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Written for Miami Herald

Local kid makes it big in the dating game

The Miami Herald

March 3, 2008

By ROBIN SHEAR

Matchmaking may not be the world’s oldest profession, but, nowadays, it’s one of the most profitable. Appropriate, then, that third-generation matchmaker Patti Stanger’s cellphone ring tone is set to the Gwen Stefani song Rich Girl.

The one-time hostess of her parents’ now-defunct Fort Lauderdale bagel shop, Sam’s Club on Sunrise Boulevard, Stanger is the star of Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker, which debuted in January. The show follows her exploits as she aids wealthy daters – whom she calls “brilliant in their businesses and stupid in their love lives” – under the auspices of the Los Angeles-based Millionaires Club matchmaking service she founded in 2000. Her mother and stepfather, Rhoda and Mel Goldstein, now live in Sunny Isles Beach.

David Wygant, a Los Angeles-based dating coach and founder of DW Productions, who worked as a dating coach for Stanger’s business in its first year, says Stanger always told him she would get a show, and he believed her. “She’s different. She really tells it like it is,” he says. “You’ve almost got to set them up for failure, show them what they want, help them. These guys don’t know failure. They don’t like failure and they don’t like to be judged.”

The University of Miami alumna, who majored in screenwriting, has a passion for, well, passion. But despite boasting “a four-year relationship with a wonderful man,” this modern-day diva of the dating world is also a savvy entrepreneur who admits that snagging true love is still harder than snagging a million bucks.

Stanger also has a division for advertising high-revenue luxury products on her website, a jewelry line, a fragrance and a book in the works. Her business has 15 employees.

“And then there’s a major motion picture coming to a theater near you,” she adds. “My whole dream was to write my own screenplay, so I will probably do that, too, and maybe even have the musical on Broadway. I think big. I think globally.”

“Patti is a great self-promoter,” says Mitchell D. Brandt, the president of Great Expectations, a Boca Raton-based dating service that turned Stanger on to matchmaking as a business opportunity. “She always had a lot of energy. We had to rein her in every so often. When she would go to an event, she would walk away from her booth, walk up to people, ask, ‘Are you single?’ She was aggressive.”

Brandt, an attorney and investor who is less involved in the business these days, not only spent 17 years in the industry, he met his wife of 12 years through his own service.

When asked if Stanger’s show is representative of what it’s like for searching singles, he says no.

“I think what she’s talking about is a very, very small percentage of the population,” he adds. “Most people are afraid. They face a little rejection and they shut down and stop looking. Everyone wants two things in life: to find someone to love and be loved. I’m not sure that comes across in Patti’s show. Patti is trying to say, ‘I’m only dealing with wealthy people, and wealthy people only want attractive girls.’ ” He counters that wealthy people, men and women, also struggle with shyness, fear and rejection. “People’s experiences go right across the spectrum,” he says.

With Tuesday’s finale of her first season at hand and word on whether a second had been approved still pending, Stanger, 46, took time to talk to The Miami Herald. If her cable network does spring for a second date, she promises South Florida, and this region’s singles, will get some of the action.

Q: It sounds as if the last couple of weeks have been crazy for you, taping The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, The Tyra Banks Show.

A: I don’t know if you saw the ratings on Tuesday night … We’re at No. 12. It’s huge… It’s been blowing up, to the point where everyone wants a job, everyone wants me to fix them up and everybody wants to join, so it’s been wonderful.

Q: Your revenue probably has blown up, too?

A: It’s a million-dollar-a-year and more business. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon with the prices we charge – $25,000 membership. We’re a boutique, so we might take 150 [clients] a year and now, because we’re hiring new people, we can expand it. It costs more money to have me as the matchmaker – I don’t start matching anyone unless they pay $50K and up. Even when I didn’t have the show, I made a lot of money…

Florida is a quality market for me. We are getting more women from Florida than any other market in the country, including California. It’s the fastest market to fix people up in. They don’t hem and haw. They go out on a date and they don’t analyze.

Florida men usually are in retired mode. It’s usually their second home they end up living in, so they’re more on vacation 24/7, and they’re more relaxed. They’re not as uptight and neurotic. It’s an older market – men in their 50s who look pretty good. You’ve got your Brazilians and your Argentinians and your Germans and your English, and then you’ve got your Canadians and then you’ve got your New Yorkers, your Bostonians, your Chicagoans, but they all go down to this one market.

Q: Is your goal to franchise the Millionaire’s Club?

A: No, we don’t franchise. I’m basically selling you a license – how to, the CD rom, everything you need to do, like add water and bake and let the cake rise. [The entry fee for an exclusive territory runs from $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the size and nature of the territory, according to the Millionaires Club press materials.] But the bottom line is I control it. You want to make sure you follow my formula. If not, you’ll suffer…

We have a 50 percent renewal rate. Does that mean I wasn’t a success because I didn’t marry them off? No, a lot of men say they want to get married, they get the girlfriend, and then they trade up. Like George Clooney [not a client]. Every two or three years, did you notice he trades up? He does. No, I haven’t worked with him.

Q: How did you go from screenwriting to fashion to matchmaking?

A: I came from college back to New York, thinking I had a job with Warner Bros. [but my connection died], and I needed money to pay my rent. I was going to go back to Florida, but I got a job in the garment center working for Union Bay [clothing company]. So I made a lot of money, and I learned the business. It actually was the best selling tool for matchmaking because you would have to get a buyer to come to your office and compete with some of the biggest companies in the industry and really believe in the value of your product and sell it in a very short period of time for a lot of money. Learning to get people together, not having fear of phones, talking to anyone on the street – good matchmakers are like that.

… Then I saw an ad in the paper for [dating service] Great Expectations, and that was my turning point in my life. I loved that job [in the telemarketing division] more than anything else, and I treated it like my own business. It taught me not only how to do the business side of matchmaking but how to be a really good matchmaker in everyday society. Because my mom did it for temple and my grandmother did it for the temple. They didn’t really do it for money. I had to work seven days a week. I worked nights. I did anything I had to do to make that job succeed. I worked for a guy who was really difficult [owner-attorney Mitchell Brandt]. They asked me – for no money, I wasn’t getting paid extra – to go around the country and do it to the other centers.

Q: Why does matchmaking have so much more potential for profit now than it did in your mother and grandmother’s era?

A: Men married for sex and women married for security, and there was no gray area.

Now it’s a lot harder because they’re sleeping with the merchandise, and the girls are allowing it. And on top of it, they’re jerking them around and dating three, four people at the same time and they’re serial dating and they have expectation lists, but it’s not high expectations – it’s unrealistic expectations. It doesn’t exist.

At first they’re shocked [when I tell the men these things]. And I go, well, I don’t really care. I’ve got your money. So, what are you gonna do about it? And then I basically tell them the truth. And you know what? I’ve danced at every one of those guys’ weddings.