Lexington, KY It really is the oldest profession in the world — swapping stuff you have for stuff you want.
But with credit crunch and tight economic times, bartering is gaining a new, higher profile.
From individuals trading with one another to networks designed to bring people together, swapping is increasingly becoming the way to stretch scarce dollars.
People “don’t have money to spend, but they’ve got a lot of stuff,” said Kent Berryman, who started Swap-It-Now.com from his Mount Sterling, Ky., home in 2006.
Inspired on the treadmill one day, he decided to set up a site where people could swap DVDs. Now the site has grown to include everything from spark plugs to musical instruments to plots of land.
The site is free, he said, “we just put people together.” Traffic is growing by 20 percent to 25 percent a month, he said, a trend that started when gas prices started to top $3, but it has held as those prices went down.
Lisa Brawner started bartering years ago, trading jewelry she made for things both obscure and concrete.
Maybe she’d swap a pair of earrings for help erecting a tent at a Renaissance fair, or barter a necklace for some bauble she craved for herself. Basically, she’s swapped stuff she made for stuff she liked.
But, especially as her work as a home-health aide has become scarcer while prices on everything continue to rise, the Lexington, Ky., woman has found herself deep into bartering.
She’s found a way to make her fewer dollars stretch. For example, she recently traded some jewelry for hay, which she will use to transform her Lexington yard into an herb and vegetable garden. She eats what she needs from the garden and trades the rest.
“A lot of people barter, they just don’t think about it,” she said. “If they knew what was out there, they’d do more of it.”
For people new to bartering, Brawner suggests sticking with people you know or “people who seem trustworthy,” she said.
Mark Lalonde, owner of Genesis Trade Exchange, said that for a fee, his organization helps dozens of local businesses trade goods and services.
“As far as bang for your buck,” said Lalonde, “barter is the best way to go.”
Exchange members pay a one-time $395 fee, and Lalonde helps market their products to other members and keeps track of trades, issuing “trade dollars” that can be used for future swaps. He has 450 companies in his swapping stable and, traditionally, he has used his sales skills to entice others to join. But since the beginning of 2009, his phone has been ringing constantly with people who want to join.
“It’s like Christmas all over again,” said Lalonde, who added that his service is one of about 400 across the country.
His average client trades about $10,000 worth of goods and services a year, he said.
Lalonde uses the service for his family.
“We trade anything from house cleaning to lawn service, furniture in the house, the kids going to the dentist, haircuts, getting nails done, pretty much anything,” he said. “If we could trade for a private school, we’d be set.”
Brawner said she feels there is a “social stigma” to bartering. Some people trade but don’t want others to know they are doing it.
“The American public, we are just not used to negotiating or even swapping things,” said Berryman, who is hoping to eventually sell advertising on his Web site and make a profit. “It’s just not our culture.”
But the growth of the Web site shows there could be a cultural shift.
“You are seeing everywhere, the dollar is tough to come by right now,” said Lalonde.
“People are looking for something different because they have to,” said Berryman.