Sarah Nicola didn’t dream of going into business when she was growing up, first in Santa Monica and then in Anaheim.
She said it became a goal after she attended California State University, Long Beach, where she rowed on the crew team and earned a degree in English and creative writing.
During her college career, Nicola worked part-time for Merle Norman cosmetics.
“It was actually my first real job,” she said. “I was still working for the company when I graduated.”
Nicola had planned to go on to law school, but an opportunity arose to buy the Merle Norman franchise in Seal Beach. She was still just a couple of years out of her teens, but she said she had fallen in love with Seal Beach and enjoyed the work she did for the company. She decided to take the plunge.
“I had always been drawn to the town,” she said. “When I was at school we used to hang out at the pier and the beach and I always wanted to live and work here. Then this opportunity came up in Seal Beach.”
Initially, the idea of getting her license and knowledge she needed seemed like a good back-up plan.
Meanwhile, Nicola said that the best part of the business venture would be the chance to live in the seaside town that had captured her heart.
“I had no business background when I started,” she said. “I learned everything the hard way.”
In October, Nicola turned 28. This November she also celebrated her fifth year in business.
Nicola said becoming a businesswoman and running the store in a rollercoaster economy has had its share of challenges.
“It has not been easy,” she said. “Things were very hard in 2009 and 2010. It nearly put me out of business. I had to suck it up and work without paying myself at times.”
She said she cut expenses wherever she could.
“I just realized that sometimes in life you have to go above and beyond. In business you have to exceed people’s expectations in the products and service you offer. I really think that is what brings people back.”
The Merle Norman product line has been going on for more than 80 years and Nicola said she is proud to be part of its legacy.
“Everything is made here in California,” she said.
Nicola got her cosmetic education from the company. She has also continued to keep up with the trends and in 2009 she got her esthetician license.
Specifically, Nicola said, her shop offers facials and treatments for men and women and all age groups.
Services include anti-aging collagen facials and deep cleansing facials, back treatments (including deep pore cleansing with scrubs), facial massages and other services.
Many come for special occasions, such as weddings or proms, while others can learn about make-up and how to apply it for their own specific needs as well as personal skin care.
As a young person with a budding interest in the business world, Nicola decided to join the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce to see if there were more things she could learn. She ended up being elected to the Chamber’s board of directors and served for two years.
It also helps, Nicola said, that she thoroughly enjoys the work she does.
“I get to pamper people all day,” she said. “Doing that and making people feel like a million bucks is what keeps me going.”
Along the way, Nicola and her business has been able to staff up to three part time employees. However, she is the main full-time worker.
Nicola said that five years ago she made one of the scariest decisions when she chose to venture into the business world.
So far, she has weathered some storms and survived and is thriving.
Nicola’s Merle Norman facility is located at 1198 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite F in Seal Beach. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days. For more information, she can be reached at (562) 493-3700.