Podcast Ep 69: INTRO Matchmaking is expanding across Europe through franchising. Co-founder Feargal Harrington talks about a post-lockdown spike in demand among single people looking for relationships.
Lockdown has been hard on everyone but spare a thought for lovelorn singletons whose love life has been on hold for the duration. Well, it looks like the gradual return to normality is being accompanied by a rise in hopes for romance and long-term relationships. For many, apps like Tinder don’t necessarily cut the mustard, and they are planning for the future and not some fling.
According to 10-year-old Dublin business INTRO Matchmaking, there has 60pc in enquiries as people prepare for a summer of dating.
“Covid has really shone a light on the importance of actually prioritising relationships above all else and that’s why we’ve had to hire more people”
The company, which was founded by Feargal Harrington and Rena Maycock 10 years ago, is now embarking on an expansion into European markets via a franchising model, beginning INTRO Austria led by Anne Murray and Pierre Bernet.
Harrington told ThinkBusiness that while INTRO has been successful at helping people to find love, the business is hoping to find entrepreneurs in overseas markets who want to carry the baton and bring the franchise forward.
In contrast to alternatives, INTRO engages personally with all clients to establish their needs and wants in a prospective partner, as well as verifying their identification, to ensure that all potential dates have been screened and the agency also arranges logistics so people can meet in a trusted environment.
The successful approach has led INTRO to develop its international franchise model, which enables franchisees to leverage a trademarked brand, prescribed business model and processes, bespoke localised website and CRM system, comprehensive library of marketing assets, training and operational support.
Love after lockdown
Harrington said that like many businesses across Ireland and the world, the company closed its physical office in Dublin in March 2020.
But this was instantly followed by a spike in demand, more from men than women, who were feeling the isolation of lockdown. If one thing has changed, says Harrington, it is people’s attitudes to matchmaking services.
“Lockdown heightened the sense of loneliness, but it’s also gotten rid of the taboo and the stigma that was associated with admitting we’re lonely. It made it acceptable because the whole world is now feeling the same way.”
The lockdown period has also resulted in greater urgency among prospective couples to get on with their lives, so Harrington is seeing less indecisiveness and procrastination when it comes to meeting would-be partners.
“They have been sitting at home, looking at the same four walls, bored out of their tree, and are now prioritising what they want going forward.”
He explained that there is a world of difference between the work that INTRO Matchmaking does and the raft of dating apps like Tinder. “If you join an agency like INTRO you have to abide by the rules, agree with our policies and you have to pay. You have to be serious about it and that can scare the death out of people because they think if this doesn’t work is that a reflection on them? Whereas on the likes of Tinder you can blame everyone else’s ill intentions.”
The matchmaking agency is an uplift in clients, who are pivoting from dating apps, with people looking to connect with others looking for genuine long-term relationships.
“Covid has really shone a light on the importance of actually prioritising relationships above all else and that’s why we’ve had to hire more people.”
Drive and ambition
Prior to staring INTRO Matchmaking, Harrington was working in property with Sherry Fitzgerald and Maycock was working in broadcasting. Ironically, they formed a relationship after Harrington’s brother played the role of matchmaking and set them up on a date.
With a desire to leave the day jobs and set up their own business, they took a chance and set up INTRO Matchmaking in 2011. “We’re very much cut from the same cloth. And we very much have the same drive and ambition. And yeah, we’re dreamers, but we also get things done.”
The ambition was to establish a private and confidential matchmaking agency and make it the most successful in the country. “We decided to make it like a GP surgery because Irish people are paranoid about people knowing their business. But if you have a private, confidential agency with offices on a nice street and terms and conditions and people can rest assured no one is going to get their information, then we thought it could be a success. So in year one Rena quit her job and I quit my job then very quickly after and we just made it work over seven days a week.”
Harrington said that a challenge for the business is the high or unrealistic expectations people who are looking for love have. Highly qualified women, for example, are only interested in men who have similar qualifications, said Harrington. Similarly, men and women were unwilling to travel to other parts of the country to meet prospective partners.
“Women and men had an unwillingness to travel and men had unrealistic age expectations. And there was academic snobbishness from women toward men. In Ireland, for every one woman who has a third-level qualification, there is only actually 0.6pc of an equivalent male. So, we’d get Sorcha or Josephine calling with 25 letters after her name but won’t want to be introduced to a guy who’s a building contractor. He may have left school at 16 but now employs 200 people and is quite successful in life, but the point is she equates intelligence solely with academic qualifications. They are not looking at emotional intelligence, drive, ambition or street smarts. Eight times a day we turn away women because they will not go near a guy in Ireland unless he has the same level of qualifications.”
Harrington believes that 15 or 16 months of lockdown may have actually changed expectations, and this is driving a surge in applications.
As well as a surge in business, the decision to expand internationally via a franchising model makes sense. “The reason we started to think about the franchise model is because we were getting so many emails from people in the States saying ‘I live in Idaho, do you have an Irish girl for me?’ Well, we know that a lot of the time Irish women in Tipperary won’t even travel to Limerick to meet a man, so I don’t think we’re going to get success between here and Idaho.”
Navigating a maze of unrealistic expectations and people who just may not be ready for relationships means the vetting work by Harrington and his colleagues is of critical importance. And it yields results. He said that once people relax and trust in INTRO to get on with the business of matchmaking, the magic happens.
“They always go away with success and that’s why one in four ends in marriage or long-term relationships. And a third of our business now comes from word-of-mouth from previous members who have been successful.”
And now a summer of love beckons and the team and its expanded franchise in Austria are hard at work. “We saw massive increases in enquiries, up 60pc in April and 143pc up year-on-year.
“Covid has shone a light around the globe on how important relationships are.”
Harrington has called on entrepreneurs around Europe who see potential in carrying the torch to consider becoming a franchisee. “It’s a really great business to be a part of. If you’re into sales, or you’re into having your own independence and freedom it’s a really great opportunity. So we’d be happy to talk to anybody who’s interested.”
On the romance front, despite the increase in enquiries Harrington says INTRO has to stick to its standards and in a lot of cases deliver tough love.
“It’s the managing expectations and making sure you are not promoting someone just to get their fee. So, we turn away around €20,000 worth of business every day, which for a small business is not nothing. But it’s more important for us to turn away that money.
“It’s not just about efficiencies, it’s about integrity and reputation.”
By John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 2 July 2021