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June 16, 2011 – Nancy Malis always had a knack for making matches for friends and family members. Her greatest triumph: Her brother, Barry, who insisted he was attracted to tall blonde women with blue eyes, but ended up happily married for 20 years to the petite brunette Malis introduced him to years ago.

Malis, a marketing and business development consultant, and her partner, Marie McIlwrath, an educator, had been making matches on their own for years. They teamed up a year ago to launch Make Me a Match, a highly personalized matchmaking service based in the Boston area.

Their boutique enterprise is flourishing as more singles become disenchanted with online dating services. They also serve a particular niche market: Busy, well-educated professional men and women who have little time to socialize.

“The quality of the women I’ve met through them is much higher than on online dating sites,” said Jim, a happy client who has been on 15 dates so far.

“I’ve found that most everyone listed on an online dating site lies about themselves,” he said. “But, every woman I’ve met through Nancy and Marie is a real woman, interested in a real relationship.”

Matchmaking overall is a thriving business. About 95 million Americans over the age of 18 are single. And about 20 million have tried one or more of the 1,000 online dating sites, paying around $30 a month. Despite the impersonal nature of online matchmaking, industry revenues have grown from $900 million in 2007 to a projected $1.9 billion in 2012, according to Jupiter Research. Match.com, which launched in 1995, is still the industry leader.

Despite the popularity of online dating services, the traditional, personal approach is paying off for Malis and McIllwrath, who have made 25 successful matches so far with a few ending up in marriage. One secret of their success is the hours they spend getting to know their clients. Before anyone meets in person, they coach both parties about their appearance, manners and dating etiquette.

There is absolutely no contact between clients until Marie and Nancy set up the first date. This personalized service is not cheap. Male clients pay a $6,500 fee and are responsible for paying all expenses incurred on dates. Female clients pay $250. Playing to their strengths, Malis focuses on selecting and coaching the women, while McIllwrath seeks out and coaches the men.

“We do nothing online,” said McIlwrath. “We are not a dating service. The one-to-one, face-to-face interaction we have with our clients sets us apart.” She said she relies on an “intuitive and deeply spiritual approach” to making matches. For instance, a few months ago, she told a client who was a doctor that he would meet his new wife on Jan. 7. “He thought I was crazy, but they fell in love that night.”

Another satisfied client was an Italian-American real estate developer. “I thought the woman best suited for him would be a profound woman of color with strong values,” recalled McIlwrath. “Of course, he wasn’t thinking of anyone like that. But, on the very first date they talked for five hours and have been together ever since.”

Melody, an academic who travels all the time, has enjoyed five Make Me a Match dates so far. She appreciates the fact that Marie accompanies her clients on the first date to make the initial introduction. “Safety is of prime importance to me,” said Melody. “We’ve always gone to very nice places. The men seem to know a lot about me, so I think Marie does a lot of background coaching.”

Mark, an academic who admits he’s “married to his work,” said his goal is to find “true love.”

“I’ve met some fantastic women through Nancy and Marie,” said Mark. “I’m looking for a combination of Mother Theresa and Cindy Crawford,” he joked, adding that “beauty and a nice figure only last so long.”

Jane Applegate (CEO and President of Applegate Group) – She is a small business author, speaker and consultant specializing in helping big and small companies market and promote their products and services. The Applegate Group Inc. writes and produces video for websites, trade shows and events. It has worked with: Bloomberg Television, Cox Communications, the New York Times and Merrill Lynch.


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