Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By: Robert He
Amidst the beauty products of Merle Norman are other items owner Renee England displays in her store, combining locally made products with those of a national cosmetic chain.
England’s Merle Norman studio is the only cosmetic product shop in the area. Though it’s a national chain, near the front windows and the back of the store are items such as soy candles bought from Sullivan, scarves and jewelry from local artists for sale. England also buys items wholesale from Effingham.
Merle Norman store policy says that owners can sell additional items outside its catalog as long as they keep up with and stock current catalog products.
England believes selling both national and local products, a practice she began two years after taking over the studio, has helped her business. “It’s drawn a lot more local people in because sometimes I just get people in for the Merle products, like for the surrounding towns,” she said. “But I get a little more feedback from the local people because they try to support local businesses.”
If a local item isn’t selling well, England would take steps to deal with it appropriately, such as figuring something out with the provider or removing it from sale altogether.
“There were several scents that weren’t working well in here. They were selling them very well in Sullivan, but here we weren’t selling them. So [the provider] just came out and changed some of the fragrances.” England said. “I try to keep up with what’s selling and what isn’t. I know when I pull something in the store and it doesn’t move in a few weeks, then it means it wasn’t a good choice.”
Another thing England thinks distinguishes her studio from others is “the service that [she] offers.” “I think [the customers] get a little bit more attention here when it comes to makeup and things like that because we give them one-on-one service,” she said. “They don’t get that if they go to Walgreen’s or the mall or something like that.”
The cosmetic products and services, such as bridal makeover, that England offers mostly cater to the styles of local people, who like a more natural look than what Merle Norman usually advertises.
“‘You, only better’ is what I promote,” she said. “But we do get the occasional person who come in and want a very dramatic look. We try to offer them what we can.
At Mattoon, we’re always late with the trends,” England explained. “I show things to my people and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ And then a few months later, they say ‘I saw this,’ and I want to say, ‘I showed you that 6 months ago.’”
England has noticed the revival of past trends locally, including scarves.
“It was popular years ago and now it’s making a comeback,” she said. “My grandmother had a lot of scarves, and we’re seeing them, and I wish I had held onto more of hers,” England said. “The cateye, for the eyeliner trend is also back. It used to be big with Twiggy in the 60s.”
Despite Mattoon’s tendency to pick up trends late, England nonetheless tries to open customers to new fashion trends. “I try to offer them what I think nobody else has,” she said.