|This was our inaugural
year. Encounters International was the first personalized international
matchmaking service focused on Russian women and American men. We had
two full-time offices in Moscow, Russia and Bethesda, Maryland.
In those days, all communication was by international post mail - there was no lightning quick Internet. Contacts and responses were measured in weeks and months. We have addressed this major problem from the start.
We began using facsimile (fax) machines to cut the communication time substantially. Encounters International ventured into new territory by providing a response time guarantee. We guaranteed a ten-day response time to letters sent to Russian ladies. This was possible because of the speed of the fax and because we had full-time office managers in Moscow and Bethesda who handled all the communication.
We watched our clients exchanging multiple letters and traveling to Moscow while others buying addresses from mail order catalogs were still waiting for the first response. Within a few months, we had three engaged couples. They began working on the K-1 Fiancée process. We began helping them along this process as well.
|This year, we
began getting a lot of media attention. Russia, now free from Communism,
was a new and interesting place for the Americans to see. Likewise, a
real and open look at America was refreshing for Russians. Our first married
couple Anastasia and Chris Ihlenfeld were featured in a Washington Post
article. American television picked up the story. Soon, the BBC in London
was on board. It did not take long for the newly 'free' Russian media
to start talking about Encounters International.
Entrepreneurs from the former Soviet-era states came from under every rock seeking to team up with us. We decided to accept only one such offer in Tallinn, Estonia - our second overseas office.
"Why not have an open house?" Someone suggested that we should get our clients together for a special event. First, we had to find out what an 'open house' was! After some research and a lot of help from a small client base in the local area, we had the first annual Encounters International Open House. We had no idea how popular this event would become. How could we envision this first event becoming the centerpiece of the ten year anniversary celebration?
Once again, Encounters International broke new ground by offering a one-year guarantee of success. After only two years in existence, we were confident that our clients could begin the communications process and become engaged in twelve months - after all, the rate was already at about 95%. We decided to put a money back success guarantee in writing. We were confident in our desire for success. We wanted our clients to be equally as confident in their own success and in Encounters International.
| We became focused
in two areas. First, we leveraged the benefits of the emerging Internet
communications tools. However, it was imperative to maintain our reputation
as a personalized service. Faster communications without our matchmaking
expertise was not acceptable.
Technology alone was not enough. Many of our clients came to us from other agencies that offered speedy communications services and nothing else. Unfortunately, some found out that speedy communications simply meant overseas scams could happen faster.
Encounters International remained involved in the counseling part of our clients' successes. Although we began using e-mail based communications, we were still there to help with introductions and cultural issues.
Encounters International opened our Kiev, Ukraine office. Ukraine and
Ukrainian ladies are the second largest group of the population in the
former Soviet Union. The time has come to start representing them in our
database. We also decided to close the Tallinn, Estonia office. 12 married
couples with 5 children born became a tangible result of that period.
The communications between the managers in Kiev and Moscow made it possible for our clients to visit both cities in a single trip. This strategic move improved the choices and, thus, success rate of our clients. We became the first agency with full-time offices in Kiev and Moscow.
| Our annual Open
House event continued to grow in popularity. This year, we featured a
wedding. Elena Kobiakova from
Kiev and Norman May from Virginia tied the knot during this year's
spectacular event. Each year, we saw more married and engaged couples,
as well as, single clients, prospective members and marriage-minded ladies
attend the Open House. Also, it
became obvious that a once-a-year gathering could no longer satisfy our
clients' desire to meet more frequently.
So, we launched the Saturday
Club Socials as an answer to numerous requests for monthly events!
Our goal was to provide a safe, convenient and frequent gathering spot
for everyone involved with Encounters International. With a continuously
growing number of local single Russian ladies, the Saturday Club Socials
provided a means for American men to meet them without traveling outside
|We found that
some prospective clients wanted to have a look at the inner workings of
Encounters International before committing to the program full time. We
needed to balance the needs to these men along with the serious nature
of the women already in the program. We did not want to expose our ladies
to less serious so-called 'window shoppers.'
Therefore, we developed the Encounters International 'Get To Know Us' membership plan. It was specifically designed for those prospects that thought we and our ladies were too good to be true. One-third of the 'Get To Know Us' members actually become full time members. The other two-thirds have decided to decline the invitation for membership. The 'Get To Know Us' membership plan has become a good method of sorting casual prospects from serious potential clients.
| 'Y2K' brought
together the largest gathering in the history of our 'Family of Clients.'
This year we grew so much that it became possible to arrange a social
event far away from Encounters international headquarters in Maryland.
We were off to Disney World
in Orlando, Florida for the Encounters International Millennium Celebration!
The lights stayed on and the computers kept running.
Also, the romance continued
for those who came from across the United Sates. We had numerous states
represented by married couples and single men and ladies alike. It was
a 'magical' time for us all.
| Tragedy struck
in the form of a fire at the home-based office here in Bethesda. Natasha
was injured in the blaze. It was an uncertain time of what to do. It had
been a good run; was it time to curtail or even quit our activities? We
conferred with our local clients.
The response from the 'Family of Clients' was a firm; "Oh, hell no!" Our clients had watched and participated with us in building an international matchmaking success model. They came to our aide in many forms.
We received almost every kind of offer to help that could have been imagined. Saturday Club Socials continued at the homes of our clients. Clients turned out to be the perfect hosts for these monthly events, moreover, they enjoyed this new role.
The fire disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We confirmed that the concept of 'Family of Clients' was real. It was not a cute marketing phrase. It was (and is) a way of life and bonding at Encounters International.
Once again, we accomplished a strategic expansion overseas. Encounters International opened our third office in Yaroslavl, Russia. Moscow and Kiev were considered to be too large for some of our clients. They desired to find a lady from a smaller town, much like where they lived. This wisdom inspired to opening of the outlying Yaroslavl agency office.
We have launched a new online password protected database designed for the ladies to view EI clients . This new feature has encouraged more ladies inside the USA to join Encounters International.
Wow! Has it been ten years already? Perhaps the best way to cover 2003 is to provide some success statistics.