Beginning with early civilization, before a monetary system was created, individuals would trade and barter their skills for other goods and services that they needed.
Today, a more advanced method of the barter system exists. New Berlin-based International Monetary Systems allows member companies to sell goods and services in exchange for trade dollars that can be used on any other product or service available within the system.
“We are creating a currency here. It becomes a very obvious, very viable option for businesses who generate a lot of excess capacity,” said Don Mardak, chief executive officer of IMS. “They can trade or swap that excess capacity, (time for companies who provide services), for some common need. With the use of trade dollars they can do it at any time.”
IMS members can except trade dollars as payment for a product or service, and can then bank those trade dollars just like regular money for use at a later time, Mardak said.
“With this medium of exchange, just like regular cash, you can’t eat it or wear it,” Mardak said. “It has to be spent in order to be useful. IMS dollars becomes a sort of secondary economy, one that is somewhat recession proof. It brings all the benefits of regular cash spending, but gives a business or individual the power to save its cash dollars.”
Mardak created IMS in 1984 after a gentleman approached him at his retail piano business.
“He wanted to donate an organ to his church, and asked me if I would consider doing it for trade,” Mardak said.
The piano business was struggling, and Mardak was intrigued by the idea of expanding this barter system, so he sold the business and became the first salesman in the Milwaukee area for the barter system that was based in Appleton at the time. He later formed his own barter company, based in New Berlin.
Right now IMS has over 2,000 member clients in Wisconsin alone and over 18,000 member clients across the country and Canada.
“Anybody can trade with anyone else within the system, but obviously it takes a critical mass of people in a local area to commit to becoming members as well,” Mardak said. “It makes it easier for those people to trade goods and services between each other, and experience the full value of the trade.”
IMS also recently created on online marketplace, similar to eBay for trade dollars. Any member can post products online and easily sell them in exchange for trade dollars there.
Member companies range in size and industry, Mardak said.
Locally, Deb Hoffman, owner of Waukesha-based Tech Analyst Inc., a custom software and website design company, has been an IMS member since 2005.
“Absolutely anybody who is in any type of business should seriously consider making IMS a part of their marketing plan,” Hoffman said. “I look at it as having 25,000 potential clients nationwide. It has tremendously helped our expansion.”
Hoffman uses the IMS service frequently both personally and for her business. The company’s lawn care service, coffee service, automotive repairs, drywall work, and company holiday gifts have all been done on trade in exchange for website designs, upgrades and optimizations, she said.
Todd Ruedt, owner of Brookfield-based Grounds Maintenance Services LLC also joined IMS in 2005.
“It really has just expanded my network, and my source of obtaining clients both cash and barter,” Ruedt said. “It has given me a ton more resources for purchasing products for me personally as well as for my company.”
Ruedt does all of his marketing products, business cards, mass mail documents, brochures and t-shirts on trade.
“It has allowed me to do so many things, it has really meshed in as a significant part of my business,” he said. “Because of my ability to use my trade dollars as marketing dollars, I have been able to keep my name out there. Because of that, even in this down economy we are expanding and hiring more people. I attribute that to the ability to use barter to market myself more.”
According to Ruedt, he did about $75,000 worth of trade last year, and is well on track to conduct $100,000 worth of trade business this year.
Ruedt also organizes a charity golf outing in which the proceeds go towards the fight against leukemia. He purchases 90 percent of the silent auction items with trade dollars via the IMS marketplace.
Joe Gallenberger, owner of Cream City Music store in Brookfield, uses the marketplace to sell stock inventory from his store in exchange for trade dollars.
“It has been quite beneficial for us,” he said. “We’ve been able to double the amount of marketing we’ve been doing, and with the marketplace we can free up some of our inventory space.”
According to Gallenberger he has developed a close relationship with his IMS broker, which also allows him to sell his products within the system. In addition to marketing dollars, he also uses his trade dollars to cater company parties, for vehicle repairs, and dining certificates for his employees, among other things.
To become a member, companies must pay a $595 joining fee, Mardak said. Once they are members they are issued a line of trade credit, similar to a traditional bank. Once they start utilizing the IMS system that credit can be paid back. IMS stays in business by charging nominal fees for each transaction, he said.
“Most businesses in this present economy are suffering from the same thing,” Mardak said. “People are spending less money and companies have more excess than ever before. There has been less resistance to enrolling new members. People are interested to see how barter can help them.”
International Monetary Systems
New Berlin, WI
Become a member online, or see a demonstration of bartering capabilities.