Bartering companies look for fair trade

Steve Tarter

Ric Kearbey has traded in his weather maps for business plans.

The former WHOI-TV weathercaster is now an active partner in the I-Trade bartering firm that recently opened an office in Peoria.

Kearbey hopes the beleaguered economy will benefit his new enterprise.

“There have been trade exchanges in Peoria before as well as around the country. It’s a booming industry,” he said.

“The bartering concept has been around forever. What it does is bring local businesses together,” said Kearbey.

As an example, Kearbey said a pizza place and a car repair shop might make good partners.

“One trades money for food while the other trades for repairs,” he said.

An exchange like I-Trade can bring a firm new customers, “business they wouldn’t otherwise see,” said Kearbey.

“You can also uses barter arrangements for your personal life. You can acquire gift cards through trade dollars and give them as gifts,” he said.

Some firms enrolled with the I-Trade exchange include the Peoria Pirates arena football team, restaurants, landscapers and a car wash, said Kearbey.

“Sometimes (bartering) takes people willing to think a little bit outside the box,” he said.

It isn’t purely trade, of course. Trade exchanges like I-Trade and ITEX charge members a monthly fee as well as a 12 percent commission on each transaction.

Like others in an uncertain economy, Kearbey’s adjusting to a career change — one he hadn’t exactly planned on.

“We heard the rumors for months,” he said of the possibility of a merger between Channel 19 and WEEK-TV Channel 25.

When that merger came about earlier this month, only four on-air people from WHOI wound up being retained under the operational agreement with WEEK. That left Kearbey looking for more than cold fronts: he needed a job.

“I made the decision to go down with the Titanic,” he said, referring to his choice to stay on at WHOI while rumors were flying. “Did I think I might get on one of the lifeboats? I thought I had a pretty decent chance,” said Kearbey.

After 11 years doing TV weather in Peoria and four years for the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, Kearbey said he knew things were tough in the media business when he didn’t even get a telephone call about his availability for another station.

But Kearbey’s writing it off as just another storm that will soon pass. He’s not giving up on doing media work in the future but, meanwhile, is busy planning a summer wedding while promoting I-Trade.

The concept of bartering isn’t new to the Peoria area. Another business, ITEX, has been trading here for years.

“People in the Peoria area have some of the smartest traders that I know,” said David Mroz, who purchased the ITEX exchange in Peoria last year. He also owns exchanges at five other locations in the United States and Canada.

“We’re getting a lot of press about bartering now because of the economy,” said Mroz, who splits his time between residences in Colorado and Florida.

But while the barter business “does a little better in a bad economy, it works best in a stable economy,” he said.

Mroz, a former CPA, said he got into bartering in the 1980s when he was the owner of a Florida hotel.

“I ran a hotel that had an average occupancy rate of 80 percent. Through barter, I was able to get that up to 94 percent while never losing any cash business,” he said.

Mroz estimated his hotel trades averaged about $100,000 a year.

“I was able to trade for things like pool service, tile, awnings and mattresses,” he said.

Certain businesses are ideally suited for barter agreements, said Mroz.

“Hotels can’t sell yesterday’s rooms,” he said.

Conversely, there are businesses where margins just don’t allow for trade deals, said Mroz.

“Take a hardware store, for example. They might be able to trade for floor cleaning or some other service but as for general merchandise, there just isn’t enough excess inventory,” he said.

“We work for our members so they get the biggest bang for their bartering buck, but if it’s not going to work for a business, I won’t sign them up,” said Mroz.

Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260