Social media flash mob 'Flash Buy' helps Merced businesses

MERCED, Calif.

H&W Drive-In in Merced was chosen for a cutting edge marketing experiment, combining the concept of flash mobs -- spontaneous public performances -- and social networking to create the "Flash Buy." Group founder, Mike Abarca says he loves watching flash mobs but thought, "OK I'm not a dancer I can't do a choreography but how can I do something like that?" The 26-year-old Merced native says it was his love for his town, where he was born and raised, that inspired a flash of brilliance to help local establishments: "There's a lot of businesses that are hurting right now due to construction, economy what not, it was just one of those things, let's see if we can call on our community to kind of step forward."

Every week on Facebook--over 700 invitation only "Flash Buy" group members--vote on the next business they will patronize on Friday. From BBQ to bagels to frozen yogurt, so far, eight businesses have been hit by Flash Buys. Forte Frozen Yogurt owner Alex Lu-Pon: "We were really happy to be one of the first to experience it, we had like 55 people come through." Ever week, the numbers grow, but unlike flash mobs, the Flash Buy doesn't take the business by surprise, so they can add staff or have enough food or product ready. Many have chosen to offer members "Flash Friday" deals.

Linda Olsen, a Flash Buy member, came to H&W with her family for lunch: "Today we're gonna get 20% off our whole check, so I might have to buy 20% more food!" H&W manager Jeremias Terrones says it's a win-win situation, "Everybody goes out of town to eat. So I think it's going to help a lot of businesses bring up the economy, especially restaurants. It's a very good idea."

Good enough, Mike Abarca hopes, so Flash Buy is not a flash in the pan: "A lot of positive feedback and it's encouraging me to keep this thing going. And make it something bigger than it is now."

If you want to join Flash Buy or start one in your community -- e-mail or message Mike Abarca on Facebook ( ) for an invitation.

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