On Sept. 13, Om Boys Juice and Smoothie Bar in Armory Square was suddenly invaded and mobbed by about 100 people, though the owners didn't even bat an eye.
It was the second "Cuse Mob" event initiated by SyracuseFirst, a nonprofit organization engaged in building a prosperous business community by educating people to shop and think local. The Cuse Mob originates from cash mob, an idea started by an engineer in Buffalo to support business owners. During a cash mob, a crowd assembles in a business at a certain time to “flash-shop” and buy products from the store.
“I wish I was that busy every day,” said Alison Mapes, manager of Om Boys, adding with a laugh that the atmosphere that day was more like a party than a promotion. “We are only open for seven weeks now and are still learning. So to have that was a really nice boost.”
Michelle and Todd Brundage opened Om Boys this year with the mission of bringing healthy eating habits to the public. The couple is dedicated to practicing yoga and named their restaurant after the Sanskrit syllable “om,” which represents the harmonious relationship among all living beings on the planet. Most of the ingredients used in Om Boys come from organic farms in Manlius and Cazenovia, though some supplies also come from Pennsylvania and Ithaca.
“We connect with local farmers and customers and keep the money in the community. It’s a sense of a big family, because everybody helps everybody,” said Michelle Brundage. “The growth of one will also do good for the neighborhood.”
Even though many local businesses, like Om Boys, provide unique products and quality services, many are more accustomed to shopping at malls and buying brands they are familiar with. Unlike many corporations, most small store owners don’t have big enough budgets for large-scale advertisement campaigns. Instead, they must market themselves by word-of-mouth.
Getting the name out there is perhaps the biggest challenge local businesses are facing, said Jamie White, director of development at SyracuseFirst.
“Local business is pertinent to giving each community unique character,” White said. “There is already a collection of great local businesses here in Syracuse, and we need to help them to grow."
SyracuseFirst implemented its own word-of-mouth marketing to promote the Cuse Mob, combining traditional media outlets with social media, like Twitter and Facebook. Chris Fowler, executive director of SyracuseFirst, went on a morning radio show in Syracuse several times to advertise the event. Instead of directly announcing the fourth mob target on the show, he provided several clues about the location and let listeners guess. Cuse Mob participants also used #cusemob to share their experiences on Twitter.
Since the Cuse Mob, Om Boys has seen a continuous increase in business. “A lot of customers who weren’t aware of us before now know us,” Michelle Brundage said.
Briana Kohlbrenner, the owner of Craft Chemistry, the Cuse Mob's first location, had a different take on the event. She said that it was unrealistic to expect immediate and significant sale increase after a one-time event, but she was more concerned about establishing relationships with customers anyway. “This is the best campaign ever. They always highlight local businesses and educate people to shop local,” Kohlbrenner said.
Establishing connections between customers and local businesses is exactly the mission of the Cuse Mob, White said.
“Cuse Mob allows a door to open, so a lot of new customers and a lot of new relationships can be started."