Since Mike Green founded Lunch Date in 1994, he hasn’t followed any of the conventional rules of business that dictate how companies are usually run.
He had no experience in the business of matchmaking; he regularly turns away business; he doesn’t actively pursue repeat customers; and his business model is designed in such a way that he only receives a one-time flat fee.
That said, Green has turned Lunch Date — which links white collar professionals for casual dates over coffee or lunch — into a success over the past five years. “I realized it was difficult to meet other single people in Cleveland,” he says. “I’m filling a real need.”
The company’s client list has grown from 20 of Green’s friends and acquaintances to more than 1,200 active clients from all over Northeast Ohio. They range in age from 25 to 72.
Green’s practices aren’t really all that different than other business owners; he’s just tailor-made them to fit the matchmaking business.
Learn on the fly
There’s an old writer’s adage that says, “Write what you know.” The same usually holds true in business. People who found engineering firms are usually engineers, not architects.
Green’s background, however, is in medical sales, not dating services. And he readily admits he’s never even tried a dating service himself.
So what qualifies Green as a matchmaker?
“I’ve become a good judge of character over the past five years,” he says. “It’s a matter of reading people and making the right matches.”
Intuition, he says, drives the entire process.
“You get a feel for it.,” he says. “We do face-to-face interviews and get a comprehensive view of each person. Then, when we’re ready to match two people up, we call and give them each an accurate description of the other.
“As the process goes on, we learn more and more about people.”
It’s hard to argue with Green’s results.
More than 70 couples have gotten married after meeting through Lunch Date, many of whom have already had children.
“We call those Lunch Date babies,” Green says.
Be choosy about your clientele
“We only take people that we feel we can match and are consistent with the rest of our client base,” says Green.
That’s drastically different from other dating services, where an entrance fee may put your video or photo on file with hundreds of other people looking for Mr. or Ms. Right.
“We do all the leg work and we’re narrowing the field for them,” says Green.
Legwork involves comprehensive interviews with Green or his staff, where dozens of topics and interests are explored and background information is gathered. The staff makes physical notes about the person and observations about their personality.
Then, a rigorous background check begins. Green verifies the applicant’s age, marital status, education, occupation and criminal background. He says only three times have there been discrepancies between what an applicant told him and what the background report showed.
“We’ve never had a problem in six years,” he says.
Green says Lunch Date only accepts white-collar professionals, and does turn away people who don’t fit that profile.
“All our clients are corporate people who are ground in what they do,” he says. “Or new transplants to town who simply don’t know how, or don’t have time, to meet people. We bridge the gap. People you meet through us you won’t meet anywhere else.”
Charge a one-time flat fee
Green’s business model is designed to provide one payment from each client — a flat $595 fee to participate in the service. For that, each client receives six dates over six months.
While that may not sound like much, those six dates are only the ones Lunch Date provides. For example, two people are brought together downtown for coffee after work. They hit if off and plan three more dates before coming back to Green to pursue someone else. That still counts as only one of the six dates, explains Green.
“It’s six different people over six month.”
And Green hasn’t buttonholed himself into pushing clients away after they’ve exhausted their six dates in six months. If they wish to continue, a practice Green doesn’t actively chase, they can renew for $395.
Discourage repeat business
“Our goal for the clients is to hook them up and never hear from them again,” Green says. “I don’t want someone to come back and say they had a bad time.”
Realistically, though, that doesn’t normally happen on the first lunch date. And since the service provides six dates over six months, it may be a few dates before two people click.
“The biggest challenge is making sure everyone is happy,” he says. “We want to hear from both sides. That’s how we modify our approach for the next date or match.”
But nothing is more satisfying to Green than when it truly works out and he loses his clients.
“A couple walked in a few weeks ago (in May) and knocked on my door. They met a year ago and had just got engaged. They wanted to stop by and show me the ring and thank me for having this business.”
While Green would rather not have his customers renew after their initial six-month membership, he does hope his clients pass along the word about Lunch Date.
“If someone’s made happy, they’ll tell two of their friends about it and they’ll join,” he says. “That’s the kind of repeat business we do look for.”