By Eddith Sevilla South Florida News Service June 7, 2009
When Brian Remick shut down his Wilton Manors sculpture gallery after sales slumped last year, he had no idea the works of art would later pay to fix his car.
Lacking the $475 to get the radiator and air conditioner fixed, Remick decided to pay with two sculptures valued between $225-$250.
“Everything is tied to cash, and I would’ve had to pay cash or put it on a credit card, which I don’t have,” he said.
Throughout South Florida, bartering — the practice of exchanging goods for services instead of dollars — is helping businesses and their customers weather tough times. In the United States, it is estimated to generate more than $3 billion through trade and exchanges, according to Robert B. Meyer, editor of BarterNews.com.
Car repairs are not all Remick is getting out of his sculptures.
He recently bartered a small sculpture for an 18 karat gold necklace for his fiancee. He feels the statue and necklace were of equal value — about $1,400.
And when he told his neighbor that things were starting to pick up, she pulled out a new $300 Electrolux vacuum cleaner. This became another barter opportunity for Remick who in exchange gave his neighbor a three-figure sculpture valued between $250 and $275.
Had he spent money on all the goods and services he has received from the trades, he would’ve spent $5,000, Remick said.
“Before barter was just a word for me and I always thought, ‘Wow, what a great concept,'” he said. “When I had so much inventory and when money became so tight, I decided to seek other avenues and bartering just made sense.”
He has another 1,200 sculptures from Zimbabwe in a Fort Lauderdale warehouse that he hopes to barter for more needs and services.
Felix Rodriguez, owner of LunchTimeRush, a home-based catering business in Hialeah, is about to launch into bartering, which he calls “matching favor-for-favor.”
Rodriguez has lost 7 of 10 clients, which amounts to about $1,400 in revenue per month, he said.
Rodriguez plans to host a networking party in the next few weeks to promote LunchTimeRush. Because he can’t afford the hundreds of dollars the event would cost, he’ll count on bartering to help pull it off.
He’s hopeful that entertainment for the party will come through bartering.
“A friend of mine has a production company where he has two or three bands under his label and I’ll be asking him to have one of his bands perform at the tasting,” said Rodriguez, who plans to offer catering service to his friend in exchange. “It’s a lot harder to just give that money over when I could easily trade the service.”
And that is why bartering is becoming more popular — it gives people the ability to find things that they don’t necessarily have the cash for, but have the excess capacity or inventory to trade for, said Karen Roumay, who runs the South Florida region of NuBarter, based in Boca Raton.
“People are looking to scale down instead of gear up,” Roumay said. “Companies that are looking to expand during this time are definitely going into barter. It has exploded.”
That’s good news for her company. While many businesses struggle in this economy Roumay said her company is gaining. In 2008, NuBarter generated $250,000 in revenue in Florida for the first quarter. This year the company has already generated $1.2 million in revenue in the first quarter.
Professor John H. Boyd, who heads the department of economics at Florida International University, said that bartering comes with a big disadvantage: inefficiency.
“In order to barter, both parties have to have goods the other party wants.” Boyd said. “This is usually not the case, and a more complex transaction involving several parties may be required to make the transaction work.”
Like Remick, Rodriguez plans to continue bartering even after the economy picks up.
“It provides an opportunity for future trades, future joint ventures. It’s almost limitless if you think about it,” Rodriguez said.
Eddith Sevilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The South Florida News Service is staffed by Florida International University students, who report articles for the Sun Sentinel, The Miami Herald and The Palm Beach Post.