They’re bringing barter back: Retailers trade to save cash

Let's Roast Cycles, a bike shop in Wicker Park.
The owners of Let’s Roast Cycles barter regularly. (Shelby Livingston/MEDILL)

When Everpurse founder Liz Salcedo hired a user experience designer to review her company’s website, she paid with her signature product, her iPhone-charging handbag.  And when she enlisted hair and makeup artists for a photoshoot, they, too, were given Everpurses instead of greenbacks.

“If you’re involved in a startup community, there are a lot of expensive startup costs,” Salcedo said. “We really tried to do as many things ourselves as we could.  What we couldn’t do, we would trade for.”

Entrepreneurs strapped for cash are increasingly looking to barter as a way to keep costs low and build connections with members of the business community.

Barter can be the simple exchange of goods and services, but it can also be a transfer of ideas and expertise. Though barter predates currency, it’s unknown territory for a lot of businesses.  But to those who do barter, the benefits are undeniable.

Logan Beyhl and Tom DeLaat, owners of Chicago bike shop Let’s Roast Cycles, barter because they want “to look out for people who will also look out for [them].”

When building their shop in 2013, Let’s Roast owners swapped their bike-fixing skills for all the lighting fixtures in the store.  They also traded a bicycle credit to a graphic designer in exchange for custom business cards.

“It saves a lot of time,” Beyhl said.  “It helps us build a network and the ability to source what you’re looking for.”

Businesses can also trade through online barter exchanges.  These networks facilitate cashless transactions using barter dollars.  Instead of a direct exchange, members can trade goods and services for credit and use them later.

“Barter requires a certain amount of faith and trust, but it makes perfect business sense,” said John Hora, co-founder of Art of Barter, Chicago’s only online exchange network.

Moreover, barter is recession-proof, Hora said.   Barter numbers remain consistent even when times are tough, and Art of Barter’s 1,500 members trade $5 million to $6 million annually.

When business is slow, “don’t shred your services,” Hora said. “Trade them.”

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