The Internet sensation known as the "flash mob" has grown up into a "cash mob" and the proprietors of Longfellow Books in Portland couldn't be happier.
A cash mob is a group of people that assembles at an appointed place and time with money in hand to support a struggling business. The events are organized spontaneously with the purpose of supporting local businesses and providing social opportunities for like-minded "buy local" activists.
Maine got its first cash mob March 22 when a horde of 50 or so people swooped down on Longfellow Books in Monument Square.
Mainebiz chatted with Longfellow Books co-owner Stuart Gersen in the aftermath. The following is an edited transcript.
Mainebiz: Did you have any clue this was coming?
Gersen: Oh, of course. They had to let us know. Inevitably there would be a disaster if they designated a place to be cash-mobbed and they didn't know. I did know. What was going to happen and how many people? That we didn't know.
How or why were you targeted? Do you apply online or something?
Local Thunder, the [online destination marketing specialists] who organized it, said they were going to start the phenomenon in Portland, and would we like to be the first? And of course we said yes.
How did it go?
Everything was perfect. The people who came in here were grinning as much as I was. They were doing this because they wanted to. They didn't even know what store was going to be mobbed. They just wanted to participate in the phenomenon. The only downside? [It could have potentially been] the crowd. I mean, if the store was announced and the crowd booed or something, that would be bad publicity. Obviously that didn't happen.
How did your sales compare to a typical March day?
By the end of the day, business was 50% greater than it would have been. It was big. It was substantial. If not more important was the fact that there were people who had never been in the store before.
How do you capitalize on the success of a 40-minute mob?
We talk to them and make them like us, sign them up for our company benefit program. I expect we'll see some of them back.
Is this going to have any impact in the way you operate your business going forward?
No. You can't recreate [the effect of a cash mob], but what we got in terms of publicity and people coming into the store, people hearing about it, people have been talking about it all day. It's tremendous attention for the store.
It did provide me with an opportunity to take part, as well, with the after-party [at Eve's at the Garden at the Portland Harbor Hotel]. I wanted to join the group, but I had never heard of this place, never heard the name of the place. I knew of the hotel but not [the restaurant]. I met the manager. I looked at him and said, 'This is what this is about. I will be back.' n