OPW INTERVIEW -- Aug 18, 2006 -- Paul Falzone is co-CEO of Together Dating/The Right One, one of the countries top offline dating agencies. They also run e-love.com.
How were Together Dating and The Right One started?
Together Dating started in 1974 by Chester Chase in upstate New York. As time went on the assets of that service were sold to another gentleman who grew the company. In 1989, I personally got involved in the industry and ran some of the offices. In 1997, it was a very large, built out organization with about 150 locations worldwide…with a less than sterling reputation. It was a huge mistake of the old franchise not to address PR and customer service issues. Anyway, as time went on, I broke away from the chain. I had 14 locations in the Midwest and New England and I founded The Right One on September 4th, 1997, and started to franchise the company. I invented the company from the ground up and put everything on the line.
In November 1997, the CEO of the Together Dating organization, the old franchiser, threw the company into bankruptcy. He had so many complaints, and issues with his franchisees. The creditors eventually (January 1999) awarded the assets of the reorganization to my business partner, Brad Megahan, and his business partner. They got on the phone with me and said, “How would you like to merge with us? We need you.” Any good franchise needs an infrastructure and I didn’t have much of an infrastructure with 14 locations. Brad was a friend and mentor, as one of the most successful franchisees in the chain. He knew how to run a good operation, ethically. Brad and I are now 50/50 partners on Together Dating/The Right One and e-love.com, which is the most recent acquisition that we made.
How many owners are there?
Two owners represent half of all our franchises and there’s a dozen franchisees total. Brad and I know it takes a certain type of person to run a business like this and franchising really isn’t the best way to go. We kept the strongest people in our chain and pruned the rest to make it a stronger organization. We stopped selling franchises and started opening company stores or taking back under-performing franchises. That has proven to be a very smart move because of the strategies we have in place for the future.
How large is The Right One and Together Dating now?
The Right One and Together will do about $45 million gross sales in 2006. We’re at 60 locations. We feel it’s very important and critical to grow slowly with the right management in place. We used to primarily market by direct mail but we’ve switched over, in the last 18 months, to Internet marketing. We have vendors who are doing online marketing for us. We generate leads at $5 to $25 each. Our average direct mail lead cost was around $250 after 9/11. People were afraid to open envelopes because of the anthrax scares.
Just our own corporate stores are generating 15,000 leads a month and we used to get maybe a tenth of that when we were doing direct mail. So we’ve really increased our lead flow. We’ve got three good sized telemarketing facilities in the country now.
How much are memberships?
I can’t dictate what my franchisees charge but everybody is basically in the same ballpark. Smaller towns in the Midwest may not charge as much, but the programs start at around $2,000 to $3,000 and go up to $6,000 to $7,000.
What is e-love?
We recently acquired a company called e-love, which was the old Perfect Match product, out of a bankruptcy. We acquired some great technology. We’re the dinosaurs in the (dating) business, remember. We’ve been around for over 20 years and technology…, no it’s not our strong suit, but I strongly feel that if some of these online dating experts sat with us, and we could take what was in our heads and give it to them, and they took what they were strong in and gave it to us, it would be very dangerous.
I think they need to reach out and touch their clients more than just emailing them. We call potential clients, set an appointment and have them come into our office and spend about 90 minutes with them, going over all the details of what they want in a relationship. We’ll do a criminal background check, verify their identity and, if they’re divorced, check the divorce decree, and then once we feel that they’re going to be great for the membership, we plug them into the system.
The difference with e-love is that the consumer can go home, log in, and type in all the preferences they’re looking for in a person. Up pops nine people per screen and they can click on each person and look at their picture, that we took. It’s not a 20 year old picture. It’s something we just took. They can also click on an icon and check out their video. About 80% of all our members are choosing to do add video. hey can look at all the different aspects of the personality profile that they took with the company and see two bar graphs, one with each persons responses. They can see a visual of how the personalities match up. Users can hear a person, and see what things they have in common with that person. It’s very powerful. So that’s e-love.
What are your plans for 2006 through 2007?
We’ll continue to run a profitable and successful service. We’ll focus on giving great high-touch service, and get even more efficient at converting our online leads into members. You said it well when you gave your keynote speech in February at the Internet Dating Convention, Mark. You said, the offline people have the quality, we have the high-touch service. The online dating companies have the quantity. If only there was a way that offline and online companies could find common ground and grow together.
Our services are all about making people happy. Giving people the relationships they deserve. We have had, over the last 32 years, a profound, a very profound effect on many, many singles across this country and internationally. This company has helped a lot of people over the years and that’s where I really enjoy doing my job. Getting an email from somebody saying, you know, I’ve been divorced for five years and I finally got the guts to join your service. Thank you.