since she took ownership of the store, she has been able to meet her expenses and has been adding 10 new clients every month at the I-45 location.