Whoever said that you can’t get something for Nothing obviously never ran a float center.
At Float On, we’ve used bartering as a creative means to meet a wide range of goals and needs. Even as I’m writing this, I’m sipping on coffee that we traded from a shop across the street. Our whole staff gets free coffee drinks and ½ off food, and their whole staff gets to float whenever they want.
Bartering is the oldest form of economic transaction, and it ruled the marketplace in a time when one’s financial, physical, and social worlds were much smaller. History has since trended towards standardized value and fiat currency. However, the fundamentals of bartering haven’t changed, and it’s still a popular and (we think) rewarding way to do business and interact with the world at large.
Mutual Coincidence of Wants
A barter exchange is a reciprocal agreement based on a “mutual coincidence of wants.” In a barter economy, it’s up to the two (or more) parties to declare what they want and how their products or services stack up to each other. It’s a wildly subjective agreement that takes some communication.
For example, our floats are $65 for 90 minutes and we barter for massages that are $70 for 60 minutes. That’s $0.72/minute vs $1.16/minute – on paper, they aren’t quite equal monetarily. However, the massage therapist loves floating, and we love massage, so a one-to-one trade is hunky dory all around!
Legality of barter
The question “Is bartering legal?” essentially comes down to whether or not both parties are reporting the market value of their barter and declaring what they receive as income. As long as you are following the proper tax protocol for the type of bartering you are doing, you should be in the clear. As far as the IRS is concerned, even bartering your time in exchange for your neighbors lawn mower is a taxable transaction.
As always, talk to your lawyer and accountant when considering setting up any sort of bartering relationship.
Is bartering right for you?
It’s our belief that bartering is a fantastic option for any float center. It’s a great way to fill your tanks, create relationships, and save money for the expenses that aren’t as easy to barter for (think HVAC repair.)
At Float On, we barter for shop retail and supplies, services at the conference, materials, food, a lot more. Graham even owns an antique cane sword as a result of a float barter (which was sharpened by a sword smith who also traded his services for floats). We use our greatest asset, our 6 awesome float tanks, to meet a broad array of needs. It’s fun to forge connections in our community, and to help our company and employees at the same time.
Do you want to print 1-year anniversary shirts for your staff? Barter! Want kombucha, tea, and snacks in your lobby? Barterize! Want a mural on you shop wall? Barterpalooza! This is especially true for cash-light centers who are just getting started. You can even use promissory floats as a means to get your center up and running.
Let’s talk about bartering logistics.
The main argument against bartering might be that your schedule is full and “giving away” floats costs you money. However, when your tanks are filled, systems are ready, and employees are staffed, the variable float cost of a float is pretty low. As long as your bartered floats aren’t bumping paying floaters from your tanks, it really doesn’t “cost” much to give away a float.
Plus, bartering allows for deals that you’d never get otherwise. For example, we have these beautifully ornate decorative ironwrought table and desks that were handmade for us, partially paid for and partially bartered. The artist is thrilled to have a chunk of floats in exchange, and we have functional artwork that we couldn’t have afforded otherwise.
As we’ve made clear, it’s our unbiased perspective that bartering in and of itself is awesome. However, it also comes with the added benefit that every floater is a potential guerrilla marketer for your center. Since your barter partner is getting this slightly trippy experience and they have a cool story behind, they’re more likely to tell others about it – moreso even than regular floaters.
Similarly, if you’re bartering with other businesses and individuals nearby, you’re increasing neighborhood cohesion and improving the likelihood that your float center will find itself meshing happily with the surrounding community. You can use bartering to create ancillary benefits for your store (like making deals with wellness professionals or local coffee shops and tea companies), this can allow for nice incentives and morale boosts among staff, in addition to the already awesome community building.
Let’s be real, though. How does this work?
Obviously, in order to barter you need to find someone who is willing to trade what you want for floats. Naturally, this can cause issues. Sometimes, there will simply be too much of a difference in perceived value (and market value) to be able to find a way to make a transaction work. Sometimes, someone simply doesn’t like floating, giving a deal no legs to stand on. You also need to consider that the person you’re dealing with might not have the authority to grant a barter because they are part of a much larger, inflexible corporation.
Another thing to consider is that bartering creates ambiguity in financial relationships. It already takes skill to be open about your needs and wants in any relationship, but throw in money (let alone the subjective nature of bartering) and things can get complicated.
A bartering relationship is a bit like dating. You have to really communicate to find what works best for you and your partner. Even once an agreement has been made, long term bartering relationships take fine-tuning and intentional checkins. Also a lot like dating, not every match is going to be perfect. Early on, we bartered for sandwiches and smoothies with local businesses and both of those relationships ended in less than a month. In that sense, some of these matches kinda feel like Tinder matches, where you only briefly enjoy the exchange and you’re not quite sure what you’re getting yourself into (now if someone could just make the e-Harmony of barter, we’d be set).
Naturally, take all of this with a grain of salt. Some businesses, like Float On, have grown tremendously by using tools like barter to build brand recognition, but it’s entirely possible that there are successful float centers out there who have never once traded a float for anything other than currency. However, to us, given the potential goodwill it generates in the community, the bonus potential for word of mouth, and the relatively low risk/cost associated with it, bartering is a fundamental tool for any float center.
If you have any good barter stories like some of the ones we’ve shared, we’d love to hear about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.