Anybody reading the headlines these days knows the world teeters on the biggest worldwide recession in modern history and our leaders are scrambling for solutions. It is very timely that I recently had the opportunity of interviewing Mr Steve Bolles, founder and President of Merchants Barter Exchange, one of America’s great innovators of economic change and stability right now. Bolles is far from reclusive, but rarely entertains interviews, however due to the seriousness of the current global crisis he extended this offer.
For those unfamiliar with barter, what is Merchants Barter Exchange and what does it do?
Historically barter is the one-on-one exchange of similar or like-valued goods or services instead of using cash or currency. Merchants Barter Exchange is an ever-growing national network of diversified business owners that utilize the simplicity, ease and efficiency of our MBE-barter system to trade for multiple hard goods and services at the same price as cash with other members of our network. In short we have created an alternative payment mechanism for business owners to turn what they have too much of (time, inventory, or capacity – in essence their inefficiency) into positive revenue, increased cash flow, better marketing, and save a bunch of cash as they do so.
What was your inspiration behind Merchants Barter Exchange?
Back in the 90s I had another business and was a member of an older and very different kind of barter company. The more I used their antiquated mechanism, the more I noticed many flaws and huge areas of improvement. They had no systems in place to prevent people inflating the price of their goods or services, or price gouging, they also charged when a client bought and when they sold, they didn’t seem to have much control over how people traded and with whom, and even allowed members to pay part in cash and part in trade, which didn’t seem to make any sense to me. Most of the other members I dealt with were very unhappy with the overall system. That’s when I started to look for a better barter company, but after extensive research I discovered that every single barter company had the same flaws and challenges.
So what did you do to make Merchants Barter Exchange so different?
Firstly, we centralized the control and the membership list. This allowed us to ensure we only sent members brand new business and were not converting cash clients to trade clients. It also ensured we had secure systems in place to stop people charging more than they would for a cash transaction. It didn’t make any sense to pay more because it was barter, as you lost all the economical benefits. Since we have the control, we are able to expel any member that should try to break the rules that keep our system running effectively. Secondly, with control of the integrity and value of the MBE-barter dollar, it allowed us to do large and small trades for our members. I believe we are the only national barter company that can brag the ability to do $100,000 printing jobs 100% on trade with no cash element. Thirdly, since our system worked so well, we expanded very rapidly and needed to develop a solid and ongoing direct sales division to ensure we were able to meet as many of our members needs as we could. To date I think we have the best fulfillment rate and the greatest client retention rate (95%) of any barter company in the US.
What are you currently doing to ease the crisis in the US economy?
Even though we have grown steadily since we began in 2000, we are nowhere nearly as large as I would have liked us to be by now to help the millions of small business owners around the US, and around the world that can benefit from the MBE-barter system. Right now we are working on rolling out our corporate licensing program as fast as we can to reach as many new businesses and as many new cities around the US as we can. The major challenge has been screening the right entrepreneurial candidates that not only have the investment capital to buy in, but have the right morals, ethics, and responsibility for us to allow the priviledge to own and operate a local sales region. We are helping all those we can right now and improving the lives of our members and people in their communities, in time we will help increasingly more individuals.
Looking to the future, do you have any plans to expand beyond the US?
Absolutely! Our primary focus obviously is to assist the American business owners right now, however we created our business model to be a global monetary alternative. We already have interest from other countries around the world eager to implement our system into their economies. When the time is right we’ll definately expand internationally. Everything in good time.
I also heard you’re working on a book, is this true?
Yes. I’ve been co-collaborating on a book about the industry and the major differences and functions of the MBE-barter system with a close colleague in the industry. Right now we have more pressing issues to deal with and the book project has taken a slight back seat. We’ll finish it in due course, but it’s been an interesting project to work on.
Screenshot from Merchants Barter Exchange. This interview is by Richard Eyre.