As one longtime Richmond (Virginia, USA) trade exchange prepares to shut down, a local entrepreneur is trying to keep the bartering going.
James River Trade Exchange, a business barter program launched in 2003, is winding down its operations as founder Cindy Creasy looks to focus more on her local PR agency.
Picking up where Creasy leaves off and attempting to take local bartering to another level is veteran local salesman Chris Miller. He recently launched Bartercard Richmond, a local franchise of Bartercard USA, the American arm of an international brand founded in Australia.
Exchanges like JRTEC and Bartercard act as a clearinghouse for trade dollars their members accumulate through trading goods and services, and as a matchmaker to help those members find services to purchase with that built-up currency.
“We teach (business owners) to leverage trade and barter through us as a third-party record keeper,” said Miller. “The trade exchange technically owns the dollars, the members technically own the exchange. I’m just the steward of their trade dollars.”
Creasy, who ran JRTE on the side out of her Creasy Woolfolk Concepts PR firm, said she’s been looking to sell the exchange or merge with another operator for a few years.
“It became more and more evident that it needed more attention than I could give,” Creasy said. “Honestly, I didn’t have the capital needed to put into it for the newest systems, like mobile apps.”
Miller said Bartercard’s backing from its parent company gives it the clout to have apps and other technology that make trade exchanges easier to use, tools he hopes will help win business in Richmond.
Creasy and Miller arranged for JRTE members to move their balances to Bartercard at no cost, and to be grandfathered in from the initial Bartercard membership fee.
Creasy said she most recently had about 100 members, all of which Miller hopes will come to Bartercard. They hope to complete the transition in the next month, after which JRTE will cease operations.
“I loved doing it. I’m very close to many of my members,” Creasy said, adding that her PR firm will be a member of Bartercard Richmond.
Miller, who worked with JRTE to help drum up new business, purchased the rights for the Bartercard brand in Richmond earlier this year and went to the company’s South Carolina headquarters to train on its methods and systems.
“I have a 5-year-old son and this is the type of business that, once you get up and running, it’s hard to kill,” Miller said. “It thrives in a growing economy and in a down economy.”
Miller said Bartercard came to the U.S. a few years ago and has 18 franchises around the country, the fastest-growing of which has 350 members in Charleston, South Carolina.
Bartercard charges business owners a one-time $799 membership fee that can apply to any business they own. Members then pay $29 per month for account maintenance and service. For each exchange between members, Bartercard takes a 6.5 percent cut from both the spend and the earn.
Members accumulate trade dollars each time another member uses their service. One trade dollar is equal to $1 in the exchange.
He paid Bartercard a franchise fee of $40,000 to get in, and the company also takes a cut of the fees franchisees bring in. The company in exchange provides technology, customer management systems, and back office and marketing support.
Miller said businesses use bartering for a variety of reasons, most obviously to get something without spending actual money. Business owners also use trade as a perk for employees–offering a good or service at no cost, in lieu of a raise or bonus.
Trading also can help businesses be introduced to one another, ideally leading to positive word-of-mouth and new customers.
Miller said members can do trades with Bartercard members all over the country through the other Bartercard franchises.
In addition to the 100-plus members he hopes to capture from Creasy, Miller said he’s signed up 25 new Bartercard members.
He hired one trade broker in Richmond who acts as a concierge to help business owners spend their trade dollars, and he’ll look to add three to five salespeople soon.
Miller said he’s aiming for 500 to 1,000 members in the next five years in Richmond.
“The magic number is generally about 250 (members),” he said. “If you get to 500 you’re very profitable. If you get to a 1,000 you have a 30-year business.
“The toughest part is not the sell, it’s the chase–getting enough time with a business owner to learn about it.”