September 2019

The Merle Norman Spirit: Meet the mother-daughter duo who are continuing a legacy of beauty and entrepreneurial drive.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: Kandace Wightman

The Merle Norman showroom located in the Village at Sheridan Park.

You may have heard the name Merle Norman Cosmetics, but the spirit behind that name has largely gone unsung. Unlike fictional figureheads such as Betty Crocker or Uncle Ben, there was a real Merle Norman, and she was one of the true renegades of American business, growing her empire from her kitchen table to studios around the country. In 1931, a time when women rarely worked much less launched businesses, she opened her first Santa Monica studio on the strength of a network of friends and family who had tried and loved her cosmetics. “Try Before You Buy” became their slogan, as well as their oft-imitated business model.

That same fearless entrepreneurial spirit can be found in Bluffton’s own branch of Merle Norman Cosmetics, where mother and daughter duo Patsy and Jordan Nimmer are reinventing beauty and taking Norman’s vision into the future.

“We’ve renovated the entire salon,” Patsy said. “It’s now not only a cosmetic studio, it’s also a hair salon and boutique.”

The idea behind the salon was a simple, logical extension of the “Try Before You By” ethos. Rather than simply trying on a new foundation, blush, eyeliner or other makeup, customers can enjoy an exquisite makeover from one of the seasoned experts and see firsthand how transformative these products can be.

“It’s a great way for women who haven’t been exposed to Merle Norman to try out the products and gain guidance. The key to that was having the right people in place,” Patsy said.

Among those key people is Teresa Smith, who co-founded the Bluffton branch and stayed on when the Nimmers purchased it. “She’s totally the master of her craft,” Patsy said. “She’s amazing with makeovers.”

Immersing themselves in the world of Merle Norman meant extensive training for Patsy, a registered nurse for 20 years, and her daughter Jordan. “It blew my mind. They’re very much one of those hands-on companies,” Patsy said. It also meant seeing the amazing results these products can accomplish. “I had always used their foundation, but I look at women who come in there now who have been using that product for years, and they just have amazing skin.”

It also meant expanding on what a Merle Norman studio could be. Beyond renovating the space and adding in a salon, the Nimmers added a boutique shopping experience—hand-picked accessories that complement the Merle Norman look. Their new fall line came out in August, boasting everything from shawls and coats to jewelry, umbrellas and handbags.

“We started out very simply until I figured out what sold,” Patsy said. “We’ve been very successful with that part.”

It’s an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for the business that would make the late Merle Norman proud. 

Merle Norman Cosmetics is located in the Village at Sheridan Park, 70 Pennington Dr., Suite 21, Bluffton. For more information, visit or call (843) 815-5412.

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