"Cash" is in their name, buying local is their game. A new type of flash mob is dedicated to helping local businesses.
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Cash mobs are flash mobs to boost businesses. People in a given community band together and give a business owner a "little bit of economic stimulus," according to CashMobs.WordPress.com.
"It's an opportunity for people to take control of their local economy and support their local economy," says Andrew Samtoy, co-founder of the cash mobs movement and main organizer for the Cleveland Cash Mobs. "We've been giving away power in our communities for a long time; we've been giving it away to the government and ... to big businesses."
The Cleveland Cash Mobs have "mobbed" 20 to 25 small businesses so far.
Although Cleveland's first cash mob Nov. 16, 2011, has been credited by some media outlets as the inaugural, the first reported cash mob was organized Aug. 2, 2011, in Buffalo, N.Y., by Christopher Smith, a blogger.
Since its inception, the concept has gained momentum, and cash mobs are forming across the United States and around the world.
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Deciding When and Where to 'Mob'
The process varies for different cash mob groups, but the general idea is to select a local independent business that needs a financial boost. Once the business is selected, organizers for the cash mob coordinate with the owner for a date and time for the group to mob the business.
Some cash mobs keep the business's name a secret until the day of the mob to prevent people from prejudging the establishment and to maintain an element of surprise. Still, cash mobs use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to convene and publicize their past and upcoming mobs.
Not every cash mob group is organized the same. For instance, the Los Angeles Cash Mobs group receives email suggestions for businesses to mob, while other mobs vote on businesses. Lisa Gilmore, the LA Cash Mobs organizer, checks out the suggested establishments to see if they are viable.
"It's hard because you really do want to help, and a lot of the businesses that write are struggling," she says. "But, if they're struggling so much to the point where they're going out of business ... there's not as much that we can do. It's not a saving process; we can't save a business with one influx, one cash mob."
Cash mobs choose businesses that give back to their local communities and could benefit from the exposure. Mobbers are expected to spend $20 or less.
In June, LA Cash Mobs hit Co-op 28 Handmade and Indie Designs, an eclectic unisex boutique selling handmade accessories, bath and body products, clothing, and jewelry, among other items.
"The concept of having a group of people coming in that had never been in before was very exciting," says Marci Siegel, owner of Co-op 28. "The ripple effect, from that amount of people it could ultimately bring in around the holidays or when they need a gift or people coming back, is huge. It's like having a wonderful day in a very short amount of time."
Siegel adds that in the one hour the cash mob was present at her business, she made about $1,500 in sales.
Alternative Cash Mobs
The cash mobs movement has motivated people to start up their own branches in places far and near, but it has generated community-building ideas as well.
Norm Bour, director of community and media relations for California-based Opis Network, a nonprofit development alliance, has a different take on cash mobs. He and his company work in partnership with and provide outreach to cities.
"First we heard about the flash mobs, of course. Then when we heard about the cash mobs, it really resonated with us," he says. "Cities all want people to shop local."
His company takes a different approach when selecting businesses to mob. Not only does it select businesses that would benefit from the exposure, the company teams up with and designates 10% of cash-mob sales to a local charity.
Bour's company hit a Mexican restaurant in April that brought in more than $1,200. The company plans to expand its impact.
"Our goal is to be able to do this on a larger scale, either in partnership with a shopping center or possibly even with an entire city itself," he says.
Measuring Success and Moving Forward
Whether cash mobs are here to stay or another fast fad, their increasing popularity has surprised Samtoy.
"It's just really weird because I've been organizing for the last 14 years or 16 years, and I don't think this is my best idea that I've ever had," he says. "It's amazing to me that we've been able to have this sort of local impact, but it's been overwhelming to think of all of the other people around the world who are doing this and who heard about it because of what we did."
Looking to join or start a cash mob in your community?
"Just do it," says Marty Mordarski, Cleveland resident and co-founder of the cash mobs movement. "Talk to people who you have relationships with; talk about where you want to go, what you'd want to support. It doesn't take a lot to get started."