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The Business of Love: Cupid Cashes In

"Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch ..."

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The famous lyrics to the 1964 musical, Fiddler on the Roof, were sung by the milkman's daughters when they caught sight of their mother in a deep discussion with the village matchmaker.

For some, finding that "catch" could be a piece of cake. For others though, the path to Mr. or Ms. Right, may require help from a third party.

The practice of matchmaking is spread out across cultures throughout history, but none more pronounced than in Asia, especially in China and India -- the emerging economic giants of today.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the idea of matchmaking in modern cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, seems absurd. But the more things change, the more they remain the same -- albeit, with a twist. Much in the way big conglomerates like Boeing and IBM have outsourced jobs and services, singles -- who are too busy or too tired to deal with the dating scene -- have turned to matchmaking agencies to do the courting for them.

"People are more used to the idea outsourcing work. By that same extension, our services ... people are paying us to be picky for them!" says Irene La Cota, President of IJL International (It's Just Lunch).

The past decade has seen the quirky matchmaking industry racking up dollar signs across continents. Marketdata Enterprises expects the U.S. dating services market (including solo matchmakers, dating websites, chains and franchises) to grow at an average annual pace of 3.7 percent from 2005 to 2008, with services worth $1.11 billion.

It's a bigger story in Asia. In India, the business of matchmaking brings in roughly $300 million a year, according to Anupam Mittal the co-founder of Shaadi.com, an Indian matrimonial service. And over in China, iResearch values the matchmaking industry at $1.3 billion a year and fast growing.

TLC Business Strategy

Businesses like, IJL, target the busy professional and offer extensive screening services culminating in one-on-one lunch dates. Other agencies such as, Lunch Actually, have certified matchmakers sort through suitable profiles to set up meetings between potential partners. These companies set up lunch dates for the potential love-birds to meet at their own convenience. All clients really have to do, is simply show up.

But these dates don't come for cheap. IJL, which has been in business since 1991, charges an average of US$1,500 for 12 to 16 introductions. The Singapore-based Lunch Actually, bills clients an average of $600 to $1,160 depending on whether they choose a 6-date or 12-date package.

And singles are willing part with their money to meet the potential "one" though. From 2006 to 2007, Lunch Actually arranged 5500 dates. In 2007, their estimated revenue was roughly $600,000, according to Violet Lim, founding director of Lunch Actually.

IJL International's La Cota, says her company has been profitable for the past 5 years, but it took a while to get there: "There are a lot of barriers to entry so you have to have capital, networking and drive".

Both companies have extended their cupid's bow to other parts of the world. IJL has 100 offices worldwide, in countries like Australia, Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Singapore and Thailand. Lunch Actually has two other offices in Malaysia and Hong Kong.

But setting up hundreds of dates and expanding offices across regions is one thing. How successful have these matchmaking services been in picking the right partner for their clients?IJL boasts more than 12,000 marriages over the past five years.

But Lim of Lunch Actually says she does not equate the success of her business to the number of marriages made: "We tell our clients upfront we do not guarantee marriage ... how we do measure success is how our clients rate matches." Over the past four years, Lim says 85 percent of the dates sent out have been rated satisfactory by members.

Growing The Business of Love

Fabian Lim is one of Lunch Actually’s satisfied clients. He met his wife there after signing up for their services. Not satisfied with regular dating, he felt that a matchmaking service could help him find the specific requirements he was looking for in a life partner.

"It's not easy to meet the kind of women you want to marry especially if you are fussy like me," Fabian said. He is also adamant that he spent more money dating the "normal" way than with his 12-date package.

The matchmaking profession is definitely not a traditional service sector. But it is a viable one. As IJL International's La Cota puts it, "The bottom line is people are always going to want to meet people and fall in love.” And that means big bucks for all the potential cupids out there.

And though it isn't a mainstream business, it is possible that one day it could be viewed as such. Lunch Actually's Lim believes it just means people in general have to change any negative perceptions they may have about matchmaking. Translation? Putting your love life in the hands of a someone else doesn't necessarily mean you have reached the ultimate pits of desperation.

Like any concept worth growing, matchmakers need to nurture and develop their business strategies to fit with the changing times. It's a little easier with this situation though -- finding singles looking for "the one" is one trend that is likely here to stay.

So who says you can't put a price on love? In this case, you most certainly can.