Small Amherst Company is Bringing Singles Together
Lanie and Bud Delphin found what they were looking for - in each other. Now they're in business to help other singles do the same. Encouraged by their success using a national dating service to meet, and looking for a home-based business they would enjoy, the Delphins launched Single Search Western Mass. in Amherst two years ago, promising a more personal, attentive type of service than other dating services. Growth has been a challenge, especially in a dating landscape dotted by higher-profile competitors, particularly Internet-based firms such as match.com and eharmony.com that have saturated the national marketplace with radio and TV ads.
But positive word of mouth, as well as a focus on setting themselves apart from the field, have the couple - as well as the company's relationship coach, Rebecca Belofsky - looking up.
"Everyone's using the massive Internet dating services, and we had to focus differently," Bud said. "We have to be personal and local, and we have to show we care and that we're more involved than the more impersonal services. And we do try to ensure that, as much as possible, compatible people are matched with each other." Success stories, after all, are more than feel-good accounts in the world of dating services. They're the foundation for further growth - and that's what the Delphins are looking for.
"We're in our 50's, and we know how important it is to find the right person, "Lanie said. "Most people don't want to go to a bar, and they're reluctant to be fixed up by someone else. Most people can find just anybody - we wanted to help them find the right person."
Dating services face a catch-22 when they start out: the more members are enrolled, the better the chance for a match, and therefore the more attractive the service is for singles. But it's tough to add those members in the early days because of a reluctance to sign up for slim pickings. It's even more of a challenge considering that many national services, including popular Internet sites, promise a large pool from which to search for a date or a mate.
The solution, the Delphins decided, would be to build slowly with a focus on personal service, starting with the initial application, which can be found online at www.massmatch.com.
The basic level of service - one of three tiers - allows members to fill out a survey with personal characteristics, values, what they're looking for in a partner, and other information, as well as a way in which another member could reach them - phone, regular mail, E-mail, whatever reflects their level of comfort. Then they regularly receive the profiles of members who match at a 60% level or higher, and they're free to contact the ones who seem promising. "Only people who are matched with each other's profile can see each other's profile," Bud said - one key difference between Mass Match and many other companies. "It's more secure, and people aren't cruising through a lot of names; only the ones who are matched through the system can read the descriptions and make the contacts." Members who want to go beyond that service can pay more to get the Delphins and Belofsky more personally involved. At the second level, Lanie and Belofsky sit with a member to go over the profile and get a better feel for what he or she is looking for. At the next tier, the company actually screens out potential matches for them. "This is for people such as business professionals who don't have the time or the inclination to do a lot of dating," Lanie said. "Based on what they say, we fine-tune it and pick out just the right people. Then they go out on a date with them."
At this level, "we're interactive with our clients; we're doing all the networking to get them the kinds of people they want to meet," Belofsky said. "They don't have to look through any of the information. We say, 'OK, Bob, we have someone we think would be worthwhile to meet, and we think we have enough basis for you to enjoy a meal together." Mass Match then stays in touch, soliciting feedback on dates that don't blossom into romance, so the Delphins and Belofsky can further fine-tune the search.
"It helps us get close to what clients are looking for," Belofsky said, noting that this personal third level of service also helps break difficult communication barriers. "Maybe they have three kids, or they're divorced, and they want us to explain their story to someone. We help navigate the tricky terrain for our clients."
Face to Face
The act of dating itself can be tricky terrain, even after a successful first contact. That's why the Delphins stress the importance of the first face-to-face date, to establish early if there's any chemistry afoot.
"You can have fabulously long phone conversations, then meet, and there's no chemistry," Belofsky said. "Or sometimes, you could miss out on someone because a phone conversation doesn't go well. What we're doing isn't for people who want to sit in their bathrobes at 1 in the morning and type letters to people. That's not what we're about." "We're not about virtual relationships," Lanie echoed. "We're about getting people into a healthy relationship. That's why we encourage people not to Email or phone for long periods of time - that's a mistake. They need to meet for coffee for 20 minutes and go from there."
Making connections is only part of the Mass Match business, however. Helping people learn to make their own connections is just as important, and Belofsky, who had worked with a singles service in Florida before working with the Delphins, provides a 'relationship coaching' service for an additional charge. "I work with someone's personal narrative," she told BusinessWest. "When people go on a date, they're telling their story, and there are good and bad ways to tell a story. We've all been through experiences, and I help people find words to express where they've been in an honest, positive manner." For example, she said, there are ways to share information about a previous marriage without bringing one's date down. And those divorced members, especially those who had been wed for many years, are often surprised at how little they remember about flirting."
"Most people don't consider themselves writers," Belofsky said. "I help them be more verbally expressive so they can get out there and market themselves in the best possible light."
Some of her advice is common-sense, yet isn't always readily apparent to the client. For example, one woman Belofsky counseled wore a large ring on her wedding-ring hand. "She knew it wasn't a wedding ring, but other people might not have realized she wasn't married," possibly driving off interested men. Lanie told BusinessWest that, whether they're consulting personally with Belofsky or simply using the basic services, Mass Match members are people who are serious about relationships.
"They're proactive people," she said. "They don't believe the universe won't provide, but they're nudging the universe a little bit.
"You can't sit at home on the couch and hope the right person comes along," she added. "You have to make an effort - but just a little effort, since we can do most of the work."
The key, Bud said, is to build up the company's database, some of whom are switching from larger, more impersonal companies with which they have become frustrated. Mass Match has clients ranging from their 20's into the senior years, and the Delphins are reaching out to gay and lesbian singles and heterosexuals alike.
"My main goal is to do something according to my values," Lanie said. "You hear horror stories of companies sending people out on dates just so a person will have a date. We wouldn't dream of doing something like that."
Mass Match hosted its first singles blood drive in Springfield in August (with the American Red Cross), and is looking to co-promote itself with other businesses and find other ways to spread the word.
"My dream is to have every single person in Western Mass. under our wing," Belofsky said, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. "This is my passion."
She also takes it seriously. "When people are looking for a house, they go to a Realtor. When they want to invest, they see a broker. We are experts in this business. Anyone can see someone on the street and feel an attraction, but they have no idea of what the person's background or family or personal situation. "I love going to sleep at night knowing it's worth it, that I'm helping to bring about happiness in the universe." All that with a simple nudge.