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Cash in a Flash

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L ooking for sales? Here’s a winning formula: Mobilize a flash mob with $10 to $20 each to spend on merchandise at a favorite, preferably independent, retailer. That’s a Cash Mob, and it’s happening everywhere.

The phenom traces its roots to Buffalo, N.Y. In August 2011, local blogger Christopher Smith organized an outing to an independent wine shop. Using Facebook and Twitter, Smith solicited nominations for stores to “receive” the mob, and then opened the results to voting. City Wine Merchant received the most votes.

Smith described the mobs to Public Radio International as a “reverse Groupon,” meant to provide a “chance for business owners to begin building a longer-term relationship with customers.”

Since then the concept has caught fire — through word of mouth and considerable national and local news media attention – and some 200 cash mobs have taken place in more than 35 U.S. cities, as well as in Canada and Australia. Organized by disparate groups of people, all the cash mobs seem unified by the goal of supporting local businesses. Participants usually meet beforehand and follow the organizer, who has alerted the storeowner in advance, to the retailer’s shop. Often, socializing over drinks follows at a neighborhood watering spot.

Positive impact
The first International Cash Mob Day was celebrated March 24 at dozens of retail establishments by individuals who want to support the local economy with their dollars. Some choose struggling retailers, while others champion those retailers that give back to the community at large.

The latter reason was why Nature’s Bin in Lakewood, Ohio, was chosen. Nature’s Bin is an organic food store that helps people with disabilities train for jobs in retail. With training provided by the Nature’s Bin, these workers have gone on to find work with larger retailers such as Kroger or Giant Eagle.

For three hours on that March Saturday, some 300 people spent $9,000 at Nature’s Bin. And in early February, 65 Cleveland cash mobbers spent approximately $1,500 in just over an hour at Big Fun Toy Store in Cleveland. The owner of the 21-year-old store said he struggles to compete against big box merchants and the Internet.

Andrew Samtoy, who has been organizing Cleveland-area cash mobs since last November, is quick to point out that cash mobs are not a political or social organization or movement, nor are they meant to be an answer to economic crisis. Rather, this particular group is simply trying to make a positive impact on their local businesses communities and have fun while doing it.

In fact, the Cleveland group has a rule that every cash mobber should try to meet at least three new people during the event. And Samtoy confirms that romance has flowered — several cash mobbers, previously strangers, have begun dating.

“It’s a great way to meet people,” he says.