These days, deal-finding applications like Scoutmob, Living Social and Groupon are exploding in popularity. They're an easy way to find great bargains, and an effective way for shops and restaurants to bring new customers through the door.
But there are other reasons to visit new establishments. What if the goal was not to save your hard-earned money, but to save a hard-hit business?
That's the idea behind Cash Mobs, which organizes community spending sprees at local small establishments. Attorney Andrew Samtoy is the man who started this international movement. The core idea is really to create communities, he said. Not only locally, but among people nationally and internationally.
Human resources professional Marty Mordarski came up with the term 'cash mob' as a play on the popular 'flash mob' phenomenon. He and Samtoy met as participants in a leadership organization called Cleveland Bridge Builders, and Mordarski was immediately impressed with Samtoy's innovative concept.
We were having a conversation, and Andrew had this idea: What if a group of people got together and supported a local business? recalls Mordarski. In a flash he had created an e-mail address, a Web site and a Twitter handle -- all within 24 hours. And when he posted the idea online, his friends in different states got wind of it. A lot of them started organizing on their own. Since our first cash mob back in November, this idea has exploded!
The movement has nothing to do with politics, economics or any kind of revolution. As the official blog explains, those that organize cash mobs are simply people trying to make a positive impact on the businesses in their communities (and have fun while doing it!)
Samtoy's first mob took place in Cleveland last November. I showed up wearing a tuxedo and a penguin hat -- I wanted to look strange so people would know where to go and feel more comfortable, he said. I'd been stuck in traffic and was running a little late, but when I got there we had television stations and a radio crew from NPR. In between fielding questions from reporters, Samtoy was able to organize the 40-plus crowd and mob a small store called Visible Voice Books. That day, the bookstore made eight times the amount they usually make! he said.
And that was only the beginning. Today, organizers all over the world are starting their own gatherings. They use Twitter and Facebook to alert potential participants. Then, they choose a local small business -- preferably one that has a demonstrated habit of giving back to its community. The establishment's owner should approve the scheduled mob in advance. On the day of the event, participants gather to spend some cash at the predetermined location. The sprees are often followed by social gatherings at a local watering hole.
The details of each event vary, but Samtoy's blog has three hard-and-fast mob rules: spend $20, meet three people you didn't know before, and have fun.
Participants enjoy their mobbing experiences, and so do the establishments themselves. The feedback from business owners has been really positive across the board, said Mordarski. People get more traffic than they would usually get, and it's a great day for them from a revenue standpoint. Many of them have even gotten some nice media attention.
Want to get involved? Samtoy suggests you mark your calendar. We're organizing an International Cash Mob Day on Saturday, March 24. I'm hoping that a lot of people all over the world will participate, he said. First-time organizers are encouraged to set up a practice mob over the next two weeks in order to familiarize themselves with the process, and then get to work on gathering a bigger group for next month. Due to the recent surge of media attention Samtoy has received, he's optimistic about the turnout.
Maybe we can beat the American Express [Small Business Saturday] movement, he said. I mean, I just thought of this right now... but they poured like a million dollars into that campaign, and if we can do the same thing for free, that's saying a lot!
New mobs are popping up everywhere from Cleveland to San Antonio to Uppsala, Sweden, and Mordarski is impressed with how the phenomenon has grown from such small beginnings. He credits Samtoy with its success. There are a lot of people out there who talk about things going wrong with the world, he said. Andrew is one of those unique people who just goes out there and does something about it.