An emerging, national scheme intended to boost patronage and sales at locally-owned, small businesses is starting to take hold in the Spokane area, with at least three "cash mobs" having taken place here in recent months.
Cash mobs have been likened by some as the "people's stimulus package" for small businesses.
The name for the trending social movement plays off of the term flash mob, which refers to a group of people who secretly plan to meet in a public place and perform a seemingly spontaneous, choreographed dance routine.
A cash mob follows some similar rules, but there's no dance routine and it's not kept a secret. Participants are asked to shop at a specific retail business during a pre-determined time frameusually a few hours. During that time, attendees are asked to spend a minimum amount of money, typically around $20, at the business being "mobbed," say some of the Spokane-area business owners who've hosted a cash mob at their store.
Ronnie Ryno, who owns Glamarita Clothing & Accessories, a boutique in North Spokane's Garland District, claims that the cash mob she and her vendors and supporters organized at the shop earlier this spring was the first to be held in Spokane.
"We had no idea if it would be a success or a flop," Ryno says of the event, held at Glamarita on March 24 from 3 to 7 p.m. "We went in with our fingers crossed."
Ryno says the idea for the cash mob at her store, located at 901 W. Garland, sprang from the fact that the business's sales had been so depressed earlier this year she'd been considering closing it.
Glamarita opened just under a year ago, and Ryno says the shop sells local, handmade, and "up-cycled" items, including clothing, jewelry, accessories, art, and handbags.
About 35 Spokane-area artists and designers sell their wares at Glamarita, along with Ryno's own designs, she adds. One of her signature designs are garments fashioned from recycled men's dress ties.
While the idea of a cash mob was new to the majority of attendees, Glamarita's shopping event turned out to be a big success, Ryno says. More than 250 people came into the boutique that day and spent a total of $8,000 at the business. The goal for the event, she says, was to bring in about 160 people to the store who each would spend a minimum of $25, meaning the business would have had $4,000 in sales.
"It was wall-to-wall people, and there was music playing across the street and models were out front. At one point, the models used the crosswalk as a runway so cars were stopping...it was a party atmosphere, and everyone was so supportive," Ryno says.
Even though the cash mob was a one-day, three-hour event, she says she's still seeing positive results from it.
"Afterward, I thought everyone would be shopped out, but business has continued to thrive," she says. "We do have slow days, but word got out and people now know we are here and have come in because they had friends come to the event. Not only was it great for sales that day, but people are still talking about it."
Ryno says the cash mob also benefited the Garland Avenue Drinkery, located across the street from her shop.
Shoppers were invited to head over to the bar after shopping at her store, Ryno says, for what's called an "after mob." The intent is to create more of a social event rather than just a quick shopping event, she says, by encouraging mob attendees to patronize another locally-owned business in the area and also to get to know other community members.
"We knew not everyone would fit into the shop, so we thought they could make a signature drink as a special for people who buy something," she says.
Ryno says the cash mob at Glamarita mostly was promoted through word of mouth, flyers, and social media sites. Red Eye Promotions, a Spokane Valley-based event coordination and marketing venture, also stepped in to help promote the cash mob to benefit the businesses.
Kris Kilduff, marketing director with Red Eye Promotions, says the agency plans to continue assisting other small Spokane-area businesses in organizing a cash mob at no cost to the chosen business.
He says Red Eye Promotions, which started up about three years ago and also organizes several events here, including the fashion competition Spokane's Next Top Model, plans to promote a cash mob each quarter. He says the agency wants to offer its services to organize future cash mobs to give back to the community and to encourage people to support locally-owned shops.
"We will use the concept to promote struggling local businesses...and rally other local businesses nearby to support a specific business that's either having trouble, or maybe is a new business that hasn't gotten out there," Kilduff says.
He says Red Eye Promotions plans to host its second cash mob next month, but hasn't yet announced what business the event is to benefit.
The agency also has created and manages a Facebook page called Spokane Cash Mob to promote the events it organizes, and Kilduff says other cash mob organizers here are welcome to use the page to promote similar events.
"We are all for it growing and getting bigger and better," he says.
Kilduff adds that Red Eye Promotions will rely on its expansive network of Spokane-area contacts to spread the word about the future cash mobs it plans. He asserts that's one reason the mob at Glamarita was such a successthe event marketing firm's followers here told their friends, who continued to spread word about the event.
Late last month another cash mob took place at a longtime, locally-owned business in Cheney, the Ben Franklin general store.
The West Plains Chamber of Commerce, which serves Cheney, Airway Heights, and Medical Lake, organized the cash mob at the Ben Franklin outlet, located at 6 Cheney-Spokane Road, and that took place on May 23.
West Plains Chamber manager Kathleen Schreiber Zinke says the organization chose to host the mob to benefit Ben Franklin because one of its owners, Steve Nation, had sent the chamber an email about cash mobs.
"The more we read about it, the more we decided that it was right up our alley and fits with the mission of keeping business local and increasing awareness of (chamber) members," Schreiber Zinke says.
She says the chamber picked a date and time for the cash mob several weeks before the event, but didn't release the name of the business the mob would benefit until two days prior.
"We let people know that it was coming and what it was," Schreiber Zinke says. "95 percent of our members didn't know what a cash mob was."
Nation says the store saw about 40 people make purchases during the hour-long cash mob, which started at 5 p.m. that day. He says attendees were asked to spend $20, and most people made purchases right around that amount.
Nation says he's not sure what the store's exact sales were during the cash mob hour, but says that it was the busiest hour of the day and estimates that overall sales for that day were about 5 percent higher than a typical Wednesday.
The Ben Franklin outlet in Cheney sells a variety of dry goods including clothing, craft supplies, toys, health and beauty products, sporting goods, and pet supplies. The outlet has been owned by Bill and Nancy Nation, Steve Nation's parents, since the early 1980s. He says his brother, Michael Nation, also has ownership in the business.
Schreiber Zinke says the West Plains Chamber plans to organize more cash mobs to benefit its members, but hasn't decided how frequently the events will occur.
Similar to the cash mob at Glamarita back in March, Schreiber Zinke says the West Plains Chamber picked another locally-owned establishment, Eagle's Pub, to host an after mob. People who made a purchase at Ben Franklin during the cash mob received a $3 coupon at checkout to spend at Eagle's Pub directly following the shopping event, she says.
Also in North Spokane last month, a cash mob event took place at The Heart of Spokane during Mother's Day weekend, on May 12 and 13. The Heart of Spokane's website says it sells a variety of handmade artisan wares and art, along with vintage and antique items. The shop is located at 2907 N. Monroe, and formerly was called the Gallery of THUM.
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