More than once I’ve let a small business – and a couple of large ones – pay for their chamber memberships with either goods or services. I gave Sam’s Club a booth at our annual fall expo in exchange for enough coffee to take us well into 2014, and Dale’s Designs makes all of our signs to pay for his membership.
Trade-outs and the barter system are as American as Rosie the Riveter. But in order to get a good trade, you have to know the art of negotiation, either as a business owner or as a customer.
Before you go into a store or talk to someone providing a service, make sure you’re talking with the person who can make a deal. You are wasting your time trying to get an agreement from the kid collecting shopping carts in the parking lot.
Ask up front, “Are you the person who can authorize this?” If they aren’t, don’t settle. Ask to speak to someone in authority.
Have an idea of what you want before you just go in.You don’t want to come off as a what’s-in-it-for-me type. You want to go into the discussion with an attitude of finding a mutually beneficial trade.
So, if you want 10 percent off of a garment because there is a smear of makeup on the collar that you know will come out, say so. The store sells a damaged item that would have been a charge-off, and you go home with what you want at a reasonable price.
It’s also smart to think about what you bring to the table as well. Ask your lawn guy if he’ll give you $25 for every referral you give him that lands him a contract. He gets new business; you get a commission. It’s the cheapest way he could ever dream of expanding his business, and you get rewarded for your efforts in helping him.
Make sure you are both getting what was originally agreed to. If you have someone working off what they would otherwise owe you, have them give you an itemized invoice of what they did and how much it would have cost you. Then double check to make sure all the work was done to your satisfaction at the agreed-upon price.
Even if this is family, remember it’s business, not personal.
There are entire neighborhoods setting up service banks whereby retired CPAs, hairstylists, handymen, attorneys and even baby sitters all contribute hours into the bank and then withdraw the services of others when they need them. It’s a great idea and one which would work especially well in retirement communities like ours.
At the end of the day, bartering is all about two parties each providing something to the other they both need and want. But to work, both must be clear in what is being offered and what is what is being exchanged.
Dana Dittmar is the executive director of the Sun City Center Area Chamber of Commerce.