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Business Observer Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2021 5 months ago

Boutique matchmakers in region embrace pandemic shifts

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Matchmakers are in more demand than ever — somewhat counterintuitive given quarantines and the proliferation of dating apps.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Sometimes a glass of wine is more than just a glass of wine. Sometimes it can spark a new business idea.

In the mid-2000s, Cristina Morara and her husband opened a wine bar in Sarasota. Soon customers naturally began talking to her about how they were having trouble meeting people and getting into a relationship.

Men asked Morara to give them feedback on women they brought to the wine bar, even developing a wine-based code: If you think she’s a keeper, pour a glass of this specific wine. If you think she’s not right for me, pour something else. “These are high-powered attorneys, philanthropists and surgeons,” Morara says. She had stumbled onto a demand for matchmaking, and the experience became the impetus for a company to help people build meaningful relationships.

Morara, founder and CEO of Stellar Hitch Matchmaking, started her business in Sarasota in 2009 and expanded it to Los Angeles in 2012. Today she works with clients worldwide. Morara’s work through Stellar Hitch has led to marriages, long-term relationships and babies. Her success rate, shew says, is 80%. “I attribute that to the front-end work in the beginning — understanding what they want,” she says.

For professional matchmakers, having a clear understanding of both clients and potential matches is key to their success. With fees that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, hands-on, personalized service is also crucial. That’s one of the ways they set themselves apart from the many dating apps and websites that crowd the market — especially so in the past five years. Lately, the pandemic has led professional matchmakers, like many business owners, to alter their methods. For some, it led to an initial decrease in business, but now, demand is ticking upward.

Art of the Match

Morara’s background is nearly tailored-made for matchmaking. She studied psychology and worked as a casting director — learning skills that have become essential in matchmaking. She says, “Now I’m casting for the role of a lifetime for someone.” 

Stellar Hitch offers six-month and one-year memberships, during which Morara provides unlimited introductions. “That means in the six months to a year of membership they will find their person to be in a long-term relationship with,” she says. Services are customizable, generally starting at $25,000 and going up to $150,000.

Morara makes matches by relying on several tools, among them a database of people. “When I start looking for someone, I look there, but there are a lot of other ways I match clients,” she says. “I have a private network of high-end matchmakers.” Morara also hires recruiters to help her find matches. “I can’t be everywhere all the time,” she says. “I have specialized matchmaking recruiters. They will look for exactly what we’re looking for. I do all of the final interviews.”

Courtesy, photo by Michael McGregor. Janis Spindel, president and founder of Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking, and Carly Spindel, vice president, say it's about getting the best results in the shortest amount of time for clients.

Janis Spindel, president and founder of Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking Inc., also offers a boutique, high-end touch. Her firm works with clients around the world, including Tampa, Sarasota and Naples, and maintains an office in New York City. Clients range in age from 27 to 84. Spindel, who works with Carly Spindel, her daughter, describes her clients as captains of industry, Fortune 500 executives, politicians, celebrities and athletes. “We’re dealing with the high-net-worth, upscale professional male who believes in outsourcing,” Janis says. Her services aren’t for everyone. Fees for a client in Florida, for instance, range from $125,000 to $1 million. “Our fees separate the men from the boys,” she says.

Carly, vice president of Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking, says the goal is to get the best results in the shortest amount of time. “All of our clients who come to us value time management,” she says. “They come to us to find exactly what they’re looking for. I kind of compare us to a trainer. You can go to the gym by yourself every day and work out for three hours or hire a trainer and get a targeted, super-efficient work out and get the best results.”

The process for new clients works like this: men call the office and Janis has a half-hour to an hour phone conversation with them. The call helps her determine if the man can afford their services, if she likes him, if he’s a gentleman and if she connects with him.

In non-pandemic times, after a thorough background check, Janis would set up a simulated date, then she and her daughter would visit the client’s home as part of the process, too. “We spend time in their home and get a sense of who they are,” Carly says. They go through the client’s fridge, cabinets and more, delving into all of the nooks and crannies of their lives. “They love it,” she says. “We’re very hands on.”

Janis, author of several books about matchmaking, says working with men is intentional, quipping women can be "high-maintenance and needy.”

While women aren’t the firm’s clients, they can apply to be included in its database. All women pay an application and consultation fee. Carly says, “Men love it because it shows they have skin in the game.”

Janis, a matchmaker for over 30 years, says the firm’s database includes women worldwide. If no one in the database is a good fit for a client, they travel to a city and do a search. How Janis conducts those searches is one key to her success. “That has been my trade secret for 30 years,” she says. The approach has paid off. Combined, Janis and Carly are responsible for over 4,000 successful marriages.

Catch Me a Catch

April Davis, founder and president of Minneapolis-based LUMA Luxury Matchmaking, says Sarasota is one of the company’s main locations. Her team also works with clients in Tampa, Fort Myers and Naples. Clients include professionals, executives, business owners and retirees.

Courtesy. April Davis, founder and president of LUMA Luxury Matchmaking, says Sarasota is one of the company’s main locations.

Davis, with a background in process improvement for financial services, retail and other industries, took that experience into the world of matchmaking. “I looked at the process people had for meeting and finding a serious, committed, long-term relationship, and there weren’t a lot of great options out there,” Davis says. “I said, ‘I’m going to do something about that.’” 

Now her firm, with about 15 employees, takes on an average of 15 clients per matchmaker. “It’s very one-on-one,” Davis says. “It’s very personal. Clients have matchmakers’ cell phone numbers. It gives you an idea of the level of service they’re getting.”

One of Davis' key moves is only hiring people with at least five years of experience. “If you’re a chef, you don’t get your first job at a five-star steakhouse,” she says.

Davis and others in the industry have also had to navigate an obvious pandemic challenge:creating in-person connections

Mimi Lee, president of Southwest Florida’s My Top Matchmaker, says in an email the pandemic slowed down new enrollments because the vast majority of clients didn’t want to go on wine-and-dine dates. The company adapted with Zoom consultations and dating, and now, because of its pandemic-driven virtual options, My Top Matchmaker has plans to expand to Florida’s east coast this year.

Courtesy. Mimi Lee, president of Southwest Florida’s My Top Matchmaker, says because of the virtual options the company introduced during the pandemic, it has plans to expand to Florida’s east coast this year.

Morara says business dropped off for Stellar Hitch in the first three months of the pandemic. During the summer, she started to work with more people. Now she’s seeing an upside to the situation: people are hungry for connection. Plus, some people have enjoyed meeting potential matches via phone and Zoom in the privacy of their homes. Morara also helped clients go on less typical dates amid the pandemic, such as walking dogs or taking a stroll on the beach.

Janis Spindel and LUMA have seen a rise in business, too. "Initially it was down because I think people were scared of course to date and do anything," Davis says, "but it’s come back, and we’re just as busy as ever.”

Quality over quantity

More people are using dating apps and websites these days — witness the $2.15 billion IPO for Bumble in February — but professional matchmakers largely think these services haven’t cut into their businesses. Some even think it’s the other way around.

“For my business personally, it’s done wonders,” Morara says. “My clientele is typically super accomplished, super successful and just don’t have the time to cull through.” Morara’s clients also appreciate that working with her provides privacy. Plus, they like her personal approach versus apps that tend to rely on quantity of potential matches. “People seem to think it’s a numbers game,” she says. “I wholeheartedly disagree. I’m into quality over quantity.”

Davis says dating apps have helped her business, too. “People try the apps and realize it doesn’t work, and they’re frustrated by it,” she says. “They want something better. We’re more of a concierge type of service.”

 ‘This isn’t a job. Yes, it’s a business, but it’s our passion. We have brought more babies into this world than an obstetrician.’ Janis Spindel, Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking Inc.

For many boutique matchmaking companies, word of mouth is often the best source of new clients. “My reputation and my success rate speaks for itself,” Janis Spindel says. “I work 25/8 is what my clients tell me. We want to give them our full attention.”

Case in point: Once a man from Miami filled out an application to be a client at 10:58 p.m. on a Sunday night. Janis immediately picked up the phone and called him. “This isn’t a job,” she says. “Yes, it’s a business, but it’s our passion. We have brought more babies into this world than an obstetrician.”

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