Local bartering group expands reach

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 267 views 

Bartering for goods and services is an age old practice but it still resonates strong with more than 600 members of Fayetteville-based Local Trade Partners.

This business bartering group has more than $500,000 in local trade currency circulating among its growing partner base which has recently expanded to include the Fort Smith area. Founded by local entrepreneur Rolf Wilkin in 2009, the group started with three members including Wilkin’s flagship company — Eureka Pizza.

“I was looking for a bartering group to join myself as a small business owner that catered exclusively to local ventures. I couldn’t find a group that was local and totally catered to small business owners, so Rich Creyer and I decided to start our own,” Wilkin said.

He said Local Trade Partners continues to grow beyond his expectations.

“Last year our partners traded $3.5 million worth of goods and services between themselves. We should be close to $5 million by the end of this year,” he said.

In July, the trade group saw a 60% increase in volume from the same month last year as the Local Trade Partners website processed 2,761 transactions ranging from $5,775 down to $2.97, according to Wilkin.

Local Trade Partners tracks and manages each trade made in the group and handles the IRS reporting requirements as well. All sales are 100% trade, and must be the same price as regular cash transactions.

“Ideally, the network needs to be local, but we thought extending it to Fort Smith was a logical move because a number of our partners already have businesses in both markets,” Wilkin said.

He doesn’t anticipate the network will grow beyond those metro areas. Wilkin said the Northwest market is already near perfect size with a very wide range of service and product providers.

“Rich (Creyer) is now trying to grow the Fort Smith metro area to about the size we have in Fayetteville,” Wilkin said.

Creyer said the Fayetteville area network is large enough to trade for just about anything outside of public utilities, taxes or a mortgage. But with all the construction-related partners in the group one could build a home if they had enough trade dollars banked, he said.

Membership cost $249 and it’s limited to small business owners in Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith metro area, according to Creyer.

Local Trade Partners sets up an interest-free credit line for each member and issues Trade checks which can be written to purchase good and services from other group members.

Once the account is open, small businesses may begin trading their work for just about anything they need:  plumbing, dental care, veterinary services, car repair, landscaping, bookkeeping, legal counseling or dinner out at more than 30 different restaurants.

John Conners, owner of John The Computer Guy in Springdale, has been a trade member for two years.

“It’s been a good deal for me as a small business owner because it helped me network and build my client base. I do a fairly high volume of trades, but that works for me because I recently expanded out of my home office and incurred some higher operating costs. I was able to trade for signage for the new building and all my copy service,” Conners said.

He routinely uses his trade dollars for car repair and service as well as paying for entertainment. The group includes a couple dozen member business that cater to car repair, towing, tire and auto sales.

“The trade option is great, but more importantly these relationships have meant they referred their friends and relatives who are outside the barter group which has helped overall sales,” Conners said.

In July, John The Computer Guy did $6,681 in trade with the local group. Creyer said those trade dollars go into John’s account and he can spend them at his leisure among the 600-plus members.

Creyer works full time as a broker at Local Trade Partners to recruit new members and facilitate existing partners. He said each transaction is recorded on the company website. Members pay a 5% transaction fee on both sides of the trade which goes toward the recordkeeping and overhead costs for Local Trade Partners.

The business has a local banking office at 1985 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville, which is staffed by one full-time customer service representative.

Creyer said the business trades are all recorded online but the local bank branch is a place where members can pick up Trade checks that are recognized as local currency by all members.

Jamie’s Notebook — a social media management / communication company — joined Local Trade Partners about two years ago and owner Jamie Smith says the organization has opened several doors for her small business, with some on trade and others outside the barter group.

Smith said her two dogs required some extensive medical care, shortly after she and husband John bought their new home in Elkins.

“Needless to say I was relieved to find out my veterinarian, Wedington Animal Hospital, was also a trade partner. I was able to get the dogs the care they needed and pay for it on trade,” Smith said. “We also used trade dollars to have $600 worth of tree removal done this year, which was a big help to the family budget.”

Creyer said bartering is a time-tested method that works especially well for small business owners who can convert excess capacity into spendable cash.

He said restaurant owners trade empty tables for other things they need such as advertising, help with website building or maintenance.

Members spend their trade dollars first each month, which helps them stretch their budgets.

“We are extremely excited because our network in a sense is also helping to subsidize health care costs for some of the partners. We have nine dentists, several doctors and a local hospital in the network,” Creyer said.

Physicians' Specialty Hospital in Fayetteville joined the local trade group about a year ago and has done about $10,000 in trade, according to hospital spokesman, Walter Beadle. He said the small private hospital is owned by a group of local doctors and offers a wide range of care including emergency room treatment.

“There aren’t too many hospitals in the country in barter groups, but it works for us because we are a small business — locally owned. Being in the trade group has slowly helped to build our exposure,” Beadle said.

He said the hospital takes local trade dollars for its services. When a patient has insurance and trade dollars, Beadle said the insurance is filed first and the trade money then covers deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs.

Creyer said Local Trade Partners has 63 members in the health and wellness category which is the fastest growing sector among in the barter group. Wilkin said trade partners just makes sense for small businesses, which is why the program has seen tremendous growth in the past two and a half years.

Local Trade Partners is a member of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, along with roughly 100 other barter groups worldwide. Wilkin said he and Creyer attend an international conference each year and continually look for ways to add value for their members.