Merger-Mania Merger Mania CORPORATE ROMANCE GONE GOOD
By Erin Kelly

(FORTUNE Magazine) – After a messy beginning, two dating services have united to create the world's largest. Both parties are keeping their names. Together Dating brings 75 franchises to the marriage; the Right One brings 14. The couple's first task: improving this $300 million industry's terrible reputation. A 1996 consumer-protection investigation alleged that some Together "counselors" deceived lonely singles with false assurances about criminal-background checks, bogus claims of a 75% success rate, and lies about a "Psychometrix" personality test they said was evaluated by a Harvard professor.

"They were mostly interested in bringing money in," says Paul Falzone, who as one of Together's biggest franchisers took his operation independent and renamed it the Right One before Together went bankrupt. When new owners bought the assets of the bankrupt Together, Falzone agreed to a union. "The old owners are long gone, and we're committed to raising the customer satisfaction level," says Falzone, who insists that his franchises always operated ethically. He's now CEO of the merged operation, which offers criminal-background checks, a relationship coaching hotline (800-818-DATE), dating tips (do show up on time; don't gripe about your ex), and reassurances that not only losers use dating services. ("We've got U.S. Senators," he says, as if that proves the point.) And then there's the exclusive Right Match software. "We profile your personality in 13 areas--are you introverted, religious, etc.? Then we put all these criteria into our system," explains Falzone, who dismisses videodating services as too beauty-oriented. "We match exclusively on compatibility, because that outlasts the test of time."

But precision matchmaking isn't cheap. Falzone charges $1,295 to set someone up on six dates; $3,495 for 24. "Don't get stuck on price," he urges. "You're talking about finding somebody you're going to spend the rest of your life with." And has Falzone found that person? "Uh, I just got divorced," he says. Will he use his dating service when he's ready to try again? "It wouldn't be ethical." He laughs ruefully. "Right now I've got a German shepherd named Bart. We go for walks on the beach. Anyway, I'm only 42. I've got plenty of time."

--Erin Kelly