Lisa Clampitt stocks her Union Square office with red wine and chocolate — ingredients that can heal a broken heart or spark a new romance.
In her line of work, she needs to be prepared for both.
“I’ve always loved setting people up,” says the 49-year-old matchmaker, who runs the Matchmaking Institute, believed to be the only school for aspiring Cupids. “In New York City, a matchmaker could make well over $100,000 a year and create their own schedule. It’s a real viable career if someone is good at it.”
Her parents’ own divorce started her lifelong obsession with connecting people who want to find love, but it wasn’t until she saw a job ad for a matchmaker that she considered it as a career.
In 2001, the former social worker launched her matchmaking firm, Club VIP Life, where male clients pay upward of $15,000 to find the perfect mate. (Like many other matchmaking firms, females aren’t charged.) She estimates her services have led to more than 100 marriages.
Indeed, the matchmaking business has blossomed in recent years. In 2005, there were 1,200 matchmakers; now there are more than 3,000, according to Clampitt. And the industry shows no signs of slowing: Marketdata Enterprises, a research firm that tracks US dating services, predicts the industry will grow nearly 5 percent annually this year and mushroom to $2.54 billion by 2015.
Clampitt relied on her social-work training for matchmaking because there was no formal study program. After getting some experience at a small firm, the then-aspiring Cupid started working as the East Coast director for Patti Stanger — a k a the “Millionaire Matchmaker” — and launched her own business soon after.
Still, she found herself making mistakes when she started her own shop. There was the time in 2005 when a man who dated two women wanted one flown to London to meet him. Unfortunately, he gave Clampitt the wrong name, so the wrong woman showed up. The pair hit it off anyway and dated for a year.
Another client claimed her date showed up in a cape and underwear. It turned out the couple was playing a practical joke and wanted to see the matchmaker’s mortified reaction.
Clampitt expanded her business by opening her matchmaking school in 2003. The training is not required to start a matchmaking business. Akin to bartending school, the course is targeted primarily at those who are interested in playing Cupid but need a business plan.
“A lot of people come to me and say, ‘I set my friends up all the time,’ and ‘I love love,’ but you have to balance those qualities with the practical-side skills of opening your own business,” says Clampitt.
Over the years, she’s schooled 500 men and women from as far away as Australia, Japan and England on the art of love, including how to screen candidates and market services. Pupils range from chatty hairdressers to mechanical engineers. For nearly everyone, it’s a second career.
“It’s studying people,” says Nara Tucker of Albany, one of 12 students who came for a three-day, $2,500 training session in January at Clampitt’s headquarters. Mongolia native Tucker is an engineer in search of a more rewarding job.
Each student is armed with a thick book of training material, including questionnaires for prospective clients and business models. They sit through discussions of chemistry, empathy and building confidence. Class is informal, more support group than MBA.
Former student Jason Silver, 36, now a matchmaker in Chicago, at first thought the idea of starting his own business was a fool’s errand.
But after class, he was hooked.
“In the hippy-dippy sense, it’s spreading love,” he says. “On the business level, there are so many people out there looking to meet other people.”
Clampitt credits Stanger’s show and singles’ frustration with online dating for the surge in the matchmaking business. Still, while her former boss is notorious for being a brash straight shooter, Clampitt comes off more as a therapist in her black-rimmed glasses, sensible black flats and gentle tone.
“I feel such pain for people who want to meet someone and can’t,” she says. “It’s heartbreaking. They need to be grounded in the hope that they can find love again.”
But the profession can get lonely, she says, because matchmakers often work alone, spending lots of time scrolling through their databases and scrutinizing questionnaires. She encourages former students to keep in touch and holds a networking event in the Manhattan Penthouse on Fifth Avenue in Union Square every April for matchmakers.
“It’s historically been an isolated job and competitive and territorial, but it’s becoming more collaborative and fun,” she says, because it’s a growing industry and because there are so many niches — Jewish matchmakers, executive matchmakers — that they don’t butt heads as much.
As for her own love life, Clampitt approached her now-husband in a Manhattan coffee shop 11 years ago. Less than two months later, they married in Las Vegas. They now have two sons, ages 3 and 5.
“We were enamored with each other,” she says. “He’s the best guy ever, and we both feel like we found the catch of the century.”
She’s not one for rules when it comes to dating, telling her own clients, “It has nothing to do with waiting or not waiting, it’s about who you want to be with. When they feel meant to be, I just say, ‘Go and get married.’ ”
- Don’t judge: If someone describes what he or she is looking for, avoid screaming out, “Are you crazy?” Instead, Clampitt says, daters need a “judgment-free experience”: It’s a rare chance for someone to express him- or herself in a safe place — so no matter how “off” their requests sound, reserve thoughts until they are done laying out their terms.
- Listen: Miscommunication is one of the biggest problems in the matchmaking business, so listening is paramount. Try repeating back what clients say — like, “So you want tall, dark and handsome. Is that right?” so the person won’t accuse you of a bad match later on.
- Set goals: Have clients list the non-negotiables they’re looking for in a partner, and don’t settle for something ambiguous. Do they want marriage? Kids? A long-distance relationship? Knowing their dos and don’ts will help weed out candidates who won’t fit.
- Determine values: Are they religious and like to spend time with extended family? If so, they won’t suit atheists who don’t get along with their moms. Are they savers or spenders? Couch potatoes or chronically restless? It’s better to ask questions up front than to learn via trial and error.
- Find what makes them go ga-ga: For some, it’s dark humor; for others, it’s leggy blondes. Everyone has a weak spot when it comes to dating. And everyone has pet peeves. Knowing both will go far in finding a good match.
- Find common interests: Match up singles who like to do at least some of the same things. “It’s not necessary to have all your activities be common ones, but it’s fun and a bonding experience to have some things you can share on your spare time,” says Clampitt.
- Be receptive to feedback: Just because one date didn’t work doesn’t mean feedback won’t help in the future. “This is the way you learn about your clients, what worked and what needs to be tweaked,” says Clampitt.