News » Metro

Bartering is back in a big way in Oklahoma



James Stone has done a lot of bartering lately " taking all sorts of electronics and services in exchange for his expertise at auto repair " but when he was offered an old swaybacked horse, he had to turn it down.


Stone, owner of Helping Hands Auto, said that, while he didn't need a broken-down mare, he'll consider almost any offer. That's how business works these days.

As job losses mount around the country and the state, more and more Oklahomans are finding themselves with a deficit of cash and a surplus of need. But rather than roll over and die, many are combining the old world of bartering with the lightning-fast speed of the Internet to do what they do best: Just. Get. By.

Are people still happy to take cash? Of course. But in the new economy, some folks are willing to work a deal to get what they need. has been a real boon for Stacy Stookey, a technician with Norman-based Clean and Dry, a carpet-cleaning business.

Stookey said the new business needs new customers if it's going to survive, and he's got far too much time to sit on his hands as people forgo clean carpets for necessities like food and rent.

"I view this as just another avenue to get my name out there among the people and to do some work," he said. "But we do get some interesting trades in the process."

Recently, he cleaned some carpets in Lindsey in exchange for a tank of gas and a basic computer system from a couple who repair and restore computers. They referred him to a relative, who then paid for the service.

"Cash is still king," Stookey said. "I don't foresee us moving away from cash altogether, but bartering is a way to pay for services and get paid for services when times are tough."

You won't hear the same from Stone, who said he thinks bartering is here to stay, because once people get used to it, they'll prefer it to money.

"The truth is, you can get the goods and services you want at a much cheaper rate through bartering," he said. "I take all sorts of stuff. If I want it, I keep it, or sometimes I try to sell or barter with somebody else."

Right now, a full 25 percent of his business comes from bartering, and that number is increasing all of the time. Adding his number and services to Craigslist has boosted his business " cash and barter included " by 500 percent, he said.

"I used to have a shop, and we'd advertise in the newspaper and the phone book, and the only business you'd really get was word-of-mouth," Stone said. "Just going online, using a free service, I get five or six calls a day and a few e-mails. I'll never go back."

Photographer Robert Wilson isn't as convinced, but for now, he'll take what bartering can give him. After more than 30 years as a professional photographer, finding work has become tough sledding " especially for a service that many people deem inessential.

"Stuff like what I do is the kind of thing people are cutting way back on," he said. "I'm not doing the Wal-Mart family photo. I do a lot of environmental stuff, a lot of pictures people love to look at, but just can't afford right now."

He cut his prices, then he cut them some more, and at some point, he realized he needed to think outside the box to survive. There have been some tough lessons along the way " always check out what they want to trade, he said, and make sure you're not getting screwed " but he's had some successes.

The best of them is the table in his dining room. When he moved back to Oklahoma last July, he was in need of furniture. Bartering helped fill his house while his money went to some of the places where trade isn't an acceptable option.

Banks won't take trade for mortgage payments, and McDonald's isn't interested in bartering for a bag of cheeseburgers, but that doesn't mean you can't ask, Stookey said.

"I actually barter for part of my rent sometimes," he said. "They need carpets cleaned, and I need a space to rent, so instead of him paying me and me paying him, we just skip that step."

Joel Jordan, owner of Joel Jordan Photography in Meeker, said that while the phenomenon seems "down-home," he learned bartering while working at a production studio in Los Angeles.

"When we came out here a year ago, I don't even know how we got started," he said. "We put up an ad on Craigslist and just started getting a ton of responses."

Bartering only accounts for about 5 percent of the business, he said, but the rewards have been great. Patio furniture, drywall repair, landscaping " all of it was provided in exchange for photo services.

The key, Jordan said, is to know what you want and know what you've got.

"In order to make it work, you have to value what you're giving and what you're getting," he said. "I try and appreciate the hard work they put into their services, and I hope they appreciate the craft and artistry in what I do."

It must be working, because over the last year, bartering posts have doubled on, said Susan MacTavish Best, who handles public relations for the company. The same is true for, said founder John C. Moore.

"Bartering is the new black," Moore said. "We started the site because I was looking for a good place online for bartering, but all I found were buy/sell/trade sites where nobody wanted to trade."

Much like Craigslist, U-Exchange doesn't charge fees for listing or when a trade is made, but uses advertising to pay for the site.

"We could have done a membership fee, but people are bartering to save money, not spend money," he said.

While cash and credit transactions online keep people separated, Moore said bartering tends to bring people together.

"A salon might only have their carpets cleaned once in a while if they're paying cash, but suddenly they're able to do it more often when they're trading gift certificates for the service," he said.

For Seminole welder Mike Griffin, bartering isn't just a business proposition " it's a way of life.

"I've been trading all my life," he said. "Sure, I trade welding services, but mostly, I trade guns, dogs, cars " anything of value, really."

While city folks are just now catching on, those in the rural areas have been doing it forever, he said.

"It's just how we get by," Griffin said. "Matter of fact, just last night I made a trade with a guy. I gave him a truck and he gave me a different truck, a lawn mower and some cash."

The lawn mower will probably be sold, while the truck might get a little work done on it and offered up for another trade " maybe over the airwaves.

At KWHW 1450 AM in Altus, the "Swap Shop" show has been on the air for more than 33 years, said announcer Dick Fontana.

"They were doing it before I got here," he said. "Right now, though, it's a little more active than it was in previous years."

The trades have been getting crazier, too, as people try to unload items they don't need " like a cemetery plot north of town, Fontana said.

Over at KWSH 1260 AM in Wewoka, "Tradio" has been a steady on-air winner for 25 years, said Gary Walker.

Whether listening to call-in programs or watching his dad wheel and deal, bartering is already working its way down to the next generation in Mike Griffin's son, Payton. While his father was working a trade with a friend in his house, 4-year-old Payton was in the yard with another youngster, trading Hot Wheels.

What do most of us have to offer that anyone would want?

"You'd be surprised at the things people can offer in trade," said Joel Jordan of Joel Jordan Photography.

His blog contains a list of things he's interested in receiving and how much his services are worth.

"It's easier when you know what you want," he said.

Instead of bartering just to barter, make a list of things you need or want. Are the kids begging you for an Xbox 360, but you just don't have the money? Is there a leak in your roof that you have no idea how to fix?

If you have antiques around the house you don't care about anymore or electronics that are less important than home maintenance, list those as assets. After all, you may have just what somebody wants. 

Mike Griffin, a welder in Seminole, said some people are afraid to barter because they're afraid of getting a raw deal.

"Experience helps," he said. "I've been trading all my life."

Griffin has traded for horses, cars, tractors, boats, trailers " just about anything and everything.

"Fear of getting taken keeps a lot of people out of it," he said. "But you can get taken at a car lot if you don't know what you're doing."

Don't expect the world for what you're giving, but don't give it away for free, either. Cleaning a house for a few hours or mowing lawns may not seem particularly valuable, but compare your rates and expertise with those that charge for it and you might be surprised what you can get. "P.J. Fry

Latest in Metro

Add a comment