Well-heeled lonely hearts are flocking to Gray & Farrar for their matchmaking nous
Make lemonade out of lemons, goes the time-worn adage. For Gray & Farrar founder Virginia Sweetingham, the bitter taste of double heartbreak made her think about ways to reinvent the matchmaking market and avoid the lemons.
“My mother had her fingers burned by a man she had contacted via an advertisement, and before that my father left when I was tiny,” says Claire Sweetingham, Virginia’s daughter. “She was left with four children and a large mortgage to pay, and thought to herself: there must be a safer way to meet people and they should be vetted and checked by a third party. That’s how the idea for Gray & Farrar germinated.”
Now, 25 years later, the elite matchmaking service has grown into a multi-national business priding itself on its tightly controlled selection process, where clients are interviewed and questioned about everything from career pursuits to past relationships. Gray & Farrar clients hail from cosmopolitan cities like London, Paris, Geneva, New York, Dubai and Hong Kong.
Claire Sweetingham joined the company in 2005 and was handed the reins six years later, taking over from her mother. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a forensic scientist and my studies were in biochemistry,” Sweetingham says. “But then I realised that, although Gray & Farrar does require intuition and experience, there is also a scientific element to matchmaking.” Her clients, ranging from their early 20s to late 70s, are well-travelled, highly educated individuals who lack the opportunity to meet like-minded people.
About 25 per cent of the singles interested in their services are based in Asia or frequently travel through the region. Sweetingham says this percentage denotes the significant changes that the company has seen over the past 10 years. “Our selection criteria have certainly remained the same, as we’ve always been very values-focused and only take on about 2000 clients per year. What has changed most is our international spread of clients and the very cosmopolitan and global lives they lead – aided by modern technology. In particular, we’ve seen an astronomical growth trajectory in Asia. The demand has been off the charts.”
The recent expansion of Gray & Farrar’s clientele led to an official opening in Hong Kong, with the company setting down roots in the fragrant harbour in February. Sweetingham says “The majority of our clients come to us by word-of-mouth or personal recommendation and we were inundated with requests from Hong Kong-based people. We’ve had to move fast to keep up with demand; particularly as there are no other companies like ours operating in the region.”
Although the service steers clear of making guarantees that their clients will find love, their success rates are strong compared to the scores of other online-dating services. “Two out of three of our clients have found long-lasting and happy relationships with the people we pair them with,” Sweetingham says.
“People who have tried online dating or other services and have had bad experiences will realise that we’re exceptionally different and that we fill a niche market for people who really want to find the right partner. We are certainly not miracle workers or magicians, but between my mother and I we have 40 years of experience. Clients trust us as we’re a second-generation family business and our experience is unparalleled.”
Sweetingham’s advice for pairing clients together and sustaining a relationship is simple. “I’ve learnt so much over the years and fundamentally believe that there are three things required in a successful relationship: physical chemistry, respect and the ability to just be yourself. We spend so much of our lives putting on a corporate hat or a social face. When you’re with the right person, you should be able to just be you.”