Mar 23, 2012

Austin Connecting to Cash Mobs

HOPE Farmer's Market is every Sunday located at 6th and Calles Street in Austin. With more than 50 vendors, it offers Central Texas fresh local produce. Photo by Jessica Warren.

By Forrest Burnson
For Reporting Texas and Austin Business Journal

AUSTIN — Organized through word of mouth and social media, cash mobs are crowd-sourced shopping sprees that seek to bring awareness — and money — to local businesses. The trend has resonated in Austin, a city known for embracing independent businesses.

“It is all about people reaching out,” said Jason Jepson, a public relations specialist who runs the Cash Mob Austin page on Facebook. “Cash mobbing is all about the connection with loyal customers and the new customers that come in.”

After recently reading about the trend in the Wall Street Journal, Jepson began organizing cash mobs here to help locally owned businesses. So far, the group has organized several of them, mostly at local restaurants and farmers markets.

The most successful one so far was at the HOPE Farmers Market last month, he said.

“The variety and the vibe really fit well with everyone,” he said.

Once a week, local farmers, volunteers, artists and musicians congregate on Waller Street downtown for the market. For Austinites, it’s a tradition.

Organizers at HOPE Farmers Market noticed a spike in sales, although they can’t be sure which customers were affiliated with the cash mob.

“I can say that it was a really busy Sunday, and vendors noticed a new crowd of people who made small purchases that added up to significant daily sales,” said Elizabeth Garrett, the market’s manager.

In addition to the HOPE Farmers Market, cash mobs have been held at bar and eatery TenOak, Taj Mahal and VIA 313 Detroit Style Pizza.

Meanwhile, Cash Mob Austin has its eyes set on something bigger, not wanting to see the trend die out.

Jepson is working with Rowing Dock, a canoe and kayak rental company on Lady Bird Lake, to coordinate a cash mob. The mob’s proceeds will go to a local charity, he said.

The trend is catching on in a city famous for supporting local and independent businesses. For Jepson, cash mobs help to keep Austin weird.

“This is about having fun and helping people,” he said. “That is what life is about.”