High-end matchmakers are mainstream and here to stay. FORBES has covered the topic, films have been made about them, there’s even a television show about those that demand big money for putting couples together.
But one enterprising ‘relationship consultant’ is succeeding in business not only by helping others find love, but by helping others help others find love. Lisa Clampitt’s New York City-based Matchmaking Institute was designed to teach passionate entrepreneurs how to play cupid professionally. Founded in 2003, the state-licensed school takes on about 50 students per year and in its decade of operations has graduated 500, many starting their own enterprises.
The inspiration behind the school was Clampitt’s own frustrations upon entering the industry in the late 1990s. “I got into the matchmaking industry and there was nothing there,” she explains. “There was no way to be trained.” Throwing aside temptation to hoard professional secrets, she decided that educating new generations in the industry would be a good way of helping newcomers avoid the uphill battle and isolation startup matchmakers tend to endure.
Clampitt began holding classes in 2004 and industry conferences in 2005, teaching such skills as reading basic human psychology, pre-screening techniques, marketing, business models, event-planning, keeping overhead low, networking and perfecting the art of customer service. Graduates walk away with a kit to help them launch their own businesses, which includes various matchmaking forms, website templates and business plan outlines.
The Institute acts as a trade association and once certified, graduates are connected with a referral network and a larger organization of matchmakers that self-police, keep each other honest and offer assistance. This year’s conference in New York attracted 85 people – an international ensemble of those in the business and those that want to be – and about 150 are expected next year.
To operate in the high-end market, however, it takes more than just business tips and referrals. “For the very wealthy sophisticated male crowd, you have to be savvy, you have to be smart, you have to be sophisticated, attractive and know what you’re doing.”
Clampitt seems to know what she’s doing. A former east coast director for celebrity matchmaker Patti Stanger, she founded her own boutique matchmaker service, Club VIP Life, about 13 years ago. The service matches male clients with compatible women for a $15,000 fee (that’s for six months of unlimited introductions) based on a model where men pay and women can submit a profile for screening free of charge. She has a gay division as well, called Club Elite.
From her Fifth Avenue office – which sports a small lounge, a mini cocktail bar and giant bowls of Hershey’s Kisses and lollipops – Clampitt and assistant Beth Mandell sift through hundreds of profiles searching for possible matches for their clients. The two only take on 30 gentlemen at a time, put together by a team of five part-time recruiters that work on commission. “The whole idea of our company is to be a friend-connector,” says Clampitt. Connecting friends, it turns out, is a lucrative game and the two-lady enterprise takes in about $500,000 annually (that includes Institute fees) growing about 25% year over year since 2009.
Service begins with getting to know her clients through initial phone conversations followed by a visit to the VIP Life office where Clampitt guides them through a thorough questionnaire that touches on profession, schooling, family history, hobbies, relationship goals, and relationship history. Clampitt, who holds an MA in social work, tends to place emphasis on the little details about her clients that could be an important tell about the kind of person they want to be with. “I’m very into the concept of psychologically profiling without it being therapy, but for the best possible match,” she explains.
So far Clampitt has worked with roughly 450 clients in her career and says that over 90% end up in relationships that last over six months. About half get married. The men who come to Club VIP Life tend to have high incomes – from $500,000 to billionaires – as one would expect of a clientele that elects to shell out $15,000 for a love life enhancement.
The U.S. dating industry stands at $2.1 billion, says Clampitt, most of which is comprised of online services like Match.com, eHarmony, OK Cupid and the like. Offline matchmaking in the United States is a $300 million space, which includes social dating organizations and the more personalized matching services like Clampitt’s.
But be it high end matchmakers or internet hookup sites, dating companies across the board are seeing a surge because meeting lovers and friends through third parties is no longer taboo. “It’s now not for the loser, it’s for everybody,” Clampitt said. “It’s for the cool person, it’s for the successful person, it’s for the beautiful person—it’s for everybody.”
The problem with the online game, she says, is that only about 10% of the online profiles get 90% of the attention. Plus, many lie on their profiles about looks, personality, job or even marital status. “Matchmakers came into the picture in a more popular form by saying, ‘OK, we’re going to give you the exposure but we’re going to verify the information, we’re going to personally screen for you, we’re going to take 1,000 people that you would look through on Match but boil it down to the five top people that make sense for you.”
Written by: Karsten Strauss, Forbes Staff