Ever wonder how business was conducted before today’s currency?

Back then, goods and services typically were paid for through an exchange of, well, goods and services provided by a neighboring business or individual. This, of course, is known as trade and barter, something Saturn Barter President Kent Johnson understands better than most.

Founded in 2009 as the economy was just beginning to find its stride out of the recession. Much like other trade and barter companies like BizX and Barter Brokers International, Tacoma-based Saturn Barter was created to facilitate the trade of goods and services among business owners to reduce cash expenditures. To date, Saturn Barter has helped facilitate the transfer of $110 million in trade among its more than 2,300 members.

How does this work exactly?

“If the dentist has the capacity to have another client in their chair, then they utilize trade to fill those empty timeslots,” Johnson explained. “(The dentist) can then turn around and use their earned trade dollars for advertising, marketing, office décor, or they can use it for office remodeling projects.”

Taking it one step further, Johnson said the contractor of that office remodeling project can then use their trade dollars for vehicle graphics, website development, search engine optimization, or anything else their business needs. This creates what Johnson refers to as a trade “web.”

This system, Johnson explained, is perhaps even more effective with the current coronavirus-related economic crisis citing one downtown Tacoma restauranteur who decided to use the forced closure of their business to their advantage.

“They decided that since they don’t have customers coming into the restaurant and their doors were shut, they’d do some remodeling,” Johnson said of the dayslong flooring project the restaurant undertook through trade.

This, Johnson said, is just one business looking at the positive amid the chaos. Many others are doing the same, spending their newly acquired downtime to find ways of improving their processes, storefronts, menus, and products. Even more still are using their trade to help others in need.

“I think what I’m noticing a lot, is a lot of the members are donating to a lot of the nonprofits that belong to Saturn Barter as members,” Johnson said. “They see a need in poorer communities (and among) women and children that are in need.”

In one case, trade was used between the Tacoma Rescue Mission and a meat supplier in Saturn Barter’s network. “(The rescue mission) got frozen chickens at a great price, and the meat supplier needed to unload some chicken,” Johnson said noting that those chickens provided healthy meals for displaced families in Tacoma.

Photo courtesy The Art of the Crunch via Facebook.

Elsewhere in Tacoma, Rhonda Hamlin, baker and owner of The Art of the Crunch, desired to help support frontline medical workers. So, Hamlin started what she called “Operation Sweetness” with the mission of delivering treats and personalized messages to health care workers. In so doing, she also rallied Saturn Barter members to support the effort.

“Because of Saturn Barter, business exchange members were able to utilize their banked trade currency to purchase these care packages of delicious handcrafted biscotti dessert bars to hundreds of frontline medical professionals at area hospitals to show encouragement and gratitude to hospital staff,” Johnson said.

As COVID-19 continues to overwhelm health care workers and impact the economy, Johnson said he hopes to see more members using their banked trade to turn a negative situation into something positive, especially when those trade dollars go to helping others.

“(Business owners) are always looking for ways to help out and serve others,” he said. “This situation has been a very big blessing for a lot of the nonprofits.”