Romance is everywhere.
Especially this weekend. Obviously.
And there are businesses out there that are in the business of romance. However, beyond See's Candies and 1-800 Flowers, I'm not sure what or where they are. There's an outstanding plethora of entrepreneurs out there dealing with love, romance, desire and ecstasy: the very essence of "wanting" someone.
Let's call them "wantrepreneurs." And I'm regularly stoked on "wantrepreneurs," those who pioneer a product or build a business on the grounds of people wanting each other to be happy.
I mean, my father raised me on classic films, so I've learned to appreciate the old school folklore of good romance. I was watching The Quiet Man, where John Wayne fights his wife's brother for her honor, while my friends were watching Jurassic Park, where Sam Neill fights dinosaurs for his survival. I saw Casablanca when I was 12. So I was developing a sentimental side at a young age. Clearly.
Wanting to learn more about "wantrepreneurs," I spoke with Victoria Napolitano, CEO of the luxury publication Hopelessly Romantic. I inquired about her favorite "wantrepreneurs."
Napolitano's Top Three "Wantreprenurs" (in no order):
1. "Eva Danielle romantic feminine clothing is customized for each of her customers. She is a phenomenal designer and we have just teamed up to create a line of Hopelessly Romantic Couture. Eva has a passion for her business that is unique and contagious."
2. "I also love PhiloSophies, a romance-based greeting card company. Joanna Alberti is the designer of some very creative and sometimes irreverent cards. I just love her sense of humor and how she makes romance fun. She uses glitter and other special touches to accent her wonderful cards."
3. "Passion Island is another unique romance business that is just exceptional. Tana Marie, founder of Passion Island, is also one of our contributors. She offers products, seminars, and lots of information about romance and relationships. She is a joy to talk to, and she offers fantastic products and services."
I flipped through the online version of Hopelessly Romantic, and it seemed clear that the romance industry was flourishing. I wasn't surprised though. Isn't romance always flourishing in some fractured facet, if not entirely whole?
And what's to stop an entrepreneur from swimming through the red, pink and white waters of the love market? You just need to understand that if there's any industry where personal touch and general care or interest helps, it's in the romance industry.
"Entrepreneurs need to know that while they are up against hundreds of online dating services, nothing can replace personalized service," says Steven Ward, co-founder of the Philadelphia-based matchmaking service Master Matchmakers. "Clients will appreciate any added value that you can offer them, and that begins with taking a genuine interest in their needs."
In fact, Ward co-founded Master Matchmakers with his mother. "Realizing her intuitive matchmaking skills after marrying off several family members and friends in the 1980s, my mother [JoAnn] honed her skill set while working as a professional recruiter and executive at several dating services before founding Master Matchmakers 10 years ago," Ward says.
Even there, a woman took her skills of understanding people and romance in her spare time and turned it into a profitable career and business with her son. Understanding love, helping friends and utilizing the skills of family helped the entrepreneur start a business still running a decade later.
Another entrepreneur love story gone right: Sue Sweet founded a company with her husband Patrick. The company, Bed Hog, offers bed sheets with a line down the middle, to playfully help keep partners on their own side. Married couples going into business together can bring a sensibility about romance that one person or a platonic business partner may not catch.
"When starting the business, we encountered a lot of problems that we ahd to think creatively to solve, especially since we were on a tight budget," remembers Sweet. "It was great to be in full-on creative brainstorming mode with my husband, which is a side of him I may not ordinarily see."
But there are also downs: "When working with your spouse, business can invade all times of the day," Sweet says. "When you are lying in bed at night, and one person can't sleep, he or she will ask, 'Did you follow up with so-and-so?' So there is no respect for business hours."
However, many times, the ups outweigh the downs: "It's great to feel like you are building something together, and something that you are both invested in," says Sweet. "If only one of you is interested in the business, and it requires significant investment of time and resources and does not immediately go well, it can be hard for the other spouse to remain fully supportive. But when both of you are involved in the business and committed to its success, it is easier to support each other through the frustrating times."
You need to know a good balance of not enough and too far when in business with someone you love. Actually, you should know the same balance when working for others that are in love. And even if you're an expert on love, dating and relationships, how do you get others to notice you?
Retailing involves objects, while retelling involves objects of affection. It's a harder sell.
Now, I know how to tell a girl, "I'm here for you" or "No, I have no idea where that sandwich could have gone, but the important thing is that I love you." However, how do you market yourself as an expert on the massive heart attack asteroid that is almighty love? How can an entrepreneur become a marketable expert?
Well, if you're as successful as DC-based life coach and relationship expert Amy Schoen, MBA, CPCC, then you're doing everything short of juggling chainsaws and doing motorcross through hoops of fire, it seems.
"I've studied [love] for ten years, read books, attended seminars, worked with a coach myself. Then I went to coaching school and took the relationship systems course as well, "says Schoen
Schoen now provides local workshops, holds monthly free teleclasses, runs a dating resource site, puts out a monthly ezine on her website, sends articles to submission sites for online distribution, runs a blog, is a member of women business owner's group, women's business networking and Chamber of Commerce, learning to use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook and appears on television, on the radio and in print.
Working for love is hard, like John Cusack in every one of his '80s films (we'll always root for you, Lane Meyer). But, apparently, working for the love industry may be even more trying on your body and mind.
And with the recession, you never know how anything's going to go. Everything seems so crazy right now. Everyone talks about the recession like it means we're going to have to burn down malls for warmth and sell off certain states to foreign countries (I'm looking at you, Delaware...).
But if there's anything that everyone seems to need during a recession (besides money and motivation), it's love. Or something with similar bows and buttons. Even someone just rubbing your shoulders and telling you that the market's going to pick up is something you didn't have that morning. Why not have faith in something beautiful and free?
"Things have slowed with the economy, but we keep moving forward. Romance fans like to escape by reading the articles, short stories and poems," says Napolitano.
"Matchmaking is one of those few 'air and water' categories--the act and art of matchmaking has been happening for 1,000 of years--we are simply leveraging today's best technologies. Dating, relationships, companionship--the need to connect--this will never go away," says Duane and Cindy Dahl, married founders of PerfectMatch.com, a dating service that saw a 47 percent increase of new members over the last quarter.
Now, if you're an entrepreneur, the recession might be drastically hurting you and you can't pull off the great Valentine's Day weekend getaway that you did some years ago. So, if you're not in the romance business, but still want to enjoy the business of romance, you'll have to look into cheap ways to make good on the great.
Don't worry. I've already done it for you.
Enter Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman, licensed psychologist, dating coach, creator of My Dating School and author of 100 Ways to Treat Your Mate like Royalty: Under $10. Because there's no way you really thought you were just going to hand over a Hallmark card with a note that read, "Sorry, honey, business was bad...well, see you next year!"
I asked Dr. Sherman to give me her favorite 10 under $10 from her 100.
From Dr. Sherman:
1. Make something: Write your mate a song or poem or create a sketch of him or her. Make a mixed tape that you can dance to or create a photo album of the wonderful times you've had together.
2. Have a romantic night at home: Make him or her dinner, light candles, rent a romantic movie, slow dance, exchange massages and share a bubble bath.
3. Spend time in nature: Bundle up and walk the beach, make a snowman together, go camping and look at the stars (if the weather is right) or ride the ferry together just to be out on the water for a change. Sometimes, a change of scene can be very memorable.
4. Give the gift of future gifts: Create an IOU for a certain number of foot rubs, dinner, house cleaning, romantic serenades, etc. This gives your mate something to look forward to and she knows that your love and care will extend into the future.
5. Create something that nurtures your relationship together: Write our your dreams for your relationship together and put it in a wine bottle it and throw it out to sea or bur it. You can also create a shared vision collage so you have a picture of what you want to create together in the future.
6. Do something sentimental: Visit the place you first met. Tell he or she about all the ways your love has grown since then!
7. Personalize: Things mean more if you show that you have thought about them. Don't just give a nice gift. Make it something that shows that you know your mate. For example, if you're shopping for a woman and she loves pink, let that be the theme of what you buy for $10. You can create an assorted basket from the dollar store with her favorite small items by giving her a package of her favorite candy, a poem from her favorite poet and put in some other small tokens and other creations from your heart.
8. Be aware of special deals: Here's an example: We just ate at a great restaurant at half price during restaurant week.
9. Go somewhere new: It is fun to go somewhere new on a date.
10. Think out of the box: Some ideas are: go to a free poetry reading and read one of your poems, sing karaoke, go to a great restaurant with a piano bar to split a dessert and dance, get a $5 palm reading and visit a pet store to hug the puppies.
Schoen offers some similar tips:
1. A heartfelt note handwritten on a card--just don't give a Hallmark card and not write your own sentiment.
2. Flowers--a single rose or some simple bouquet.
3. Either a low-key dinner out--at a quiet restaurant with a romantic private table, like at a Thai restaurant or some reasonable price. We have an Italian restaurant that is well-priced. That can be romantic!
4. A gift can be meaningful but not costly. A beautiful sterling silver necklace (it doesn't have to be diamonds) with her favorite color stone.
5. Chocolate, if he or she likes it and not on a diet!
6. You can cook a romantic dinner at home if you don't want to spend money at a restaurant.
And if you're on the other end, where money isn't the problem, but time is...don't worry, I've got you covered again. And so does Manisha Kothari, founder of WishWrap. On WishWrap's website, you can wish someone joy, love, passion, success, laughter or a combination of several, as there are 27 sentiments to help you pick out the perfect present, says Kothari.
I asked Kothari for a step-by-step guide to helping my last minute friends.
"If someone's shopping for a last-minute gift, they can use Wishwrap as a one-stop shop for a gift that will look like it took months to plan," says Kothari. "Just go to the Valentine's Day page from the top navigation bar, under 'Holidays and Celebrations.' The first several gifts represent our Exclusive Gift packages. All the thinking has been done for you - the wishes have been selected, the card has been written. Just find one you like, add to your cart and you're done! It's a quick way to go when you don't have much time and there's something at every price point, so you don't have to spend a lot of time or money to still send a meaningful gift."
But there is a depth to the romance industry that goes beyond matchmaking and dating services: honest, sincere, genuine, overwhelming love. Real love is serious business. It has all of the wonderful butterflies that dive-bomb your stomach on first dates and the wonderful comfort of you've-seen-me-in-worse-morning-conditions. And if you want it to work, you need a professional.
So I again contacted the Dahls of PerfectMatch.com. Why? Because they have Duet, a personality assessment based on more than 35 years of academic research.
In my email, I wrote: I'm in love with a girl, and I was hoping I could use Duet to help me out. The girl was a competitive figure skater as a child. She worked at a McDonald's for three summers. Is a vegetarian. Irish descent. Likes vintage clothing stores. Doesn't own a car. Is allergic to horses. Dabbled in acting. Had starring roles in The Notebook, Wedding Crashers and Mean Girls. How can Duet help me here?
The Dahls replied: Note--we have provided access to many celebrities and media types - let us know if you want an access link--and we can do a full profile for the both of you. Duet analyzes the characteristics that most affect long term compatibility. By both taking the test, we can find out which characteristics you share in common and which are different. Then you talk about which of those are a strength of your relationship and which might cause some conflict--each would know yourself better and be able to look out for bumps in your romantic path. If that isn't possible, then at least find out your own characteristics and take and educated guess about how Rachel (how did they know!) would compare.
- Are you a risk taker or risk averse?
JAKE KILROY: I'm risky...like business. Kind of like that one movie...can't think of the name right now...
HYPOTHETICAL VERSION OF RACHEL MCADAMS: You mean, Risky Business?
JK: No, Glengary Glen Ross.
HVORM: Oh, well, I worked with Rob Schneider on a movie without kicking him in the groin, so I guess I'm a risk averse. But I do love Jake and that's pretty risky.
JK: Yea, "Danger" is my middle name.
HVORM: No, it's not. It's Patrick.
JK: Oh Rachel, you so get me.
- Are you intense and always busy or laid back?
JK: I'm intense like camping.
HVORM: Oh, Jake, you're so funny.
JK: Thank you, Rachel McAdams.
HVORM: Jake, for the last time, just call me Rachel.
JK: Will do, Rachel....McAdams. I love you.
HVORM: Did you say my last name again?
JK: No...I said, Ryan Adams...I love you...
- Are you an optimist or more cautious about life?
JK: I'm cautious about the lives of others.
HVORM: Like that bird you nursed back to health like a hero?
JK: Yes, exactly, darling.
- Do you prefer a life with predictability or like new experiences and a lot of variety in your life?
JK: Craziness, all the time!
HVORM: Jake, that still doesn't justify setting my couch on fire for fun and excitement.
HVORM: But...I admit, it was pretty fun and exciting.
- Is one or both of you a leader most of the time, or do one or both of you like to follow someone else's lead?
JK: Well, I'm a big fan of jump hi-fives.
HVORM: And I really like hugs.
JK: I suppose we find a good balance between leading and following.
- Are you temperaments passionate or calm?
JK: Passionate about Rachel!
HVORM: I love you.
JK: And I you...
HVORM: Awww....isn't he so poetic?
- Do you go into yourself when troubled or do you seek counsel and comfort? Do people tire you out or energize you?
JK: I like to say, "Rachel is my rock."
HVORM: And I like to say, "Jake, I, Rachel McAdams, will love you until I'm as mindlessly delirious as you are."
In the end, the Dahls added: These are important points to consider and work on in a relationship. To know them about yourself and the woman you love will go a long way towards creating love and maintaining it.
Too true. This love business is funny business. And sometimes, wildly profitable.
Happy Valentine's Day!