Change Mob dream ready for reality

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Chelsea Broome at Veda Salon & Spa cuts Jonathan Kuiper’s hair. Kuiper’s company, the Change Mob, launched a promotion offering a free haircut at Veda to people who donate $1 to Restore Innocence.

The short story about the Change Mob — that it will stop human trafficking, end world hunger and snuff out poverty for peace on Earth — makes its founder sound like a dreamer.

And he is. But this idea just might make some money — and a difference.

It all started when Jonathan Kuiper called his buddy Gary Black after a recent trip to Haiti.

“Get over here now,” he said. “This may be the best idea I’ve ever had in my life, and I need to tell you about it before it goes away.”

The idea: Individuals give $1 donations to a specific cause. They can track how the charity spends their money. As a reward for making the donation, a business offers a free — or deeply discounted — service or product. The business is branded with the charity and gets fresh business from new clients bringing in vouchers the way they would through Groupon or Living Social promotions. Change Mob collects advertising dollars from the business.

The model is promising enough that an angel investor put big money into the project to get it off the ground last year. Kuiper and Black have since raised much more. They can’t say how much just yet, because they’re preparing paperwork for the Securities Exchange Commission to take The Change Mob public.

They have a trendy new office downtown Colorado Springs, eight local employees and offices ready to launch the platform in Jackson, Miss.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Denver and Southern California.

Kuiper explained how Change Mob is different from other daily deal sites. In most cases, according to retailers who have worked with them, Living Social and Groupon take half whatever the customer pays for a given deal, which is normally already half the regular price. That means businesses collect only about 25 percent of the actual price in exchange for the hope customers will return even at full price.

However, Change Mob is working with companies to make sure the customer’s first visit is profitable and the organization will collect an agreed -upon amount for all redeemed vouchers.

The Change Mob launched this week with a special push to raise money for Restore Innocence, a Colorado Springs-based charity focused on rescuing girls and young women from the sex trafficking trade. Veda Salon partnered with Change Mob and Restore Innocence for the promotion and offered a free haircut valued at $35 to participants.

“For Veda, it’s part of our mission to give back to the community,” said Veda CEO Carrie Perkins. “To combine our marketing with our mission is huge for us.”

She said Veda has never participated in a Groupon or Living Social promotion.

“We don’t really do coupons,” she said.

Veda, a high-end salon under the international Aveda umbrella, is not alone. Many of the country’s luxury retailers have resisted attracting new clients through daily deal sites, according to a recent report from National Retail Federation. But for Veda, Change Mob was different.

“I love this whole concept,” Perkins said. “We’re going to be able to let our community, our guests and staff know that Veda believes in giving back.”

She said she expects the promotion to bring people into the store who are interested in doing good things for the community. Then, they will bond with Veda over a shared ideal to improve the community and the rest of the world.

Her staff knows about the promotion and is also aware of which charity they are supporting. They are eager to talk about Restore Innocence and the work the nonprofit is doing in Colorado with the new clients who participate in the promotion.

So Change Mob gets advertising and people get a haircut. What does Restore Innocence get out of the deal? Hopefully, enough money to buy a house in the Springs for the girls and young women rescued from sex trafficking, said Jason Korth, CEO of Restore Innocence.

The organization’s goal is to raise $300,000 for the Cinderella House, he said. In the last six months, Restore Innocence has helped more than 60 girls rescued in Colorado by the FBI, Denver and Loveland police departments.

Restore Innocence’s goal is to provide a safe place for the girls, he said.

“A lot of them are almost 18, turning 18 or even older,” Korth said. “They can’t go into foster care and there is nowhere for them.”

Restore Innocence’s mission fits in well with Veda’s perspective. Instead of mere marketing, the salon is able to help the wider community.

“This is perfect,” Perkins said. “I was going to spend marketing dollars anyway. This is marketing with a conscience.”

Since Veda’s is their first client, Change Mob is giving them a freebie, she said. But, it’s a service that she’ll be happy to pay for in the future.

Darek Barnes, who owns four ACE Hardware stores in Colorado Springs, plans to be second-at-bat for Change Mob. He supports the Pikes Peak Region United Way, which holds its “Make a Difference Month” in October. The event spurs dozens of local community improvement projects that enlist the help of volunteers, and use 100 percent of the donated funds on nothing but those projects.

“When they came to me, the idea struck me as really refreshing,” Barnes said.

He wanted to give customers who donated $50 gift cards, Black said.

Kuiper and Black had to convince him to give away less money.

“We want this to be profitable for the businesses,” Black said.

Barnes is still working out the details with the Change Mob, but expects to offer a $5 or $10 gift card. He’s one of the company’s launch guinea pigs who will prove the value of Change Mob’s product in exchange for free promotion this time around. However, he believes in the idea so much that he’s introducing Change Mob to Ace’s corporate headquarters.

Ron Genuario, who owns several Midas Automotive locations along the Front Range, said he hasn’t signed on yet, but that it seems like a brilliant idea. He’s participated with Groupon and Living Social and has had surges of business.

“You have to be ready when you sign up for one of those or you’ll be overwhelmed,” he said.

While he hadn’t gotten to discussions with Kuiper or Black about Change Mob’s fees, he said the general idea of the promotion is a good one.

“The whole idea is to introduce new customers to your business,” Genuario said. “In this case I think it’s more of a feel-good kind of thing, whereas with Living Social or Groupon it’s all about the deal.”

The Change Mob’s web site was “under maintenance” most of the day Tuesday, when the site was scheduled to launch its first promotion with Veda and Restore Innocence.