BRANDON — The Brandon business community is buying into cash mobs.
It's a simple concept: a group descends on a small business ready to spend at least $20 per person. In most cases, the business being mobbed has little or no warning that 20 to 30 customers will set their registers ringing.
Think economic stimulus package on a micro scale.
The first recognized cash mob was in Buffalo, N.Y., last August. A year later, thanks largely to social media, the concept is a nationwide phenomenon, according to Cashmob.com, which tracks the events.
Other Florida cities have had one or two cash mobs, but Tampa Bay has hosted nearly 20, including six in Brandon.
Grow Brandon, a nonprofit business group with 220 members that promotes buying local, organized Brandon's first cash mob in May.
"It brought in customers who had never been in my store before," said Camille Schwabe, owner of Downtown Divas, a women's apparel and accessory store in Winthrop Town Centre at Bloomingdale Avenue and Providence Road. The event added $600 to her bottom line.
"The whole goal is to get new customers in and keep them coming back. That's one of the greatest challenges for small-business owners today," Schwabe said.
The cash mob philosophy of buying local dovetails with the approach of Grow Brandon, said Darrin Tyson, Grow Brandon founder.
"Not only does it help with Grow Brandon's long-term goal of improving the local economy but it also helps local businesses that might be struggling now," Tyson said. "If we spend that money locally, it not only helps the business but the whole local economy. Then those local businesses can start hiring people."
The combination of shopping and socializing explains the explosively growth of cash mobs, Schwabe thinks.
"It's a social and networking event," Schwabe said. "You are not there by yourself and you have the chance to meet other people."
Schwabe would like to see the public take a greater part in events. The 15 people who turned up for her cash mob were almost exclusively other small-business owners.
"I had discounts and coupons for the cash mob and anyone else in the store so there is something in these events for consumers too," Schwabe said. "It's just a matter of getting the word out."
Grow Brandon is asking the public to pick the next local business to be mobbed by voting on the group's Facebook page.
"My vision would be to get at least 1,000 people but we are just starting," Tyson said.
The Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce and Brandon's Focus magazine also host a cash mob on the first Tuesday of the month. The Aug. 7 outing at Greg's Hallmark Shoppe in Bloomingdale Square saw more than 50 customers mob the store ringing up $1,007 in sales, according to the chamber.
A small committee of chamber and Focus staff decides which stores to mob. For now, only chamber member businesses are eligible to be mobbed but the group has talked about adding nonchamber members.
Chamber president Tammy Bracewell thinks the events are a good way to support local businesses and promote networking.
"It's a natural fit for the Chamber's mission and very rewarding for those who participate," said Bracewell, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
Simple Life Outfitters, a Valrico clothing store, and BubbaQue's restaurant, hosted the group's first cash mob July 3.
"It was amazing," said owner Kelly Morris after 35 people filled the aisles at his store, each spending about $20. Kelly enjoyed an $800 bump in revenue thanks to the visit.
"At a time when everyone is struggling to make ends meet, it's good to know someone is looking out for small businesses. It's a great concept."
Times correspondent Kevin Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.