Drawing business to downtown one "mob" at a time

Feb 21, 2013

We’ve all seen it on YouTube… people hanging around, minding their own business, then someone fires up a boombox and everybody lines up and recreates the dance segment from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video… or shoppers at a mall food court suddenly performing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s The Messiah. Those are examples of flash mobs, which according to Wikipedia is “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse.” In Downtown Goldsboro they’re trying a variation on the flash mob to do something hopefully not pointless but beneficial to the business community.

“A cash mob is when you get a group of people together… typically at a central location… and you decide you’re going to visit one store in a community and everyone is going to spend a set amount at that store. It’s typically a locally owned business. So they meet, they go and spend money at that locally owned business.”

Meg Gernaat, the promotions co-ordinator with the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation. They’ve organized “cash mobs” twice in the latter half of 2012 to descend on a downtown Goldsboro business. In addition to giving a business a sudden rush of customers the Development Corporation designed the run-up to the mob in such a way to get people involved even before the designated mob day.

“I didn’t want to make it up to me or the organization to decide who we mob because it is about the community come together and pitching in to help out so what we did was on our website we listed 5-or-6 businesses that we hand selected to possibly be in the running and people were allowed to vote online for a month on who they felt that they wanted to mob. They weren’t privy to the results of that until they actually met up and were about to mob.”

So far in two attempts though the voting has brought more attention than the actual mobbing… top attendance at the two mobs was about a dozen people, though for the Art Market at the Arts Council of Wayne County, as the designated September mob-ee, having a dozen people walk in mid-day mid-week was welcome.

“For that particular time that was good for us. We typically get a lot of traffic on weekends and Fridays, when we get our most traffic through the art market part of the arts council, usually in the afternoon, so for it to be at lunch time, for us that was really good to have that group of people”.

Sara Merritt, the executive director of the Arts Council of Wayne County. Perhaps most encouraging for her was those dozen people included faces she hadn’t seen before and faces she has seen since. That’s likewise a saving grace for Meg Gernaat with the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation.

“It was a little disheartening at first but then when I realized they were people not necessarily connected to downtown or they were people who said I saw an advertisement in a magazine and thought it was kind of cool so I thought I’d check it out, when they say stuff like that at least we can say we’re reaching a different audience that what is typically downtown.”

The low numbers in the two cash mobs to-date is bringing about some tweaking of the local cash mob effort, with the next event tentatively scheduled for March 29.

“We’re going to focus on all of downtown but the ghost shopping will go on in a specific block so if you’re shopping at the 100 block of N. Center St. and that’s the block we’ve chosen as our featured block in our cash mob period than you have an opportunity to get caught by our ghost shopper and get some free downtown dollars on that day.”

The cash mob theme will remain but rather than emphasize one store they’ll try to highlight all the downtown Goldsboro businesses while encouraging shopping all day rather than one hour. The ghost shopping… I won’t detail it but it involves free stuff for those at the right place at the right time. For most, that’s reason to sing “hallelujah” right there. I’m George Olsen.