'Cash Mobs' Boost Local Businesses

by Susan Johnston

2 min read

To combat the onslaught of daily deals and big-box stores that are squeezing local merchants, consumers nationwide are banding together in groups known as “cash mobs.” A cash mob is similar to a flash mob, but instead of descending upon a public place to surprise onlookers with a “spontaneous” public performance, participants arrive en masse at a locally owned business to go on a spending spree.

The concept is becoming so popular that Saturday, March 24, has been dubbed International Cash Mob Day.

Here’s how a cash mob typically works:

  • People nominate locally owned businesses via Twitter or Facebook.
  • The date of the cash mob is announced via Twitter a week or more before the event.
  • The name of the business selected is announced shortly before the cash mob, which creates an air of mystery and fuels anticipation of the event. (However, the business owner gets a heads-up a day or two in advance to make sure there’s enough inventory and staff on hand.)
  • Cash mobbers are encouraged to spend less than $20 each at the business, but they may opt to spend more.
  • Afterward, cash mobbers celebrate at a locally owned watering hole nearby.

City Wine Merchant in Buffalo, N.Y., last fall was the first business visited by a cash mob. Eric Genau, president and wine director at the store, says the event attracted more than 50 people, many of whom had never visited the shop before and spent more than the suggested minimum. Those who couldn’t make it to the mob in person supported City Wine Merchant by ordering online through their website. Several people who participated in the event have become repeat customers, Genau says.

Genau offers these tips for preparing for a cash mob:

  • Consider rearranging your store. City Wine Merchant was able to comfortably accommodate the influx of shoppers, but Genau suggests that smaller stores work to maximize floor space to avoid missing out on potential sales. Use vertical space to show off merchandise so you don’t impede foot traffic.
  • Have extra staff on hand. Genau says it’s wise to bring in a few extra people, especially if you would otherwise only have one or two people minding the store. (He called his wife for backup.)
  • Seize the marketing opportunity. Your local cash mob will likely tweet up a storm before and after the event. You should play it up yourself, too, via social media. “We were sending out things via Facebook and Twitter it while it was happening,” Genau says. “If you have the opportunity, take advantage of it and be proactive.” His store also offered cash mobbers free wine tastings while they shopped.

As Genau sees it, cash mobs are “part and parcel of a bigger movement to buy local and shop small. It’s done really well in Buffalo, because this is the kind of city where people respond to that, but it will do well anywhere people have this mentality.”

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