STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — Erica Fultz has chased a woman down the street in Miami, chatted up a retired banker at Starbucks in Scottsdale and approached businessmen at a bar in Chicago.

Her opening line is always the same: “Hi, I’m Erica. I’m a matchmaker. Are you single?”

Fultz, 45, of Stillwater, is a professional matchmaker. Her company, Erica Suzanne Fultz , specializes in matching men and women in their 40s and 50s.

If the people she approaches are single and willing, Fultz will add them to her company’s database. She has collected the names and contact information of an estimated 6,500 singles; most aren’t paying clients, but are willing to be set up.

“I have no shame in my game when I’m scouting,” Fultz said during a recent interview at Hotel Crosby in downtown Stillwater, which sometimes serves as her de facto office. “My daughter sprained her ankle, and I approached the ortho at Tria. He was married; he couldn’t wear a ring. Mary absolutely was under the table. She was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’m, like, ‘What? Love never rests.’”

With Valentine’s Day nearing and love in the air, one of the nation’s foremost experts in matchmaking sat down with the St. Paul Pioneer Press to talk about her business and offer advice.

MAKING IT PERSONAL

Yes, everyone with a cellphone has access to online dating sites like Tinder, Match.com and Bumble, Fultz said, but her clients “crave a more personalized experience.”

The dating apps are “so impersonal,” she said. “It’s an order-up kind of thing. You have this menu, and then you swipe your selections. They’re not people anymore; they’re just swipe, swipe, swipe, and they’re not even paying attention. It’s a constant flow. Nobody ever invests in each other.

“I met someone recently — she’s cute, late 30s, professional — and she said, ‘Erica, I went on Bumble, and I had a thousand messages in my inbox over the weekend.’ A thousand! Who can manage that? It’s overwhelming.”

Fultz thoroughly vets all of her client’s potential matches. She does background checks, scours court records and conducts in-person interviews.

She likes to meet potential matches at restaurants, putting them to the test as soon as they approach. “Do they make eye contact?” she said. “Do they open doors? How do they treat staff?”

HOW IT WORKS

Fultz works with about 15 to 20 paying clients at a time. A six-month membership fee starts at $8,800, but can cost as much as $15,000 if a client needs more attention, she said. “It’s an investment. You have to be willing to invest in yourself — and your future.”

The fee includes a lengthy consultation with Fultz, fashion advice, beauty tips and a professional photoshoot.

“I’m confidante, coach and encourager,” she said. “If there is something that is not working, your best friends aren’t really going to tell you. They want you to be happy. I want to set my clients up for success, so if there’s something that I see, I will definitely point it out. People are hiring me to be honest with them and to help them find love.”

In order to find love, clients must first be happy with their own lives, according to Fultz.

“If you aren’t loving yourself and happy with yourself, there is no way I can create any kind of match that is going to work. Ever,” she said.

Fultz then turns to physical and cosmetic improvements.

“Look good, feel good,” she said. “You’ve got to put yourself out there in the best light — the best self that you can be. You have to show that you’re wanting to be there. If you dress a certain way, and you’re caring about your looks, you’re showing that you want to be there.”

Fultz creates Pinterest boards for her clients and “pins” ideas for hairstyles, hair color, outfits and dental veneers on the digital scrapbooking site.

A board she made for a Minneapolis client showed photos of women with long, layered hair; the woman, who is in her early 40s, has short brown hair and bangs, Fultz said. “I want her to grow out her bangs, and put some layers in there, put in some highlights. … It’s a simple, simple change.”

Another Pinterest board — created for a 45-year-old client in Houston — featured a photo of a woman wearing white jeans, a blue-and-white striped shirt and cork wedge sandals. “We were looking at summer-date outfits,” Fultz said. “She’s younger. I wanted her to show her figure. She does not like to do that, but she has a great figure. She’s in Texas, so you can get away with white jeans longer.”

QUESTIONS AND FEEDBACK

In her initial interview with potential clients, Fultz asks if they are open to feedback and suggestions. “If you’re not, you know, that’s kind of defeating the purpose,” she said. “Why would you go to a personal trainer at the gym if you’re not going to follow the recommendations?”

Among Fultz’s feedback: No swearing. No chewing with your mouth open. Don’t show too much skin. Don’t have more than three drinks on a date. Don’t move too fast physically.

Fultz’s clients are guaranteed at least three dates during each six-month session, but they often go on multiple dates with their match. If clients begin dating a match, they can put their membership “on hold” for as long as they want, she said.

Clients fill out a lengthy questionnaire that covers everything from favorite color to religious and political beliefs to income preference to birth order. Among them: If you had a choice, would you rather go dancing or have a quiet night at home? What was the most significant accomplishment you’ve had in the last five years? Celebrity you find most attractive? Do you appreciate giving or receiving gifts?

She pairs people with like interests and values and coordinates their first meeting.

“I try to get them doing activities that are side-by-side,” she said. “Ice skating. Bowling. Walking around the lakes. Topgolf is a great one.”

She once arranged for a couple to run a 5K race on their first date. “Of course they’re still together!” she said. “Because why would anybody do a first-date 5K unless they were meant to be together?”

On average, Fultz’s clients work with her for 12 to 18 months, but she matched Pete Hayes and Denielle Mehr on the first try. “One and done,” she said. “That’s my favorite. I had a good feeling about them. They just clicked. They had very similar lifestyles and similar personalities and dispositions.

“But I can never predict chemistry,” she said. “I wish I had some magic juju that I could tell whether someone is going to match. I would be retired and living in Fiji right now if I could.”

‘WE’RE STILL TOGETHER’

Hayes, 52, who lives in western Wisconsin, and Mehr, 45, of Minneapolis, met in August after Hayes hired Fultz to find him a match. Mehr, a corporate recruiter and self-proclaimed “hater” of online dating, had approached Fultz last winter and asked to be included in her database.

“I’d been on multiple dating apps,” said Hayes, the owner of a construction company. “At first, they seem kind of fun, but then you realize they’re a lot of work, and I really didn’t have time for it.”

Fultz did an extensive interview with Hayes — they met for coffee several times — before announcing that she had a “great fit” for him, he said. “We met, and we’re still together now.”

Said Mehr: “Erica found someone who had all of my most-important qualities. She’s really good at what she does. Pete calls her ‘the world’s best matchmaker.’”

Fultz’s client list has included professional athletes, TV personalities and Hollywood actresses. She once worked on-air with a cast member from “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”

“Everyone needs help finding love,” she said. “I’m a connector. It’s just all about connecting. I use my gut, and I say, ‘I think these people are going to be a good connection.’ That’s what I do.”

FROM FAX MACHINES TO MATCHMAKING

Fultz grew up in Stillwater, graduated from Stillwater Area High School in 1993 and got a bachelor’s degree in family social science from the University of Minnesota.

Her first post-college job was “selling fax machines because that’s what all young 20-somethings should do, for sure, to get into sales,” she said.

In 1998, she was recruited to apply for a sales job at It’s Just Lunch, a new matchmaking service in downtown Minneapolis.

“I was one of 10 people applying for the job, and I actually begged for it,” she said. “I looked the owner in the face and I said, ‘What do I need to get this job? I need this job, and I will do a tremendous job for you, so please hire me.’ Literally, I wouldn’t let him go.”

In those days, clients filled out a questionnaire on paper and submitted a Polaroid photo.

“It sounded so romantic to be a matchmaker, but I had no idea what the job entailed,” she said. “There was a cart of profiles, and there was a stack that I had to match. I’m, like, ‘Hey, these people look good together.’ I had no idea who those people were.”

Her first assignment involved setting up a lunch date for a male client. She sorted through the profiles and found a photo of a woman “who was super-cute,” Fultz said. “She was on a lake — in a bikini, wearing sunglasses.”

Fultz arranged for them to meet for lunch. When she walked in the next day, her phone “was ringing off the hook,” she said.

“I picked up, and this man was yelling at me. I said, ‘What did I do?’

“He said: ‘The least you could have done was tell me she was blind!’

“I’m, like, ‘I didn’t know! She was wearing sunglasses!’” she said.

“From that day forward, I made a deal that I would actually talk and meet everyone that I matched,” she said. “It was good to learn that lesson right off the bat.”

After two years at It’s Just Lunch, Fultz launched Love In Style, a boutique matchmaking business based in downtown Stillwater; she sold it in 2004.

Fultz, who has three children, returned to full-time matchmaking in 2015, teaming up with a woman matchmaker in St. Louis Park. She launched Erica Suzanne Fultz in 2018.

SEARCHING FOR MATCHES

She and her assistant, Katie Walker, mine dating sites and LinkedIn, Instagram and other social-media sites for potential matches.

“Facebook is like the White Pages. This is Zoosk right here,” she said, pointing to her laptop screen. “Look, this is a stereotypical profile pic of a man in Minnesota. He’s holding up a fish. Here’s my advice: Don’t hold up dead animals. Seriously, women don’t like it.”

But Fultz thought he might be a good fit for a client, so she messaged him.

“Hello!” she wrote. “I hope you are having a good day. I reached out because I’m a matchmaker and feel like you might be someone that my client might be interested in. Would you care to chat with me and learn more? This message is hopefully met with flattery! Truly, Erica.”

Certain personalities can be difficult to match, she said. “They tend to be really, really picky, and they’re not open to change at all, and they’re not introspective. They feel like they’re just fine. That they’re perfect, and that a perfect match needs to come along.”

One woman refused to meet a potential match because he was wearing a polo shirt in his profile picture. “That’s the kind of person you’re never going to get anywhere with,” she said.

Fultz, who is divorced, advises clients to be clear of “baggage” from previous relationships before looking for a “forever match.”

“Take time to heal and learn the lessons needed to be learned from the experience,” she said. “Then, make sure to focus on the positive attributes of those people and what they brought to your life — rather than the negative.”

FINDING HER OWN PARTNER

Over the summer, Fultz met her “forever partner” when she marched up to him at a lacrosse tournament at Stillwater High School and asked if he was single.

Fultz’s line about being a professional matchmaker scouting for her clients didn’t fly with Tom McKay, who lives in Lake Elmo.

“He turned it around, and he said, ‘Well, what’s your story?’” she said. “I said, ‘I’m just the matchmaker,’ and he said, ‘No, what’s your story?’ We are just two peas in a pod. We’re the perfect match. When you know, you know.”

The two became engaged in December.

“Really at their core, everyone wants to find love,” Fultz said. “People who are feeling discouraged about being alone or are feeling like they’re not ever going to meet their person, you have to envision them coming in. You have to have that energy. The law of attraction, right?”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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