When a MOB MENTALITY benefits everyone
COMMUNITY BANKS have discovered a new way of making waves in a community. This new technique builds a lot of goodwill, is a lot of fun, supports local businesses and can literally require getting on the bandwagon. Welcome to the "cash mob."
A cash mob is a group of people who gather at a pre-assigned time for the sole purpose of supporting a local business. Usually a single person or organization chooses a mob location but doesn't reveal that location until just before the mob event. Participation is encouraged among those who want to support local businesses such as neighbors, friends and other business owners. Then each person spends about $20 in the chosen store.
Chris Smith originated the idea in August 2011 at a wine shop in New York and the concept has caught on with community organizers, activists and financial institutions.
Cash mobs were introduced at First Whitney Bank and Trust, Atlantic, Iowa, about a year ago after President Paul Gude read about the concept in this magazine. Northwestern Financial Review's 2013 Banker of the Year Lou Geistfeld has sponsored some 30 cash mobs through his bank in New Ulm, Minn. First Whitney, a bank with $194 million in assets, teamed up with its Chamber of Commerce to try it in Atlantic.
The first cash mob in Atlantic was at Robinson's True Value Hardware store. Gude gave each employee $20 to spend. Then, wearing branded green shirts, almost every employee got on the wagon - literally - to head to the hardware store, leaving a skeleton crew at the bank. "We had some air horns and kind of made people look. We took the long route there. We went around the whole business district," Gude said. During the cash mob, more than $1,000 was spent. The other employees either went earlier or later in the day so they could participate also.
First Whitney has since modified the idea to include holiday shopping. Instead of traditional employee gifts at Christmas, Gude gave each employee two blank checks. The first was a check the employees could write up to $100 to buy a gift locally for themselves. The second check was to be used to buy a gift locally for a fellow employee after employees drew names.
"We all did that shopping one afternoon together. We took a photo then with all the gifts piled high. Then we ran a half-page ad thanking the merchants for providing a great shopping experience," Gude said. "One merchant, when we were doing our Christmas shopping, chased me down the street to thank me for our efforts."
Geistfeld's bank, Citizens Bank Minnesota of New Ulm, started doing cash mobs in November 2012. "The idea for cash mobs was suggested at a strategic planning retreat attended by senior management and is fully endorsed by them," Geistfeld said. "The cash mobs work well with our Go Local campaign designed by our marketing department to encourage shopping at our hometown merchants first."
While the bank uses its Facebook page and employee wordof-mouth to get the word out, the bank hasn't had much luck getting the general public more engaged. Using Facebook analytics, the bank can track how many people have seen messages about the mobs, and people will interact with the posts with "likes" or positive comments, but there hasn't been a lot of community participation at the actual events.
"Participation by staff is strong and that's our main goal," said Jean Geistfeld, the bank's marketing consultant. "Once you create that habit with your staff, shopping local, staying in your community, keep these small businesses thriving. Then that spreads into their home life."
As an extension of the cash mobs, Citizens Bank Minnesota employees set a goal of spending $250,000 locally during the holiday season. The 88 employees at the bank's four locations actually spent $317,000.
Getting community Involvement
On April 20,2013, First National Bank of Moose Lake, Minn., did its first cash mob in Moose Lake at Kathy's Country Square with a re-convening at a local watering hole for socializing; but their intent from the beginning was to involve the community. And the first event was a success with 55 people showing up at one or both locations; 15 of those people were bank employees.
And the marketing for the event didn't depend on social media. "I know a lot of people use social media to get the word out...we had a sticker campaign," said Denise Schleret, FNBML marketing manager. The week before the cash mob, bank employees and employees of the businesses to be mobbed were asked to wear stickers that said "Cash Mobster - Get Social and Shop Local." The stickers created a buzz.
The hardest part of doing the cash mob, Schleret said, was educating the public on what exactly a cash mob was. A month before the first event, The First National Bank of Moose Lake announced it. After a week went by, the location was announced. "That seemed to be plenty of time," she said. The bank consistently does its mobbing between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturdays or other busy times; it has yet to try a mid-week mob.
Due to the nature of small business, all three banks notified most or all of the businesses to be mobbed ahead of time so the retail locations could be adequately staffed. Moose Lake bank staff helped with bagging or other things at the shops, and one store provided wine and cheese to the Citizens Bank mobbers.
During November and December, First National Bank of Moose Lake did its first online cash mob. Jeff Bloom owns Ponderosa Sales which operates Lots4Bid.com, an online auction site. The idea came from Bloom's loan officer, Kick Bothwell, vice president of lending. During the two month promotion, Bloom was able to track 58 new visitors to his site, and the link on the bank's promotion page was the highest referrer to Bloom's site for both months.
A competitive edge
"My business is in a small community 25 miles from Moose Lake. I drive right by five other financial institutions to bank with FNBML. The cash mob is just one of the reasons I partnered my business with FNBML. I keep asking other business owners in my community, 'Can you imagine in your wildest dreams a big bank putting a link to your business on their website?' Everyone just laughs. It just won't happen," Bloom said.
However, gaining business was not the impetus for the Moose Lake business to start the cash mob craze, "With this project, we were never after a direct benefit," Schleret said. "We would do a cash mob for a business that doesn't even bank with us. We are just trying to be a good neighbor." Schleret said she believes the cash mob events are helping members of the community to grow closer.
"All of our cash mob places have felt that, even months later, they are still feeling a little bit of residual effects to their sales," Schleret said. "Kathy [of Kathy's Country Square] stopped me three months later and said people were still stopping in to look at merchandise they hadn't known she carried previously or [who] hadn't been able to attend the cash mob."
"The beauty of the way we do our cash mob is how it highlights that the success of our local momand-pop shops is intertwined," Bothwell said. "Our local cafÉ supports the cash mob at the restaurant down the block. The gift shop up the hill supports the cash mob at the florist/gift shop on Main Street. This type of mutual support is one of the key factors in Moose Lake's thriving small business community. This really highlights the quality of business owners in Moose Lake."
"As a small business itself, First National Bank of Moose Lake understands the importance of local mom-and-pop shops," Bothwell added. "We know that we only succeed when they succeed."